Iran

on the World Today

THE return of the Shall of Iran and his Empress from their successful unofficial visits to the United States and Britain marks a new stage in his relationship with the people of Iran and in Iran’s relations with the West. Muhammad Reza Pahlevi has come a very long way indeed since the day fourteen years ago when he was called hastily to replace his father, the exiled Reza Shah. The government of Iran during this period of wartime occupation by British and Russian commands was, at best, reduced to a very passive role.

It was not until 1945 that the young ruler emerged as an articulate and positive force in his country. At this time he appeared as a new phenomenon among Middle Eastern rulers because of his active promotion of the ambitious and essentially revolutionary reconstruction program known as the Seven-Year Plan.

In promoting this far-reaching plan, the young Shah began to display for the first time the characteristics of moderation and good sense which have come to distinguish him. He made it clear that he hoped to transform Iran into a modern and healthy state by democratic means rather than by force. He attempted to influence the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, to legislate in favor of progressive taxation, land reform, and extension of social services.

He recognized the danger to the country of large tribal elements alienated from the central government by years of neglect and oppression, and he attempted to win their support by visiting tribal areas and encouraging decentralization of provincial affairs. He not only talked reforms. He acted. He began by breaking up the royal estates acquired by his father and selling them on easy terms to their peasant cultivators.

The large landowners resist

In all of these efforts it was inevitable that the Shah should find himself blocked by the large landholders and traders who control the country‘s internal economy. The proposed new roads into the provinces, and extension of education, suggested unwelcome developments to the owners of 40,000 of the country’s 41,000 villages. Any move to establish decentralized local government councils looked equally threatening. The breaking up of the crown lands, intended to encourage similar distribution of state lands, has been accepted as a challenge to resist rather than an example to follow.

A striking instance of the strength of this resistance occurred a year ago. With American TCA help, the government had completed a dam and reopened an ancient tunnel to double the flow of the Zaindeh River. The additional water was intended to benefit small cotton growers in the dry plain south of Isfahan, and in turn to boost the region’s textile industry.

As the stream began to enlarge, however, the landowners upstream began to irrigate their own gardens and rice fields, claiming rights based on a water code dating back to 1611. Insisting that the new water was inseparable from the old, they preferred to take care of their own fields rather than to see the development of new cotton acreage in the plains below.

In spite of the typical landlord’s resistance to change, his traditional functions in a country like Iran cannot be discounted. Under the prevailing tenure system the landlord has supplied the land, water, seed, equipment, and marketing. This has entitled him to four fifths of the crop, leaving one fifth to the cultivator. It has meant that the Iranian peasant has lived in perpetual debt and on an income of less than $100 a year.

The redistribution of land has involved the assumption of these functions of the landlord by government or other agencies. The solution of this problem as it has evolved in Iran provides an excellent case study for the entire Middle East.

As land distribution began, it immediately became apparent that transferring the deed to a small acreage would be meaningless unless the new owner had help in learning to operate it. At this point the Iranians turned to the Near East Foundation, then operating demonstration farms and modest agricultural schools in twenty-five villages. This American foundation’s work was financed jointly by the Iranian government and its own funds. The suitability of its work for Iranian needs was so apparent that substantial contributions from the Imperial Welfare Fund were added to provide training of land distribution supervisors. Teacher-training centers were expanded to give basic instruction in sanitation, use of tools, and pest control.

The tasks of the newly trained supervisors included help to the farmers in establishing coöperative marketing and credit facilities. Further support for this system has come during the last two years from the Ford Foundation and from TCA, which combined its efforts in this field with Iran‘s established program.

It is only because this elementary technical education and help has accompanied the distribution of land that the new owners are now ready for the “50,000 tractors” asked for by the Shah on his visit to the United States in December. The pride with which he spoke of the progress made in land reform seems justified. For his country has set an example of how government and private agencies, working cooperatively, can make the distribution of land practical and keep it productive.

The Shah has now sold off 175,000 acres to 7000 peasants, whose longterm payments go into a revolving fund for coöperative services. One of the final tests of the success of this system will come when American technicians begin to leave Iran, transferring many projects to full Iranian management. The departure of William Warne, head of TCA in Iran, indicates that the U.S. government’s work in this phase of Iran’s reconstruction is nearly over.

Military domination

Given a continuation of the improved political climate in Iran, it can be expected that there will be real economic progress on a wide front. General Zahedi’s gov ernment has been criticized for ruthlessness in dealing with the opposition and for failing to follow constitutional methods. It is based on army support rather than on a popular mandate. It has locked up or exiled many troublemakers of the left and executed some after sketchy trials. Dr. Mossadegh is held in solitary confinement, thanks only to the Shah’s unwillingness to let him be martyred.

There arc protests, of course, and it must be assumed that there is a good deal of ferment behind the orderly facade. But it is also clear that the state of near anarchy reached during the last months of the Mossadegh regime frightened the more responsible elements, and the memory of this makes them willing now to tolerate military domination. This gives the present government time to concentrate on economic revival.

Iran‘s skillful negotiators

In its first eighteen months the Zahedi government has moved with unaccustomed speed. The Premier’s most important task, after establishing security, was to get funds for the empty treasury. This meant facing the facts of economic life at Abadan. Mossadegh had begun to make tentative approaches to facing the reality of his country’s situation: that the world in 1953 no longer needed Iranian oil. But he had become the prisoner of his own nationalist doctrine to such an extent that he had lost all freedom to maneuver in dealing with the Western powers in control of the world’s oil markets.

The ministers of the Zahedi government, in taking up this problem, were not free either. They had first to deal within the specific nationalist framework now riveted into Iran‘s constitution. They could never forget that Mossadegh remained a popular hero for accomplishing this historic shift of power over Iranian resources.

The skill of the Iranians, and particularly of Foreign Minister Amini, in dealing with world marketing realities in the light of this overriding political reality at home, is now freely admitted by the Western representatives who negotiated the final oil settlement.

The agreement is one which fully upholds Iranian rights and dignity. Its practical results are already apparent. The agreement was ratified after long debate on October 28. On the 31st, the first full tankers moved out into the Persian Gulf. Iran’s income from oil this year will be $87 million. In the next three years it will total $420 million.

The extent off American aid

Meanwhile the grants and loans from the United States, which have been keeping Iran barely alive financially, can be reduced. The scope of American aid to Iran during the last eighteen months and the reasons for it illustrate the extent of American responsibilities in the Middle East today. Technical aid at the annual rate of some $23 million has been given Iran for the past four years. These funds have been matched whenever possible by Iranian contributions.

In later stages of the Mossadegh regime, when Iran’s funds ran out, TCA underwrote some of the government‘s most vital health and irrigation projects on an emergency basis. The successful anti-malaria program is a case in point. The immediately beneficial results of this campaign, carried on among the provincial villagers, can be justified on many grounds, including political ones. But the emphasis in all cases has been on stimulating Iranians to carry on for themselves. It is too soon to assess the TCA program — but one evidence of the prevailing attitude toward it is the naming of a street in downtown Teheran Point Four Street.

Once it was assured that oil revenue was again in prospect, the U.S. government shifted to a more businesslike plan of aid. FOA has announced that some $127 million is available for Iran for this year. Of this, $85 million will be loans, of which $53 million will come from the ExportImport Bank; $42 million will be grants, including $21 million for TCA.

Since Zahedi came to power, aside from technical aid, the United States has given Iran about $5 million a month as outright grants on an emergency basis. Much of this has gone to finance 40,000 idle oil workers in Khuzistan and to pay the wages of the army and civil service. The rest went largely for essential imports.

Finally, military aid continues through several U.S. missions. One of these has been helping in training the gendarmerie since 1942. A second has been providing training for the army. For the last two years a Military Assistance Advisory Group under General Robert McClure has been helping Iran bring its defenses and weapons up to date.

The shadow of the Kremlin

The reasons for U.S. assistance on this scale are apparent from a glance at the map. Iran is the most unprotected of the countries on the periphery of the U.S.S.R. Yet it is probably the key to the security of the Middle East and Southwest Asia. With the removal of British forces from the Suez Canal Zone this year, the focus of defense strategy is shifting toward the Persian Gulf.

In the emerging concept of Northern Tier defense, underscored by the new pact between Turkey, Pakistan, and Iraq, it is not yet clear what role Iran can or will play. Its 1200 miles of border with the U.S.S.R. and its proximity to Soviet oil fields (Baku is 125 miles from the Iranian border) subject its every defense move to heavy Soviet pressures.

Strategic estimates of Iran’s capabilities vary. At the least, it is agreed that whether the whole of the country could be defended or not, a line of defense should be maintained at the Zagros Mountains on the border between Iraq and Iran. Effective blocking of the passes here would prevent troops from the north reaching the oil fields of either country.

This trend in defense planning is not lost on Moscow. Two typical stratagems are discernible in its present dealings with Iran. One is an attempt to win friends in Teheran. To this end some long-standing border disputes were recently settled, and Russia agreed at the same time to return $20.4 million in gold and goods due Iran since the wartime occupation period. Iranian acceptance of these long-overdue exchanges has been calm and matter-of-fact. They do not appear to have altered innate Iranian suspicion of Russian intentions.

These suspicions continue to be fed, moreover, by continued Communist political activity directed from across the border to the northern provinces of Iran — particularly efforts to fan the chronic grievances of the Kurdish tribes in the Zagros Mountain region.

Wooing the rural minorities

It is significant that the Shah and General Zahedi have been paying particular attention to the important provincial and tribal leaders. They have been called to Teheran, praised for their role in Iranian history, and promised real improvements in their territories.

Four major irrigation schemes are now under Yvay in these tribal territories. A new rail link connects Mianch and Tabriz in Azerbaijan. A beginning has been made on a migratory school system for tribal children. There are now nearly a hundred mobile schools moving with tlie tribes and teaching hygiene, home economics, and agricultural subjects along with the three R‘s.

The whole quest ion of the relationship of the tribes and rural minorities to the Teheran government remains, however, to be solved. The Shah is attempting to win their support on more than the present sentimental basis of personal loyalty to him. In contrast to his father, he is using methods of persuasion and trying to give them a stake in the country’s welfare.

His marriage to the daughter of an important Bakhtiar leader provides a helpful link with this group of tribes. He has appointed a powerful Bakhtiar chieftain to the cabinet. The chief of police of Azerbaijan is now an adjutant on his staff. These efforts have helped to strengthen support in some areas. But there are still important tribes in active opposition to the present government.

In Teheran the emphasis now is on the future and on reconstruction. There is a new and hopeful spirit in the air. The Seven-Year Flan Organization is again being directed by its originator, AbolHassan Ebtehaj. The new water system for Teheran is nearing completion. Railways are under repair. Khuzistan province is to be developed agriculturally to balance its dependence on oil. The value of the rial is up, and the price of bread is down.

It is still a race in Iran. What Walter Lippmann calls the “dismantling of the feudal order” has only just begun. But the chances seem equal again that the country will achieve internal stability, and that Muhammad Reza Shah, as he takes up the reins of power more firmly, will achieve many of his earnest ambitions for his country.