Newspaper article International New York Times

Open the Files on Iran Coup

Newspaper article International New York Times

Open the Files on Iran Coup

Article excerpt

America and Britain have colluded to keep the full story of the 1953 operation secret.

As Iranian diplomats huddle in Vienna with representatives of six world powers to hammer out a deal on Iran's nuclear program, it appears as if the West is about to open a new chapter in its long and troubled relationship with Iran. With a comprehensive agreement in sight, Britain is preparing to re-open its embassy in Tehran after a three-year rupture in relations and the United States is contemplating working with Iran to confront the Sunni extremist threat in Iraq.

But just as the world is demanding that Iran be honest about its past nuclear activities, Britain and the United States still refuse to come clean about the 1953 Anglo-American coup in Iran that remains an open wound in Iran's relations with the West.

Every Iranian schoolchild can retell the story of how Britain's Secret Intelligence Service and America's Central Intelligence Agency conspired in 1953 to orchestrate a royalist coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, an anticolonial icon who led the charge for the nationalization of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

The Anglo-American role in unseating Mr. Mossadegh and reinstalling Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Iran's dictator is the worst-kept secret of the Cold War. Yet, both Britain and the United States continue to hamper efforts by historians to uncover the full story of the 1953 coup. Any trace of the C.I.A.'s role in the coup was excised from the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States series, or FRUS, which published a volume of documents in 1989 on the Eisenhower administration's policy toward Iran that was denounced as a "fraud" by historians.

The scandal surrounding the 1989 FRUS volume prompted Congress to pass legislation requiring the series to be a "thorough, accurate, and reliable record of major United States foreign policy decisions." To redress the glaring omissions of the 1989 volume, the State Department's historians have been hard at work assembling a long-anticipated retrospective FRUS volume on "Iran, 1951-1954" that is due for publication this year but is yet to materialize.

One major obstacle to the release of American government documents on the 1953 coup is that this covert action was a joint Anglo-American operation, codenamed "Tp-Ajax" by the C.I.A. and "Boot" by the S.I.S. Britain's Foreign Office has been opposed to the release of any American documents that make reference to the British role in the coup. When these documents were first considered for release in 1978, a State Department official warned the Foreign Office that the documents contained "very embarrassing things about the British." London and Washington have colluded ever since to keep these documents under lock and key. …

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