Newly-Released U.S. Documents Cover Iran 1951-1954

On June 15, 2017 the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State made public hitherto unreleased official documents of the government relating to Iran 1951-1954. These may be read online or downloaded. The Iran items run 1,007 pages in PDF format. I am grateful to Laurence T. May for this information.

The documents include CIA briefings, nearly completely unredacted. They are arranged chronologically. The first document, February 23, 1951, is “Despatch From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State”. Its subject is “THE POSITION OF THE SOVIETS IN IRAN”.

This material shows us what various people in the U.S. government were thinking. For example, we can read the positions of high officials at a meeting of the National Security Council on March 4, 1953.

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Russia under the Tsars made considerable inroads against Persian territory. Iran occupied a position between the Russian and Ottoman Empires. Although Iran had very few communists (the embassy estimated 1 person in a 1,000), indeed Iranians are described by the U.S. embassy as “ruggedly selfish and individualistic”, the U.S. for other reasons feared a communist takeover. One of these is mistaken and imperial ideas about oil, including the ownership of oil and its nationalization within Iran, which meant that Iran was becoming a country more independent of foreign influence and control.

Border regions between empires are usually contested areas. The British and Americans displaced the Ottomans. If this sort of geopolitical rivalry still is in place today to some extent, that is, if the U.S. still fears that Russia has designs on Iran’s land, then the U.S. empire, if it acted sensibly, really should be a friend of Iran or at least not actively anti-Iran. The fact is that Russian-Iranian relations are uneasy and marked by distrust, as one would expect after hundreds of years of Russian incursions upon Persia and at least 5 wars between them. Even if Russia has put behind it ideas of expansion into Iran, which is likely, the general suspicion that the U.S. government has toward Russia because of the Soviet past suggests that the U.S. government would not be as antagonistic toward Iran as it is. The solution to the puzzle of sustained U.S. hostility toward Iran is certainly Israel and the special place that the U.S. government has made for Israel in its policies. This special relation has been distorting U.S. government behavior for a long time in the Middle East, including its impact on war-making in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.