“U.S. Does Not Interfere In Iranian Internal Affairs”
Sec. Acheson Urges Caution In Wooing Ghavam

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | June 20, 2017                    

Ahmad Ghavam Veteran statesman Ahmad Ghavam was well known to American and British officials from his days as Prime Minister of Iran during and shortly after World War II. Sensing their ambivalence if not antipathy to the frustrating Premier Mossadegh, he soon began grooming himself for a political comeback.

While in Paris in March 1952, Ghavam, backed by two associates, reached out to the U.S. Embassy in France for a meeting. Ghavam aimed to secure American support in view of his ambition to replace Dr. Mossadegh as Prime Minister, and suggested that Iran needed “strongman” rule friendly to the West.1

The Ambassador to Iran, Loy Henderson, followed up with his cabled recommendations to the State Department on how to respond to these overtures, which he stated had been going on for six months. Henderson advised the embassy to use messaging along the lines that the U.S. “pursues [a] policy of non-interference in Iranian internal affairs” and “therefore cannot...support one candidate for Prime Minister against another.” He, however, recalled Ghavam’s premiership in the 1940’s fondly and indicated that his return would be received warmly by the U.S.2

Loy Henderson with Ahmad Ghavam in July 1952, during Ghavam’s brief return as Premier after Mossadegh resigned. Riots in Tehran returned Mossadegh to office four days later.

Yet U.S. Sec. of State Dean G. Acheson was more wary than Henderson, replying that Ghavam’s two friends in tow, “Khalili and Khazrai” were shady characters, possibly Soviet agents, and to tread carefully.

This is peculiar, since Ghavam was long viewed by the U.S. as anti-Russian and pro-American. Curiously, the former gentleman, one Parvis Khan Khalili, an “Afghan subject of Georgian origin”,1 later wrote an ominous Red-scare article in a U.S. journal titled Red Star Over Iran, warning of the ongoing risk of a Communist takeover in the country.3

Secretary of State Dean Acheson But the cutest part was when Acheson, echoing Henderson, stated that the United States “under no circumstances” would favor a particular man for Premier — even if he were at odds with the Shah.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite some reservations, America clearly preferred Ghavam to Mossadegh, just as they did later with Fazlollah Zahedi during the violent August 1953 coup d’etat they helped engineer.

The Shah, in fact, distrusted both Ghavam4 and Zahedi, but that hardly mattered. Both men possessed the convenient virtue of not being Mossadegh.

1 Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State — Paris, March 28, 1952
2 Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State — Tehran, March 31, 1952
3 Red Star Over Iran by Parvis Khan Khalili in The American Mercury, July 1954. Wrote Khalili: “In 1952, Quavam Saltaneh [sic] returned to power, but three days later [four days] had to bow to an about-face of the American Embassy, which after first having promised him the support of the Shah, withdrew into a neutrality which ended in the riots of Tehran, with a death toll running in the hundreds.”
4 “Shah continues be antipathetic to Qavam in spite [of] claims [from] Qavam’s friends that his attitude re Qavam has altered during recent months. During my talk with [the] Shah on March 20 he told me again he did not (repeat not) trust Qavam and dismissed [the] possibility [of] latter’s return to power.” — Loy Henderson in Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State — Tehran, March 31, 1952

Telegram From the Department of State
to the Embassy in France

Washington, April 1, 1952.

5824. Would appreciate Embassy using greatest circumspection (your telegram 5970 March 28) in dealing with Qavam. [Ahmad Ghavam, former Iranian Premier] [State] Department [is] concerned not only at possible repercussions within Iran should it become known there has been direct contact between Qavam and U.S. officials but we are disturbed at [the] presence [of] Khalili [Parvis Khan Khalili] and Khazrai during your meeting. According [to] Department’s records both are notorious international adventurers and both, particularly Khazrai, may be Soviet agents.

Believe [the] best line to take in reply [to] Qavam’s query is that, as he is well aware from his experience as Prime Minister, [the] U.S. does not repeat not interfere in Iranian internal affairs and under no repeat no circumstances could indicate its preference for any particular candidate for Premiership. This policy would of course apply in case of conflict between [the] Shah and any particular Prime Minister.

We fear [the] last sentence [to] Tehran’s 3715 repeat Paris 85 March 31 [March 31st telegram from Ambassador Henderson] [is] undesirable in [the] present instance since it could be interpreted by Qavam and his present associates in Paris as [an] indirect indication of support. We have no repeat no objection [to] Tehran’s continuing this statement to emissaries in Iran whose reputations are better than those [of] Khalili and Khazrai. Any further info [on the] present activities [of] these two persons would be welcome. Would appreciate your repeating all telegrams [on] this subject to London.

• Note: Bracketed text added and abbreviations removed from original for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

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Related links:

Estimate of the Political Strength of the Mosadeq Government (State Dept., May 1951)

Max Thornburg: Notes For Discussion With Dean Acheson (July 5, 1951)

Mossadegh Is Bad Medicine | The Ogden Standard-Examiner, August 3, 1952

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

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