my job as a political/military officer, a sort of liaison between
the State and Defense Departments, in the summer of 1972 in
Tehran. The US was heavily involved in the sale of military equipment
the Shah's government and provided technical assistance to
military. It was a terribly busy period in my career. We lived
in Darrous. I didn't know
many Iranians. I only worked with senior military people such as Generals
Toufanian and Azhari. I cannot honestly say that we mingled
much with ordinary Iranians
or knew more than a few who were not part of the military. In a way, Tehran's
garden walls were more than just perimeters of property; they
were walls of barrier.
It's hard for outsiders to get past them.
Doctrine: Give Shah all the arms he wants
In those days, the US was the major arms supplier to Iran. American
companies really didn't have to push too hard to make sales as
the Shah himself had a large appetite for arms, especially sophisticated
weapons. Even when he couldn't afford them, he would use loans
for purchases. Before 1972, the US policy towards Iran was to
minimize the sale of weapons - first because it would create
an arms race
in the region and second it would be a great financial burden
on the economy. However, when Nixon came to power, it was the
Doctrine to let the Shah have whatever he wanted -- everything
except nuclear weapons. It was shortsighted on their part, for
when Iran's oil income surged, the sales of arms soared too.
In my opinion, Iran was spending way too much money on arms
while it couldn't even handle them. That's why they needed American
personnel to help them. While the Shah was spending lavishly
on military equipment Iran's social fabric remained relatively
Shah uncomfortable with discussing domestic opposition
Each year when American military officers from the National
War College came to the Middle East and Iran, I would accompany
for an audience at Niavaran Palace. The Shah was supremely
self-confident and well
informed about a wide range of international affairs. He would talk to
the colonels for about twenty minutes and then answer questions
for about an
hour in an informal setting.
He would give intelligent answers to all the questions asked.
However, there was one issue that he was uncomfortable with: the
domestic opposition to his regime, the question of terrorist attacks
on US military advisors. He would say he faced a Red and Black
reactionary opposition, which was just a nuisance, not a serious
threat to his rule. The Shah had a grandiose plan to make Iran
into one of the world's preeminent powers, something like West
Nobody paid attention
Although my job had nothing to do with internal affairs, I
always asked myself how was it that educated and professional
Iran were able to tolerate having no political say whatsoever
in their lives? They were unable to cast a vote or even express
opinion against the government. My answer was that many people
-- suddenly for the first time in the lives of their families
-- found themselves able to make decent money, afford expensive
travel, have hope for a better future. Why would they risk all
that for political involvement that would certainly bring trouble
without achieving change?
Early in my assignment I met an Iranian journalist whose ideas
differed from most people the Embassy knew. Privately, he was
very critical of the Shah's regime, the sole voice that I heard
such thoughts. I used to send reports of my conversations with
him to Washington just to show that Iranian opinion was not monolithic.
Nobody ever paid any attention to those reports.
Embassy document mentioning Precht, published
students who took
over US embassy in November 1979. Original -- Re-typed ]
Once I was taking Farsi lessons from a lady who was a member
of an aristocratic Qajar family. I asked her, "Who do you think is the most popular leader
in Iran?" She immediately answered, "Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh." I
said, "But, he's been dead for seven years." She replied, "Yes,
and you Americans took him from us!" This lady was a long-time, loyal
employee of the embassy.
I began to have serious doubts about Iran's stability towards
the end of my four years. With a softening of the oil market,
national income slumped. The government had to cancel some contracts.
construction section of the economy slowed down. People lost
jobs. There was inflation and the Shah imposed price controls.
1975 0r '76 my wife and I were traveling through Azarbaijan.
We stopped at a small shop. All the tin cans had new price
labels pasted on them. Merchants were forced by the government
prices down. Those who didn't comply with the price freeze
would be beaten up. Small shopkeepers in the bazaars, a natural
of the regime, were being maltreated. Why was the regime foolishly
weakening its base?
So the economy was showing signs of decline. People from the villages
had been sucked into the cities to work on construction projects.
Once near Hamedan, we gave a ride to a young man who was going
to Tehran for a job to support his family back home. He was quite
unhappy with his lot. I suppose he ended up marching in demonstrations
against the Shah.
Israel: Shah in trouble
In maybe 1975, Senator Percy was visiting and got a briefing
regarding the situation in Iran from Richard Helms, the US ambassador
at the time, who assured him that everything was fine. The Shah
was in control and he was our staunch ally and a good friend.
Senator asked me to arrange a meeting with the then unofficial
Israeli ambassador, Yuri Lubrani. Lubrani told us the Shah was
in some trouble politically and the threat was coming from the
clerics. They were not reconciled to his rule and he couldn't
deal with them effectively. I had never heard such analysis in
About the same time one of our political officers had made
an appointment to visit a prominent mullah in the bazaar. But
was a call from the Minister of Court who told the Ambassador
the meeting wasn't a good idea. The Ambassador told the officer
to go. In the summer of 1976, we went to a major international
football game in Tehran. I don't remember who was the opposing
team, perhaps Israel. When the King entered, everyone in the
stadium stood up and shouted Javid Shah (long live the Shah).
impressed me. I learned later, however, that the audience was
mostly military people, not the general public.
Ignorant of opposition
In June 1978, I took over the Iran desk of the State Department.
It was clear that the revolution had started -- although we didn't
use that word and most officials thought the Shah would somehow
manage his troubles. The US government had no idea of who the opposition
was and how much support it had. In May 1978, there was a secret
cable from the Embassy referring to Ayatollah Khomeini which had
to identify him for readers. We were ignorant about the political
potential of the clergy or even the National Front and their respective
influences in the Iranian society.
Shah was weak
Near the end of the hostage crisis, I had to go for minor surgery
to Georgetown hospital [in Wasington DC] and next to me in the
holding room I saw Loy Henderson. "Present at the creation,
present at the finish," I
thought. While we were both recuperating, I walked to his room
for a talk. To backtrack a bit, when I went on the Iran Desk
I was given a big stack of official papers from 1952-53 to read
declassification. I brought them home and each night would read
Against that background I asked Ambassador Henderson what he
thought of the Shah during his years in Tehran. "I read that
you spent a lot of time talking to the Prime Minister or the Court
Minister, but rarely the Shah. Didn't he count for much in those
days?" "No," Henderson said, "he didn't. The
Shah was basically a weak person in dealing with difficult situations.
He relied on others for advice. Only later did he develop his famous
megalomania." That matched my impression, for during the
intense period of the Revolution, the great pride and confidence
The Shah couldn't understand the enmity of the people towards
him. Hoveyda and Alam were gone; he looked to the Americans to
decisions for him.
We had no idea about the grave state of the Shah's health. We
knew that he had been sick but didn't know how sick. We sort
of closed our eyes to the reality because ours was a close relationship
and we had invested heavily in it.
For me the most frustrating
time in my tenure was during the hostage crisis. I was concerned
that the American hostages would be harmed or even killed;
there had been many executions taking place after the revolution.
not hopeful about our indirect messages to the Khomeini regime,
but we had to persist, had to maintain hope that diplomacy
might succeed. The Rescue Mission, I thought, was a bad idea.
Reza Pahlavi: Serious, but inexperienced
talk about the Shah's son: I met him once when he was 18,
I think. He
seems to be an intelligent, serious and apparently well-motivated
man, but he has no experience in governing or even in running
a complex organization. He has had no experience in Iran
revolution when his father's regime was on the losing side.
has not shared what most Iranians have endured. Iranians
who have lived through those years are not likely to have strong
Monarchy does not appeal to most Iranians
Some of those too young to remember the years
and war and who chafe at the present oppression , may
see him as a fresh and promising face. But why wouldn't they
someone who has struggled in Tehran against the clerical
regime to one
who has merely shouted against it from comfortable
safety? I don't
think Monarchy as an institution now holds much appeal
for most Iranians.
You asked about [Iranian-American politician] Mr. [Rob] Sobhani.
I would think he would have even less
anyone who has failed as a conservative Republican candidate
in Maryland expect to win popular approval as a liberal democrat
Iran? He probably has more of a "following" in the
US than in Iran.
Change from within
But, of course, I am not in Iran and can only
a distant perspective. In my view, change in Iran will come
from within, not from without. New leaders will have to emerge
within the country.
Any attempt by Washington to change regime
in Tehran is apt to produce exactly the opposite result.
Iranians - nationalists above everything else - will come together
to oppose the foreign hand.
I believe the US government should
seek decent relations with every nation, not just Iran, and
where there are differences, engage in an honest and frank debate
them. Have trade and show good will.
Economic development for
a sound political structure
We should eventually have
diplomatic relations [with Iran] but that is not as important
as much as economic and commercial connections and contacts
I see a positive future. Iran has enormous potential
in human and natural resources and once the political situation
we can have a mutually beneficial relationship.
Plainly, any successful regime in Iran must appeal to the larger
population and its number one priority must be the economy
-- putting people back to work. A healthy economy is the essential
a sound political structure. And vice versa. The US
should aid Iran in its future development both socially and economically
- but only when our help is needed and asked for.