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TThe first U.S. intervention in the Middle East after World War II grew directly out of U.S. participation in that conflict. During the war, U.S. noncombatant troops were stationed in Iran to help with the transfer of equipment and supplies to the Soviet Union. The Red Army occupied the northern part of the country in 1941; the British were in central and southern Iran. In the Tripartite Treaty of January 1942 (not signed by the United States), the Soviet Union and Great Britain had said that their presence there was not an occupation and that all troops would be withdrawn within six months of the end of the war. At the Tehran conference in late 1943, the United States pledged, along with Great Britain and the Soviet Union, to help rebuild and develop Iran after the war. Those countries gave assurances of Iranian sovereignty, although that may have been a mere courtesy to a host country that had not even been notified that a summit would be held on its soil.
The Soviet Union broke its promise about withdrawing. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin viewed the part of Iran that bordered his country as important to Soviet security, and he was aware of the U.S. and British designs on Iran, which had traditionally sided with the Soviet Union's enemies. Although the Soviet Union had much oil, Stalin was concerned about the size of its reserves and so was interested in the northern part of Iran as a potential source of oil. But as State Department official George Kennan sized up the situation at the time, "The basic motive of recent Soviet action in northern Iran is probably not the need for the oil itself, but apprehension of potential foreign penetration in that area." The Soviets meddled in Iranian government affairs, oppressed the middle class in the north, and helped revive the suppressed Iranian Communist (Tudeh) party. When the war ended, the British and U.S. forces left Iran, but the Soviet troops moved southward. They by then had established two separatist regimes headed by Soviet-picked leaders (the Autonomous People's Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kurdish People's Republic) and kept the Iranians from putting down separatist uprisings. (The Azerbaijanis and Kurds, members of large ethnic groups that live in several countries, had long hated the rulers in Tehran.) Negotiations between the Soviets and Iran's prime minister, Qavam as-Saltaneh, won Moscow the right to intervene on behalf of the Azerbaijani regime, an oil concession in the north, and the appointment of three Communists to the Iranian cabinet.
That Soviet conduct irritated President Harry S Truman. He said he feared for Turkey's security and criticized "Russia's callous disregard of the rights of a small nation and of her own solemn promises."The United States formally protested to Stalin and then to the UN Security Council. Those actions succeeded in getting the Soviets to leave, although Truman may also have threatened to send forces into Iran if Stalin did not withdraw his troops. In late 1946 the Truman administration encouraged Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, who succeeded his father in 1941, to forcibly dismantle the separatist regimes the Soviets had left behind. In 1947 the administration objected to the use of intimidation (by others) to win commercial concessions in Iran and promised to support the Iranians on issues related to national resources. As a result, the Iranian government refused to ratify the agreement with the Soviets on the oil concession in the north.
Truman's high-profile use of the United Nations and his bluster against the Soviets were the beginning of U.S. post-war involvement in the Middle East. In 1947 Truman issued his Truman Doctrine, pledging to "assist free people to work out their own destinies in their own way," ostensibly to thwart the Soviets in Greece and Turkey. In reality, it marked the formal succession of the United States to the position of influence that Great Britain had previously held in the Middle East.