I quote from Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative Prime Minister, that ‘governments found most of their legislation in the pigeon-holes of their predecessors.’¹ The seeds of the Conservative administration’s policy towards Iran to protect British interests in regard to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, as will be demonstrated later in this article, were in fact planted while the Labour Party was in office. An Assistant Under-Secretary who supervised economic affairs, E. A Berthoud, in June 1951, held discussions about the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis with a Reader in Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Ann K. S. Lambton. During the war, Ann Lambton had been a press attache at the British Embassy in Teheran. As she had been in Iran for a long time and knew the language and mentality of the Iranian people better than other British officials in Iran, in Berthoud’s view, she was considered an authority on Iranian affairs. According to E. A. Berthoud’s minute,

Miss Lambton was of the decided opinion that is was not possible to do business with Musaddiq. She thought it important not to make concessions to him except to the extent necessary to maintain order in southern Iran. Miss Lambton believed that it would be possible to undermine Musaddiq’s position by ‘covert means’. One way in which this could be done would be to give heart to the substantial body of Iranians who fear the risk of being denounced as traitors but whose idea of the Iranian national interest coincided with the British conception. She thought it might be possible through the public relations officer at the British Embassy in Teheran gradually to change the public mood and thus give an opportunity to intelligent Iranians who were well disposed to the British to speak out against Musaddiq.²

In a further minute Berthoud wrote:

Miss Lambton feels that without a campaign on the above lines it is not possible to create the sort of climate in Teheran which is necessary to change the regime. With discreet efforts on the part of the British, it would be possible to co-operate with Iranians who were certain that Musaddiq’s programme of ‘nationalisation’ would only lead to economic suicide on a national scale.³

Berthoud, in the concluding part of one of his minutes, wrote, ‘what Miss Lambton was proposing was proposing was in effect a public relations and education programme which she lamented that the Company itself had not implemented’.4 Again, according to Berthoud’s minute, ‘Miss Lambton suggested that Robin Zaehner, lecturer in Persian (and later Professor of Eastern Religions) at Oxford, would be the “ideal man” to conduct the covert pro-British campaign.’5

As well as being respected by scholars, and regarded as an authority on Iranian politics, as was said before, Ann Lambton’s views were highly valued by the Foreign Offices.

Similar to Ann Lambton, Robin Zaehner believed that the British Embassy in Teheran could become instrumental in slowly changing the public mood against the Iranian Prime Minister, Dr. Musaddiq. Zaehner had been successfully involved in covert operations and propaganda in Iran. In 1944, when there was a serious threat from the Soviet Union that they might occupy the Azerbaijan province of Iran, he mobilised public opinion in Iran against the Soviet influence. Robin Zaehner knew nearly everybody in Teheran who was significant. He believed that the British Embassy in Teheran should align itself with influential Iranians who saw their own interest and the interest of the United Kingdom as one. The influential and wealthy Rashidian family were considered by Zaehner as the ideal allies of that type.

The Rashidian family, the brothers Sayfullah, Qudratullah and Assadullah, had close contacts with Britain. They were regular visitors to Britain, and kept a family suite at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The Rashidian brothers played a crucial role for Britain, as will be shown in this chapter. Their view about Musaddiq was the same as Zaehner’s.6

  1. L. A. MONK, Britain 1945-1970, (London: G. Bell & Sons Ltd., 1976), p. 100.
  2. PRO, London, FO 371/91548/ EP 1531/674, The General Political Correspondence of the Foreign Office, Minute by Berthoud, 15th June 1951 in W. R. LOUIS, The British Empire in the Middle East: 1945-51, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 659-660.
  3. PRO, London, FO 371/98701, The General Political Correspondence of the Foreign Office, Minute by Berthoud, 13th October 1952 in J. A. BILL and W. R. LOUIS, Musaddiq, Iranian Nationalism and Oil, (London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. Publishers, 1988), p. 233.
  4.  FO 371/91548/ EP 1531/674 in W. R. LOUIS, op. cit., p. 660.
  5. Ibid.
  6. C. ANDREW, The Making of the British Intelligence Community, (London: Sceptre books, 1986).

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!