WASHINGTON -- Newly declassified documents offer more details of how the CIA executed the overthrow of Iran's democratically elected prime minister 60 years ago, describing the political frustrations that led the United States to take covert action against a Soviet ally -- and echoing the current frustrations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
It has long been known that the United States and Britain played key roles in the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh -- a move that still poisons Tehran's attitude toward both nations. The CIA acknowledged its role previously, even including it in the timeline on its public website last year: "19 August 1953 CIA-assisted coup overthrows Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh."
Mossadegh was replaced by the oppressive regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian revolution by followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
But for historians, the heavily redacted documents posted this week on George Washington University's National Security Archive amount to "the CIA's first formal acknowledgment that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup," the archive said on its site.
The documents also offer an explanation for the covert action that is eerily similar to arguments for curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions today. The CIA argued then that Iran was threatening Western security by not cooperating with the West -- at the time, by refusing to bargain with the British-run Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. -- thereby threatening the supply of cheap oil to Britain and risking a British invasion that could, in turn, trigger a counter Soviet invasion of Iranian oilfields.
In a document titled "The Battle for Iran," the CIA reveals the coup plan was called "Operation TPAJAX." The unnamed author of the history writes that previously published accounts miss the point that "the military coup that overthrew Mossadegh ... was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government."
"I requested these particular materials in 2000, and it took 11 years to get them," the archive's Malcolm Byrne said in an email Tuesday to The Associated Press.
Iranian leaders have been asking for an official apology ever since the coup. The United States and Iran remain at odds over Iran's plans to build up its nuclear power system and, allegedly, nuclear weapons capability.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton came close to apologizing in oblique comments, and President Barack Obama acknowledged the U.S. actions in his Cairo speech in 2009. "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," Mr. Obama said to the Egyptian audience, citing that as a reason for tension between the two nations.
No U.S. leader has explicitly apologized, and the White House offered no immediate comment Tuesday on the new disclosures.