A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tehran Conference 1943, Part II: The Young Shah Meets the Big Three

In yesterday's post on the Tehran Conference 70 years ago, I brought the narrative down through November 28, including the young Shah's meetings with the Big Three. (On the Iranian background see the previous post.

Let's start with a contemporary British newsreel of the conference, including the only video clip I've found of the Shah (meeting Churchill: stills with all three below.) Some of the videos I posted last week on the Cairo Conference also include the Tehran Conference.
An aside about Churchill's presentation of the "Sword of Stalingrad" to Stalin, shown in the video, though it's not really about the Middle East. The specially cast sword of Sheffield steel was a gift of King George VI to the heroic people of Stalingrad, was presented by Churchill to Stalin in a solemn ceremony on November 28. You will see in the video Chuirchill giving the sword to Stalin, and then Stalin passed it to Marshal Klimint Voroshilov, the senior Soviet military man at the conference and an old Stalin crony who had survived the military purges of the 1930s.

At which point Voroshilov immediately dropped the sword.

In the video,there is a cut-away after Stalin takes the sword, then you see Voroshilov, in uniform, handing it to an aide. The memoirs of Churchill and Harriman, the published parts of Hopkins' diary, the official Presidential log of the conference and George C. Marshall's official biography all omit this, but apparently Harold Nicholson's diary and some other witnesses noted it.

Back to the Middle East. Unlike Casablanca and First Cairo, Tehran addressed, at least briefly, two Middle Eastern questions: the future of Iran and the neutrality of Turkey. On the future of Iran, the Big Three pledged to respect Iranian independence when the war was over (following the toppling of Reza Shah and the occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviets, the US had also established bases to facilitate the flow of Lend-Lease equipment to Russia, so none were noticeably respecting it in 1943). On Turkey, they discussed the meeting FDR and Churchill were about to have with Turkish President İsmet İnönü at the Second Cairo Conference. I'll discuss that more fully in my post on that conference, but Stalin agreed that if Turkey joined the Allies and Axis Bulgaria declared war on Turkey, the Soviets would declare war on Bulgaria.
Stalin, the Shah, V. Molotov (retouched)

I previously discussed the young Shah's accession to power under British and Soviet guns two years earlier. Normally, when three foreign leaders visit a country, protocol requires them to make a courtesy call on their country's leader, their (particularly nominal in this case) host. Instead, Roosevelt and Churchill entertained the young Shah at the Soviet Legation around noon on November 30.

But Stalin, presumably thinking in postwar terms, and previously unwilling to cross town to meet Roosevelt at the American Legation, was the only one to pay a formal visit to the Shah, where he assured him of Russia's respect for Iranian independence (though international pressure only got the last Soviet troops out of Iran in 1946).
The Shah and FDR
The Shah met with Roosevelt at noon, accompanied by his Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Chief of the Imperial Court. He gave the President an Isfahan carpet designed by the artist Imami measuring 18 by 30 feet.

The Shah and Churchill
The Shah also met with Churchill (though Churchill's six-volume memoirs don't seem to note it), seen at right and in the video above.

I'm leaving out all the meat of the conference. There was plenty of tension between the Big Three: Churchill and FDR over Mediterranean versus Western European strategy, and Churchill and Stalin over the postwar settlement and, given Churchill's deep anti-Communism and Stalin's Bolshevik history, Just Because. Things reportedly went better that evening when Churchill hosted a festive dinner in honor of his 69th birthday. That evening ended with jokes and even teasing among the principals. An explanation may lie in the story told by a Churchill aide that when the two men first met in Moscow in 1942, every meeting was rough going except their last, private lunch, with no one present but interpreters and multiple bottles of spirits and good Georgian wide. When the aides were readmitted, they found the two leaders in a good mood and getting along quite nicely, and the bottles emptied. This may have helped smooth things at the birthday dinner as well. Both Churchill and Stalin were known to like a drink. (This is untrue. Neither man liked a drink; both liked plentiful drinks. Roosevelt was no teetotaler, but he wasn't in the same league.)

On Wednesday morning, the first of December, the President's personal physician, Admiral Ross T. McIntire, expressed concern. He had approved the President flying to Tehran provided the aircraft did not have to climb too high, but learned Wednesday morning of a cold front that might interfere with the Zagros passes on Friday, rquiring the plane to climb to altitudes too high for the Presidrnt or some other members of his party. It was agreed to cut the conference short, with Wednesday, December 1, as the last day. The Combined Chiefs proceeded on to Cairo that day, leaving the Big Three to issue their Joint Declaration (affirming among other things Iranian independence). Roosevelt sent the Shah a silver-framed pictire and gave American chocolates and cigarettes to the staff of the Russian Legation. He departed and spent the night at a US Army base called Camp Amirabad, then proceeded the next morning to the Gale Morghe airfield and headed back to Cairo. Churchill traveled the same day.

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