Western Diplomatic Perspectives on Modern Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


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This paper examines US officials’ evolving understanding of Soviet and Tudeh Party capabilities and activity in Iran during 1941-1954. It is based on a large trove of analytical reports and other documents produced by the State Department, the CIA, and other US government agencies and available at the US National Archives – a collection that has not previously been used by scholars focusing on communism in Iran. US officials took a relatively benign view of Soviet and Tudeh activity in Iran during World War II, seeing their growing popularity as a consequence of the extreme inequality and dysfunctional politics that prevailed in Iran and the considerate behavior of Soviet occupation forces (compared to British forces). After the war, the advent of the hawkish Truman administration and the emergence of the Cold War – especially the 1945-1946 Azerbaijan crisis – led US officials to become much more alarmed about the communist presence in Iran. The State Department and CIA devoted considerable resources to monitoring Soviet and Tudeh activity during this period, producing a wealth of information about Soviet policy toward Iran and the size, structure, and strategy of the Tudeh. During the Mosaddeq era, US officials believed the Tudeh was pursuing a “popular front” strategy toward the nationalist movement and growing steadily. However, they did not detect a sharp increase in Tudeh capabilities or an imminent Tudeh threat in late 1952 or early 1953, of the sort that might have justified the coup they undertook in August 1953. Finally, these documents provide important new details about how the Tudeh Party was largely destroyed in the aftermath of the 1953 coup.

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Former authors have stressed the fact that Austria was in its neutral position a good choice for Iran to hire instructors for the dar al-fonun and/or the military academy. While not comparable with the powers England, Russa and France, Austria had valid interests in Iran mainly on the commercial sector, forcing the governement to engage in Iran from the 19th century on.
Trade with Iran started with quite some success in the first half of the 19th century. This information we have from the Austrian Consul in Trapzon, Rudolf Gödel. In 1849 he had written a brochure „Über den pontischen Reiseweg nach Persien” in which he gave a detailled description about the commercial situation between Austria and Iran. In the relations between Austria and Iran we can recognise a transformation process of the phase of interest into the phase of institutionalised cooperation extended from the 1850s to the 1880s.
This process can be abserved in a series of events, the so called first Austrian Mission from 1851-1853, the Contract of Shipping and Trade dated 1857, the visits of Shah Nasir-ad-Din to Vienna in 1873, 1878 and 1889, the establishment of a steady Austrian residence in Tehran from 1872/73 on, and the so called second Austrian Mission to Iran 1879-1881.
The variety of sources in the Austrian State Archives gives a vivid picture of this process. From the 1860ies on the Austrian governments was furnished by regular reports from Iran, revealing the country’s situation and policies. The reports came first from Austria’s honorary consul in Tehran, Albert Gasteiger Khan. From 1872 on a permanent Austrian residence in Tehran was established. The comprehensive and regular reports from Tehran have hitherto not been analysed properly. The paper aims at sheding light on the Austrian interests in Iran on the one had, and on the other hand on analysis of the foreign interests in Iran from the Austrian perspective on the basis of this highly important source.