NOT A QUESTION OF IMPERIAL FLAG WAVING, BUT A MATTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM’S ECONOMIC SURVIVAL: THE BRITISH LABOUR GOVERNMENT IN DISARRAY OVER THE OIL CRISIS IN IRAN: IDEOLOGY V. REALITY: 1948-1951.

NOT A QUESTION OF IMPERIAL FLAG WAVING, BUT A MATTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM’S ECONOMIC SURVIVAL: THE BRITISH LABOUR GOVERNMENT IN DISARRAY OVER THE OIL CRISIS IN IRAN: IDEOLOGY V. REALITY: 1948-1951.

This was the first of the recurring post War oil crises. From the very beginning of this important crisis the British foreign Secretary, Bevin, was highly concerned about the role that America might play in unfolding diplomatic or military situation.

 

In 1950 the Labour Government first addressed itself to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s Crisis. The British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, was thinking about how best the Americans could be used in the crisis. It was important for the efforts of the British to work with the Americans. not to get wires crossed, and not let Iran play the one against the other. Bevin feared that the Iranian might play the Americans off against the British the British. If this worked, if Iran played one side off against the other, then it would be bad for the whole British strategy in the Middle East. Bevin saw the Anglo-American cooperation as the antidote to an Iranian strategy that would ‘play us one against the other’.¹ In the British view the Iranians were continuously bidding up, changing the demands, ‘bazzar method of negotiation’,² Bevin put it. Iran’s line was, despite the fact that Iran needed revenues from oil, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company needed the Iranian’s Government’s cooperation just as much. In the summer of 1950, the Iranian Prime Minister, Razmara, said, ‘Iran could give the British plenty of trouble if they [did] not cooperate’³.

 

In the late summer of 1950 the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, as part of the effort to use the Americans in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s crisis, to prevent Iran from playing the Americans off against the British, came up with the idea of a joint Anglo-American loan to Iran on the condition that Iran ratified the Supplemental Agreement. The Americans did not agree with the scheme. In the American view, ‘the scheme would not serve the best interests of any of [the] countries involved. ‘4 The Americans believed that since the British Government held the majority ownership in Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, it should therefore have control over the Company.5 Bevin pressed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to make some concessions, to ‘find something to offer’. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refused to accept Bevin’s request on the basis that, ‘it was difficult to find something the Iranian would accept’. 6

 

In May 1951, immediately after the Shah made Musaddiq Prime Minister, Dr. Musaddiq sent the Governor of the province of Khuzistan to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s head office at Khorranshah. Accompanied by a crowd, the Governor announced that the oil was nationalised. Musaddiq had taken an uncompromising stand on the issue of British imperialism. ‘He is obsessed by a single idea, the  nationalisation of oil and the elimination of what he considered the maleficent influence of the Oil Company from Persia, ‘7 wrote Sir Frances Shepherd from Teheran to the Foreign Office, in one of his reports.

      1. M.A.HELISS, The United States, Great Britain, and Iranian Oil, 1950-1945, Ph.D. Thesis, The Ohio State University, 1991, p. 42.
      2. Ibid., p. 43.
      3. Ibid.
      4. Ibid., p. 45.
      5. Ibid., p. 47.
      6. Ibid., p. 49.
      7. PRO, London, FO 371/91535/ Ep 1531/ 356, The General Political Correspondence of the Foreign Office, Sir Francis Shepherd, British Ambassador in Teheran, to the Foreign Office, Confidential, 14th May 1951.

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