U.S. Replacing UK in Middle East?
Roger Makins Eyes Its Emerging Influence (1954)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | July 1, 2019                    

Sir Roger Makins, British Ambassador to the United States

As the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Roger Makins (1904-1996) keenly gauged the American disposition in foreign affairs.

In this highly revealing document, Makins offered a forecast of the shifting Anglo-American role in the Middle East, pondering ways Britain should adjust to the new U.S. ascendancy in the region while maintaining their vital strategic partnership.

British Foreign Office Documents on Iran | 1951-1954

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Printed for the Cabinet. February 1954


C (54) 53
15th February, 1954.

Copy No. 68




At the request of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I circulate for the information of my colleagues the attached letter on Anglo-American policy in the Middle East from H.M. [Her Majesty’s] Ambassador at Washington.

S. L. [Selwyn Lloyd]

Foreign Office, S.W. 1,
12th February, 1954.


I have felt for some time that the Middle East is the field in which our relations with the Americans are most likely to be difficult to handle in the coming year, and I think it may be useful to you if I set down briefly the reasons for this opinion.

There is on our side a very understandable suspicion that the Americans are out to take our place in the Middle East. Their influence has greatly expanded there since the end of the second World War, and they are now firmly established as the paramount foreign influence in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia. They are gaining a similar ascendancy in Persia, and it now seems that Pakistan may to some extent be drawn into their orbit. Apart from these specific associations, the mere existence of the United States as the world’s greatest power inevitably exercises an influence throughout this area as in other parts of the world. This raises two questions. Are the Americans consciously trying to substitute their influence for ours in the Middle East? And, even if this is not their conscious policy now, is it nevertheless the inevitable conclusion of the present trend of events? I would say that the answer to the first question is “no,” and that the answer to the second will depend largely on our own efforts and in particular on the way in which we adjust ourselves to this new American factor in Middle Eastern politics.

I do not think it is necessary to argue in detail for the view that the Americans are not deliberately pushing us out of the Middle East. They realise that such a policy would involve the extension of their own military commitments, and it would be inconsistent with their general attitude towards the United Kingdom as their major ally. It is true that some of their individual representatives in the field, spurred on by enthusiasm for their particular tasks, by a belief in the superiority of American methods or simply by vanity, are delighted to increase their own importance at our expense. But in present conditions I feel confident that these tendencies can always be checked by a proper understanding between London and Washington.

On the other hand the Americans also have their suspicions about British policy in these countries. Briefly, I should say that they are inclined to feel that we have cast them for a supporting role, which is to consist of switching on or off the powerful current of their diplomatic and financial influence at a word from us. Or, to put it differently, they feel that we are asking them to accept limitations on their activity which we do not accept for ourselves. Thus, for example, we are trying to negotiate an agreement about military supplies to Iraq which would preclude them from playing any part in the equipment and training of the Iraqi air force or in the training of the army. At the same time we are training pilots for the Saudi Arabian air force, which the Americans consider to be as much their preserve as we consider the Iraqi. We have overridden their very strong objection to the supply of jet aircraft to Israel, while raising objection ourselves to their own proposal to provide bombers for Saudi Arabia. I know there is a perfectly good case for each of these actions, and I am not suggesting that the American point of view is justified on any of them individually. But I think taken together they convey to official opinion here the impression I have outlined above, that we want to have American co-operation in the Middle East on our own terms and do not fully recognise their own interests there, and what they are doing towards building up barriers against Soviet penetration.

Added to this, they do not really understand our present position in the defence negotiations with Egypt. The American conception of a negotiation does not provide for prolonged pauses of the kind which has now lasted since 21st October last and this is beginning to be not only puzzling but irritating to the officials here who are anxious to go ahead with economic aid for Egypt. I hope that, after considering the relatively favourable comments of the State Department on our draft “Heads of Agreement,” we shall now be able to make a new effort to bring the present phase of the negotiations to a conclusion. If we can do this successfully, it will in my opinion not only increase our freedom of manoeuvre in the Middle East generally but also give the State Department and the Pentagon an added respect for our position in that area.


             25th January, 1954.

[Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

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