. . .Twilight of the Gods. . .
Ernest Gross Advises British To Revise Approach

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | August 13, 2021                      

A secret memo from Ernest Gross, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to John D. Hickerson, Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs.

U.S. State Department Documents | IRAN


No. 100

The Acting United States Representative at the United Nations (Gross) to the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson)

NEW YORK, October 2, 1951.


Ernest A. Gross (1906-1999), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations DEAR JACK: As you know, I have been thrown rather heavily since Friday last into the Iranian problem, and I am grateful for the competent assistance which the Department has made available through the presence here of Rountree, who has given me a complete and excellent historical analysis of the matter. [William Rountree, Director of the Office of Greek, Turkish and Iranian Affairs]

I spent several hours yesterday with Gladwyn Jebb and Middleton, Counselor of the British Embassy at Tehran, who has accompanied Gladwyn to New York. [Herbert Middleton] Jebb showed me the personal message from Mr. Morrison to the Secretary.1 [Jebb was UN Ambassador]

The night before last I spent the evening with Sir B. N. Rau, on his invitation, and he discussed the matter on the basis of his own appreciation in the light of a conversation he had had earlier in the day with Entezam. [Benegal Narsing Rau, Indian Ambassador to UN, and Nasrollah Entezam, Iran’s Ambassador to U.S.]

On the basis of all the foregoing and in light of the developments in the Security Council meeting yesterday, I feel compelled to send you the following personal reflections which, whether or not they are useful, will at least take them off my mind.

The central question in my mind is, of course, what the theory of our approach is, where we want to come out, and what we think the UN can or cannot do to help us achieve our objective. I am aware that recourse to the Security Council by the British and the theory of their approach were unilateral decisions of which we were advised after the fact. It appears also that the British obtained commitments of support from the Dutch and French Governments, neither of whom consulted with us in advance. The question is where we go from here and why.

On the basis of my talks with Jebb and Middleton, and in the light of Rountree’s analysis of the background of the dispute, I think it understates the matter to say that we have little reason for confidence in the British approach to the whole issue, either past or present.

Jebb admitted to me that the overriding consideration, from the point of view of the present British Government, is the intense domestic political pressures. The press and public in England are screaming for “action” and the opposition is watching every move waiting to pounce. He and Middleton reflect an almost shocking defeatism. The latter went so far as to say the Anglo-Iranian company has virtually decided to give up their investment and turn elsewhere. They feel there is no hope for further discussions with Mossadegh.

The British give me the impression of singing the last act of “The Twilight of the Gods” in a burning theater. Jebb admitted he had no idea, and doubted whether the British Government had any idea, what would be expected of the Security Council if it adopted a resolution along the lines of their proposal and Iran refused to comply. At the same time he admits there is virtually no likelihood that Iran would comply.

The present British course is not a deliberately chosen one, but one coerced by an inflamed public opinion in an election year. If followed through, I do not see how it could have any effect except to make “fences” out of the purchasers of oil, pirates out of Iranian tankers, and Communists of the Iranian people. The UN would be demeaned in the process and its authority shaken.

You will not be surprised to learn that Tsarapkin was smiling yesterday like a Cheshire cat. [Semyon K. Tsarapkin, Russian UN Ambassador]

I am convinced that the only hope is to take action now which might lead to a resumption of negotiations. A resolution based upon the British approach (or lack of approach) would build a stone wall. I do not think it matters very much whether in my further discussions with Jebb we proceed on the basis of modifying his draft or ours.

The point is that we should insist upon a resolution based upon our theory, that is, one which encourages negotiation and does not make judgments.

Of course, I am not competent as to the detail of such negotiations or who should participate in them, and I would not venture to comment upon that. It may be that further negotiations would be fruitless. I don’t think that is the question, since no other alternative appears which promises to yield anything but disaster.

What is of decisive importance to the British as well as to ourselves is that the British remain in a negotiating posture and refrain from themselves placing impediments in the way of continued negotiations.

On the basis of our exchange of telegrams (USUN No. 397, Oct. 1,2 and Deptel No. 165, Oct. 1,3 which apparently crossed mine) I do not think we are far apart except in what I consider to be a decisively important distinction, and that is on the question of including in a resolution a call upon Iran to suspend the expulsion order pending outcome of negotiations. I think this would be the acid in the mixture that would make the whole resolution corrosive. I urge the Department to reconsider this point.

Following the Security Council meeting yesterday I talked with Ardalan and urged him to advise Mossadegh that it was the sense of the Council that it would be of great importance for Mossadegh to come. [Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, Iranian Premier] Ardalan said he would do so. [Ali Gholi Ardalan, UN delegate] He pleaded with me to keep open the door to negotiations, insisting that if Mossadegh should come he would genuinely want to find a solution. I realize that Ardalan, like Entezam, is of the reasonable and friendly school, but those are the people upon whom we will have to rely nowadays in dealing with people like Mossadegh.

One cannot help feeling sympathy for the British in such an hour of trial, but I think we can help them and ourselves by a patient and moderate course, whatever their sense of provocation and frustration.

Since dictating the above, I have seen Loy Henderson’s telegram (Tehran’s No. 1236, Oct. 24). [U.S. Ambassador to Iran] I am struck by the similarity of his recommendations with those I made personally to Jebb yesterday, as reported in USUN No. 397, Oct. 1.

I would appreciate it if you would make this letter available to the Secretary or be good enough to make sure he is advised of its substance. I am sending a copy to George McGhee and to Averell Harriman5 for their information. [McGhee was Assistant Secretary of State, Harriman had been Truman’s special envoy to Iran]

Sincerely yours,

Ernest A. Gross

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989)

Footnotes below from the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian:

1 “On Oct. 1 Ambassador Franks left the following message signed by Herbert Morrison and dated Sept. 30, for Secretary Acheson: [Oliver Franks, British Ambassador to U.S., to Sec. of State Dean Acheson]

“My Dear Dean: I do not doubt the sincerity of the motives underlying the United States proposed Resolution in the Security Council on the Persian question, but I am bound to say that I am deeply concerned by its implications. I feel rather strongly that it is out of harmony with the friendly and understanding talks we had in Washington. We have honourably abided by The Hague decision and I do not like, after all our efforts for a peaceful and not ungenerous solution, being put into the dock together with Dr. Musaddiq. You know full well the efforts I have made in this country towards a close alignment of the policies of our two nations and at times it has been a difficult task—and there is no doubt that British public opinion would strongly resent the imputation in the United States Resolution if they heard of it. I ask you most earnestly as friend to friend to take this into account and to reconsider the United States proposal. America will surely not refuse to stand together with us in seeking to uphold through the United Nations the rule of law which has been our guiding principle in this issue.”

In a memorandum dated Oct. 1, Perkins stated that Ambassador Franks told him when he left the message that the British were withdrawing their technicians from Abadan and that this made the U.S. draft appropriate and the British draft resolution more appropriate. [George W. Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs] Bearing this in mind, Perkins told Franks that the Department of State would instruct its representatives at the United Nations to discuss the proposed resolution with their British counterparts with a view to working out the best possible draft. The text of Morrison’s message and Perkins’ memorandum are attached to a memorandum from Webb to Perkins, dated Oct. 2, in file 888.2553 AIOC/10–151.”

2 “In telegram 397 Gross reported that he had suggested changes in the U.S. draft resolution that would take note of the Iranian expulsion order and which would meet the British accusation that the U.S. draft put the “UK in dock along with Iran.” (888.2553/10–151) The draft resolution was transmitted in telegram 162 to the Mission at the United Nations, Sept. 29. (888.2553/9–2951)”

3 “Telegram 165 reported that the British would announce on Oct. 1 the withdrawal of their personnel from Abadan. Since this announcement would make it clear that the British had abandoned the idea of using force in Iran, the United States was now disposed to support in principle a resolution along the lines of that drafted by the British. (888.2553/10–151)”

4 “In telegram 1236 Henderson reported that he had just read the text of the British draft resolution and stated that if the United States felt compelled to support some kind of resolution, it should be an innocuous one which might call upon both parties to resume negotiations and take no measures which would render more difficult the success of such negotiations. (888.2553/10–251)”

5 “On Oct. 3 Harriman wrote to Gross, saying that since the Iranian situation was moving so fast he had no comment to make on it. Harriman did state his view that all the emphasis should be place on getting the British to adopt a negotiating posture toward Mosadeq, and if possible get into the negotiations as soon as possible. (888.2553/10–351) No other replies to Gross’ letter have been found in Department of State files.”

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