Though-minded, respected, courtly and above all efficient, Mehdi Bazargan is expected to play a central role in the revolutionary council that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wants to oversee Iran's transition from monarchy to an Islamic republic.
Bazargan, 73, was Khomeini's choice late last month for the crucial mission to the southern oil fields to convince the radicalized workers that their strike should be modified so that domestic petroleum needs could be met.
The two-week mission paid off. Bazargan -- who has gained extensive experience in oil dealings despite his consistent opposition to the shah -- was able to overcome extreme leftist objections and persuade the strikers to resume partial production.
The virtual cutoff of Iran's 6 million-barrel daily production led to extreme shortages of heating fuel and gasoline at home, with fears that this could exacerbate unrest.The ban of exports is costing Iran about $70 million a day.
Bazargan, patient, forceful and especially open to dialogue in a country known for its autocratic leaders, is credited with being the only Iranian commanding sufficient respect to have succeeded in the difficult oil-field mission.
That is less a commentary on his considerable qualities, his friends insist, than on the dearth of younger Iranians who over the years have shied away from taking difficult jobs or stances.
Jailed four times over the years for his opposition to the shah and deprived of his university post, Bazargan influenced earlier generations of young Iranian officials by insisting that Islam and the modern world were compatible.
What distinguished Bazargan and his Iran Freedom Movement from other opposition politicians and partieis is his record of dedication to Islam, democracy and opposition to the shah's person when others were careful to limit criticism to the monarch's entourage.
Smallish, balding and sporting a white goatee, Bazargan comes from a prominent family of Tabriz merchants established in Tehran. He has kept up his contacts with the religious bazaar traders -- and the clergy. His devotion to his religion is attested to by the bump on his forehead from touching his prayerstone.
He was chosen by Reza Shah, the present monarch's modernizing father, for a state scholarship in the late 1920s and spent six years in France, first studying thermodynaics at the prestigious Ecole Centrale, then textile engineering in Turcoing.
Back in Iran, he started teaching at Tehran University's technical college and rapidly became its dean.
After World War II he joined Mohammad Mossadegh's National Front and in the early 1950s became undersecretary of state for education and eventually managing director of the National Iranian Oil Co. during the stormy period after Mossadegh kicked out the British.
But he was rewarded with that job only after organizing the strike of Abadan refinery Workers which was crucial in breaking Britain's hold on Iranian oil -- an accomplishment he doubtless remembered while trying to get the same refinery back to work.
When the Mossadegh government was overthrown in 1953 with CIA help, Bazargan and his political friends were confined to political oblivion -- and even forced into "temporary retirement" at the university for protesting the shah's generous deal with a Western oil consortium.
But whenever the shah relented and allowed polical activity, Bazargan was in the forefront first in the early 1960s, then after a five-year imprisonment starting in 1962, and again in 1977 when the monarch felt it expedient to allow what he thought would remain token liberalization.
In 1977 he was one of the founding fathers of the Iranian Committee for Human Rights, which sought to force the shah to honor his public pledges of liberalization.
Throughout 1978 he used his extensive network of friends and admirers in the bazaar, the moderate clergy and cadres to favor gradual change, rather than revolution. He was arrested for two weeks after the army short and killed hundreds of demonstrators in Tehran's Jaleh Square in early September.
Worried about the specter of open-ended revolution, he became one of the many pilgrims to Neauphle-Le Chateau outside Paris where he conferred with his old friend Khomeini in the hopes of pointing out to him the growing dangers of extremism.
Unlike his former National Front Colleague, Karim Sanjabi, Bazargan made no public deal with Khomeini. And he has yet to go on record with any political statement.
But when Khoemini asked him to deal with the oil workers, Bazargan did not hesitate. "For two weeks, sleeping, working and eating were all mixed up," he told a friend. His fatigue was obviously mixed with exhiliration.
He dealt firmly but patiently with men not used to exercising their most elementary rights and suddenly radicalized by a strike they had come to realize was the most effective way to force the shah to leave the country.
They were like mothers who did not want anyone to touch their child, Bazargan was reported to have said in describing his difficulties, especially with the handfuls of disciplined, dedicated Marxists he kept meeting.
"But our mission received greater overations than in the Mossadegh days, 25 and 26 years ago," he said.