The United States and Iran, 1941-1947 : Origins of Partnership

Pfau, Richard Anthony, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia

In August, 1941, the United States stood by while Great Britain and the Soviet Union sent troops to occupy Iran. The occupying powers then opened a supply path across Iran t o the Soviet Union. America's role as supplier of war material first attracted, America's military planners to Iran. In August 1942, the United States agreed to operate the supply corridor from the Persian Gulf to Tehran, and within a year 30,000 American transportation Soldiers had reached Iran.

Successive Iranian governments, hoping to draw the United States into a permanent relationship, asked for American advisers as symbols of American support. Wallace Murray, Chief of the State Department's Near East Division, believed that American advisers could be more than symbols. They could assist in the modernization of Iran. By mid-1943, Americans were reorganizing the Iranian army, rural police, and city police. Americans were managing the distribution of wheat. Americans were controlling Iran's economy. On December 1, 1943, at the conclusion of the Tehran Conference, President Roosevelt committed the United States to protect the independence of Iran.

The United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union competed for oil concessions in 1944. In October, the Iranian cabinet and Majlis decided to defer consideration of all new concessions until after the occupation landed. The United States and Great Britain accepted Iran's decision; the Soviet Union did not. Through various means of diplomatic pressure, they forced the Iranian Prime Minister from office. They then relaxed, and Iranian patriot Mohammad Mossadeq pushed through the Majlis a law forbidding new concession moreover. American policymakers, constrained by the need to preserve their wartime alliance with the Soviet Union chose not to confront the Soviets over Iran. Meanwhile, as the economic adviser proved unsuited to his task, the American emphasis shifted from reform to stability.

When the Soviet occupation army shielded separatist regimes in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, Iran appealed to the fledgling United Nations. On March 2, 1946, the date stipulated by an Iran-Soviet-British treaty for the occupation to end, the Soviets failed to withdraw. American Secretary of State Byrnes seized this unquestionable violation of a wartime agreement to "give it to them with both barrels," At the Security Council the United States defended Iran verbally against the Soviets. The Russians hurriedly reopened negotiations with Tehran. Iranian Prime Minister Qavam, bowing to the fact that the Red Army was just outside his capital while American power was far away, arranged an exchange. He promised the Soviets an oil concession, and they withdrew their troops.

American intervention in Iranian affairs began with the arrival of Ambassador George V. Allen in June, 1946, Allen quickly established a close personal relationship with the young Shah, who had reigned if not ruled since September, 1941. In October, 1946, Allen's manipulation was instrumental in the elimination Of the leftist, anti-Shah Tudeh party from the Iranian cabinet. In November, Allen's public support for Iran's right to send troops to Azerbaijan, coupled with an American offer of combat arms, steeled the Shah and cabinet to act against the separatists. In 1947, the two nations signed a $25-million arms credit. In the agreement to extend the American military mission, Iran gave the United States a veto over third-power military advisers. Finally, Ambassador Allen delivered an address against the Soviet oil concession. The Majlis, confident of American support, thereupon rejected it. The resignation of Prime Minister Qavam, after an American favorite in the Majlis split his majority, left the Shah the dominant internal political force. The dominant external power was the United States.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
United States -- Foreign relations -- Iran, Iran -- Foreign relations -- United States

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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