Russia's Game in a Key Area of the Mideast

Interview with the Shah of Iran.

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This story originally appeared in the March 23, 1959, issue of U.S.News & World Report.

With Iraq in trouble and new tension rising in the Middle East, U.S. and Soviet Russia are focusing attention on Iran.

U.S. has just negotiated a military pact with that country to protect it from attack.

Moscow, at the same time, tried and failed to sign up the Iranians on its side. Now the Communist are talking tough to the Shah, threatening Iran with dire consequences because of the agreement with the U.S.

Why all this activity on Russia's southern border? To get the story, Regional Editor John Law went to Teheran for this exclusive interview with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.

Q  Your majesty, the Soviets are talking very tough about Iran and you. Do you think they might go beyond this "war of words"?

A  No.

Q  What is your own personal reaction to the attacks?

A  Well, I think that the reaction of my people has been much stronger than my own. I cannot mix my personal feelings into politics. My people have been very much hurt by this Soviet propaganda campaign. If the Soviet intended the propaganda to have any effect, it's having the opposite effect to what they intended. It's just a war of nerves.

Q  What kinds of pressure is it possible for the Soviets to exert upon Iran, if they want to?

A  Well, there may be some sort of subversion.

Q  You mean stirring things up inside the country?

A  Perhaps.

Q  Is there any Tudeh [Communist] Party activity in the country today?

A No, not as such. But this does not mean there is no Communist activity. The Communists can operate secretly, with cells and so on, using different people than were in the Tudeh Party.

Q  Then it's possible that a fresh group of Communists has been formed in Iran?

A  It's possible.

Q  Is it possible for the Soviet Union to exert economic pressure on Iran?

A  To some extent.

Q  What is the background of the situation that has developed between the Soviet Union and Iran?

A  Negotiations for a nonaggression treaty between us and the Soviets failed because of two points they wanted us to agree on. The first point was not acceptable to us, and as far as the second was concerned, we wanted them to clarify some of the details.

The two points on which we could not agree were these:

Firstly, they did not want us to sign a bilateral military agreement with the United States—the agreement was then under negotiation—and secondly, they wanted us to agree not to grant any military base to a foreign power.

The first point we could not agree to because we belong to the Baghdad Pact, and the bilateral agreement with the United States is to implement the pact and is to be signed by the other members of the pact, too. As long as we are in the pact we form one body. Furthermore, why shouldn't I sign an agreement of that kind with the United States?

The Baghdad Pact, which the agreement implements, is purely defensive. It would not come into effect unless someone attacked us. And nobody is being forced to attack us.

As far as the second point goes, it has always been our policy not to grant bases to a foreign power, so we can agree with this idea. However, we couldn't accept the Soviet proposal on it because the proposal did not specify the meaning of a base. Such a proposal would have to be studied carefully and worded carefully. Without an exact wording, they would be able to call anything they wanted to a base.

A missile-launching site is not the only thing that could be called a base. If we built a new port and stationed a single gunboat there, they could call this a base—unless the words were defined precisely. Even the most minor installation could be called a "base".

And, furthermore, we want them to define what they meant by "foreign." For a base to be "foreign" it would have to be under "foreign" control. Yet everything in Iran is and will be under Iranian control.

Q  What did the Russians mean by "foreign bases"?

A  I don't know what they meant. They didn't want to define it. That was the trouble.