BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

became the view of the Foreign Office. Berthoud, Assistant Under Secretary of the British Embassy in Teheran, had written back in 1951, in his report to the Foreign Office, ‘There is already enough opposition in the Majlis to unseat Mr Moussadek.’¹

 

No further dealings were possible with Dr. Musaddiq and that future negotiations would have to be conducted with a new Prime Minister; in the meantime we should do what we can to weaken Dr. Musaddiq’s position,²

was the British Government’s view.

Behind the scenes secret activities were at work. British secret agents had reported to London that there were many anti-Musaddiq elements in Iran who, with encouragement, including cash, from Britain, could bring Musaddiq down. Those who turned against Prime Minister Musaddiq were the civil service, the Islamic leaders. Musaddiq ‘was proposing, along lines laid down by the Tudeh party, to nationalise businesses and enfranchise women; both anti-Islamic moves’.³ Among others turning against Musaddiq were the constitutionalists, and as was noted earlier on, the army, landowners, merchants and politicians.

I quote from Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative Prime Minister, that ‘governments found most of their legislation in the pigeon-holes of their predecessors.’4 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.5

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.6

      1.  PRO, London, FO 371/911462, The General Correspondence of the Foreign Office, by E.A. Berthoud, Assistant Under-Secretary at the British Embassy in Teheran, Persia, Secret, 19th June 1951.
      2.  PRO, London, T 236/3663, Treasury records, Cabinet Persia (Official) Committee, Foreign Office, Secret, 9th April 1952, p. 1.
      3. B. LAPPING, op. cit., p. 272.
      4.  L. A. MONK, Britain 1945-1970, (London: G. Bell & Sons Ltd., 1976), p. 100.
      5. 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.
      6. 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.

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