Shah Nemeses Deemed Nuisance
Deporting Students Who “Embarrassed” U.S. (1963)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | August 11, 2020                     

Iranian Students Association (ISA)

In the early 1960’s, heightened political dissent by Iranian students in the United States had become highly annoying to the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and his minions. They retaliated by having the American government, who themselves viewed the students as a threat to U.S.-Iran relations, crack down.

Robert F. Kennedy’s friend, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, reflected on the attempts to silence these young activists in a 1969 interview:1

“He [RFK] called me once that Dean Rusk had gotten a word from the Persian ambassador [Mahmoud Foroughi] that the Shah wanted some of the Iranian students sent home. Dean Rusk represented to Bobby as Attorney General that these were Communists and we better get rid of them. Bobby called me because we both had been to Persia, and he knew that I knew something about the Persian situation. I told him that that meant that the Shah was making up lists for the firing squad when they got back, and that that should not be done unless there was a real issue of the national security of this country because these students were lawfully here -- I mean they were students; they were studying. I said, “Before I’d do that, Bobby, I’d make a check on every one of them on the list.” He said, “Good idea,” and hung up. About thirty, forty days later I got another call from Bobby; he said, “The FBI report is in, and not a bloody one of these kids is a Communist, so I just told Rusk to go chase himself.”

Sadegh Ghotbzadeh (1936-1982) One of these non-Communists was Sadegh Ghotbzadeh (1936-1982), then attending Georgetown University. He later worked for Ayatollah Khomeini, became internationally known as the Foreign Minister of Iran during the revolution/hostage crisis, soon joined the opposition and finally was executed by the Islamic regime on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

1 Robert Kennedy Oral History Program, November 13, 1969 interview by Roberta Greene

No. 333

Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot) to Secretary of State Rusk1 [Phillips Talbot to Dean Rusk]

Washington, October 5, 1963.


Agitational Activities of Anti-Shah Iranian Students in the United States.
Action Requested—To Proceed with Deportation Action

This is in response to your request of September 30 for information on the above subject.1


A hard core of about 25 of the 5,000 or more Iranian students in the United States has for several years severely embarrassed our relations with Iran by engaging in violent anti-regime activities. These have included picketing visiting Iranian officials (including the Shah on his last visit here in April 1962), picketing the White House, calling for an end to U.S. aid for Iran, publishing an anti-regime periodical, and engaging in sit-down and hunger strikes in the Iranian Embassy and Consulates. [not a single one of those examples was at all “violent”] Thirteen of the hard-core group are under suspended sentence for unlawful entry into the Iranian Embassy in January 1963.

The dissident students claim to follow the line of the Iranian National Front, the anti-Shah followers of Mosadeq, but their positions are much more extreme than those of the National Front. Leadership of the dissident group in the U.S. appears to be centered in the relatives of Mosadeq’s Foreign Minister, Hosein Fatemi, who was executed for treason following Mosadeq’s overthrow in 1953. [Hossein Fatemi]

Since late 1961 the Iranian Government and the Shah have pressed us repeatedly, both here and in Tehran, to bring the student problem under control. In mid-1961 the Iranian authorities declined to renew the passports of two of the most notorious ringleaders of the hard-core group—Ali S. Fatemi and Sadeq Qotbzadeh—in the impression that this action, coupled with their questionable status as students, would require us to institute deportation proceedings against them. Since that time, we have approached the Immigration and Naturalization Service on an official basis, and the Attorney-General’s Office on an informal basis, in an attempt to secure such action. In order to meet part of the legal requirement for such action, we sought and obtained assurance from the Government of Iran in May 1962 that the two students, if returned to Iran, would not be prosecuted for acts committed up to that time. The Immigration and Naturalization Service denied the request of the two students for a continuation of their stay but stated that it did not intend to enforce their departure. They are thus being treated in the same manner as refugees from Communist Cuba and such a status could be continued indefinitely. As of July 1963 the Department of Justice did not consider it necessary to institute deportation proceedings.

The harassments by these few Iranian students have continued up to the present and are embarrassing our relations with Iran at a time when it is in our interest to indicate in every way possible our support for the fundamental reform program which the Shah has undertaken against opposition from powerful conservative elements in his country. The Shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf, was picketed by these students upon her arrival in New York in June 1963 to attend an international women’s conference. [Ashraf Pahlavi] Foreign Minister Aram and the Iranian Consul General were harassed by these same students on September 23, 1963, when they attempted a sit-in strike at the Iranian UN delegation’s office, picketed the Foreign Minister’s hotel, and shouted obscene insults as he left the hotel. [Abbas Aram and Mahmoud Foroughi]

We have not been able to verify whether Fatemi and Qotbzadeh were personally involved in these most recent activities in New York, but they are key figures (President and Treasurer, respectively) in the Iranian Students’ Association, which organizes the activities. Legally justified action by the U.S. Government against them would help disrupt the activities of that organization and would go a long way toward ameliorating Iranian bitterness and allaying the Shah’s suspicions of our motives in what he views as continued protection of elements working for his overthrow.

In addition to the Foreign Minister’s approach to you on September 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised the September 23 incident with Ambassador Holmes in Tehran. [Julius C. Holmes, U.S. Ambassador to Iran] The Ambassador recommended, on September 23, that the latest incident makes it timely for us to press again for deportation action against the two students.


That you approve the Department’s requesting the Attorney General to take the necessary legal steps to effect the departure from the United States of Fatemi and Qotbzadeh, since their continued presence has a serious adverse impact on our relations with Iran. A suggested letter from you to the Attorney General [Robert F. Kennedy] is attached.2

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XVIII, Near East, 1962–1963 (1995)

• “Source: Department of State, NEA/NE Files: Lot 68 D 100, POL. 13-2-b, Students, Youth Groups (not in Iran). Secret. Drafted by Tiger on October 4 and cleared by Wehmeyer, Manning, Lee, and Schwartz. Sent through the Executive Secretariat. A handwritten note on the source text indicates that Secretary Rusk saw the memorandum” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

1 “Iranian Foreign Minister Aram had raised Iranian concerns about the activities of Iranian students in the United States during a meeting with Secretary Rusk during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York on September 30. A memorandum of the conversation is ibid., Central Files, POL IRAN-US.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

3 “The last sentence is handwritten. A handwritten note at the bottom of the source text indicates that Secretary Rusk rewrote the letter that was sent to Attorney General Robert Kennedy on October 11. In it, the Secretary spoke generally about the problems created by a “hard core” of approximately 25 Iranian students in the United States and requested that the Justice Department send a representative to discuss the situation with Talbot. (Ibid.) On December 24, the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Raymond F. Farrell, and other officials from the Justice Department and the Department of State, met with Fatemi and Qotbzadeh at the Department of State to deliver a warning from the Attorney General that unless their behavior was moderated, they would no longer be exempted from U.S. regulations that enforced the departure of foreigners without valid passports. The memorandum of conversation is ibid., POL 25–1 IRAN. For text, see the Supplement, the compilation on Iran.” — U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

Campaign To Install Pro-Western Government In Iran | CIA document, March 1954
Campaign To Install Pro-Western Government In Iran


Related links:

Stability of Shah’s Regime Questioned | National Security Council, April 1960

Iran teach-in at UIUC Protesting Shah’s 2,500 Year Party (Oct. 12, 1971)

Iran Police, Pupils Clash; 180 Injured | AP, January 22, 1962

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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