Expropriation For Me, Not For Thee

September 19, 1951 — The Boston Globe

The Mossadegh Project | September 28, 2022               

John Harriman (1904-1961), author, financial columnist for The Boston Globe and host of the nightly radio show "It’s Your Business", on the oil nationalization debate over Iran. In 1952, he also joined the campaign of young Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy as a speech writer.

The Boston Globe
September 19, 1951

Dumping Iran’s Oil Into Lap of Soviet Union


In a paid advertisement in the Wall Street Journal the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company last week served notice on the world’s oil industry as follows:

“It has been brought to the company’s notice that the Government of Iran in disregard of its solemn obligations . . . attempts to sell crude oil and oil products . . .”

“The company is confident”, the advertisement continued, “that no oil company of repute or any brokers of standing will countenance any director indirect participation in the unlawful actions of the Iranian Government. Should, however, any concerns or individuals enter into any transactions with the Iranian Government in regard to the oil products concerned, they are warned that this company will take all such action as may be necessary to protect its rights in any country.”

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Sovereign Right to Expropriate

This statement by the powerful Anglo-Iranian Company is a very curious one, indeed.

In the first place there is nothing “unlawful” in Iran’s expropriating her oil properties. Mexico followed the same course during our Hoover administration with American oil interests in that country, and we never questioned her sovereign right to do so.

To be sure, the Anglo-Iranian concession carried a clause providing that Iran would not expropriate, and would, furthermore, submit any dispute to arbitration.

But such a contract does not endow a private corporation with sovereignty — even though 53 percent of Anglo-Iranian is owned by the British Government, the company is still a private corporation.

Expropriation is by definition the taking or modifying of the property rights of individuals by a state in the exercise of its sovereignty. As such, it is a principle well recognized in international law. Nor is a sovereign state, presumably, supposed to arbitrate a dispute between itself and a private corporation.

Was Britain prepared to arbitrate the nationalization of her steel?

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Iron Curtain Nations Eager to Buy

As to the threat in the Wall Street Journal advertisement, that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company would “take all such action as may be necessary to protect its rights in any country” (which presumes to do business with Iranians, one must infer), there seems to be no better way of dumping Iran and all its oil into the lap of the Soviet Union or its satellites.

Perhaps the company’s threat can prevent Iranian oil deliveries to Afghanistan and the Argentine, both of whom are reported dickering with the Iranian Government. But it can hardly do likewise with the Poles and the Czechs, who are said to want immediate delivery of 8,500,000 barrels of crude and to have their own tankers.

Furthermore, reports are that the Soviet Union has recently added 14 new tankers to her Caspian Sea fleet, and to be building both road and rail connections to the southward — probably with her eye on the 20,000 barrels of aviation gasoline which Anglo-Iranian’s refinery at Abadan can produce every day.

If Iran is blocked in selling its nationalized oil in the West, it will undoubtedly attempt to sell to the Soviet orbit, when and if it is able to make foreign commitments. That, of course, waits principally on Iran being able to oust British technicians and to replace them with Swedish, Swiss or German engineers.

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Related links:

UN Last, Best Hope Left For Settlement In Iran | Battle Creek Enquirer, Oct. 1, 1951

British Chickens Come Home At an Embarrassing Moment | Marshall News Messenger, 1951

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company | Annual Meeting: December 20, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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