Britain’s Mideast Meddling Irks Truman

Robert S. Allen — December 20, 1951

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | September 28, 2012                  

Premier Mohammad Mossadegh While it is now known that the Truman administration was more critical of British policies than its successor, according to a DC insider at the time, that division may have been wider than thought. Though apparently unsubstantiated by historians, the claims made in one of Robert S. Allen’s widely syndicated "Inside Washington" columns are certainly worth looking into. Short of obtaining internal documents or other verification, we can at least put them to a plausibility test.

The biggest bombshell revealed by Allen was that Churchill sought to divide up Iran with Russia. This idea wasn’t unimaginable — Britain and Russia had already done just that in 1907. Of course, to accomplish this, they would first have to re-invade Iran. After the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain had in fact been plotting such an invasion.

The column also indicates that Secretary of State Dean Acheson was alarmed by Britain’s allegedly cavalier attitude toward Soviet influence in Iran. If so, it was a paradoxical approach to say the least, since, according to Allen, Britain had already begun playing the Communist card in their efforts to cajole America into going against Mossadegh. The Eisenhower administration would prove far more susceptible to that line of reasoning.

Allen reports that Churchill’s government had been pushing the Shah to attempt a military coup against Mossadegh and establish himself as ruler. As everyone now knows, that is precisely what happened in August 1953. What’s noteworthy is the early notice of this plot (December 1951), and Allen’s unusually frank assessment of it as a “royal dictatorship” in the making.

Robert S. Allen (1900-1981) Robert Sharon Allen (1900-1981) himself is a confounding character study with a rather remarkable biography. During a journalistic career spanning nearly 60 years, Allen was best known for his collaboration with Drew Pearson on the influential "Washington Merry-Go-Round" political gossip column and books, as bureau chief for The Christian Science Monitor, and his own column "Inside Washington", which ran in newspapers across the country from 1949-1980. One early reporting endeavor had him joining the Ku Klux Klan for an undercover exposé. Initially a liberal, Allen later switched allegiances and morphed into a leading conservative commentator.

Allen amassed numerous inside contacts and developed close ties to FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover — his publishing of national security information actually led to his being wiretapped by the CIA in 1963. Though he was a World War I veteran and volunteered to fight for his country again in World War II (serving under Gen. Patton and losing an arm), he had also briefly worked as a spy for the Soviets in the 1930’s. In February 1981, his health and career in decline, Allen committed suicide by gun.

British Policies Irk Truman

By Robert S. Allen

WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities are angry, and disturbed, over secret British maneuvers in the strife-torn Middle East, particularly Iran.

Since Secretary Acheson’s return from Paris, he has had two conferences with President Truman on this delicate and explosive problem. The subject occupied most of their luncheon meeting several days ago.

High lights of the secretary of state’s report were:

Iran—Since the return to power of Winston Churchill, the British government has been endeavoring to persuade the young shah to oust Premier Mossadegh and, with the aid of the Iranian Army, take control of the country.

In effect, what the British are proposing is a royal dictatorship.

Egypt—The Churchill government is making strenuous undercover efforts to organise a number of small parties into a coalition sufficiently powerful to kick out the ruling Wafd regime. Biggest hitch in this scheme is finding a leader capable, and willing, to head up this British-inspired coalition government. So far, all likely prospects have shied away from this role because of fear of assassination by the extreme nationalist Moslem Brotherhood.

Acheson stated that he has no confirmation from any source of an intelligence report about a sensational British scheme regarding Iran.

According to this G-2 information, Churchill is alleged to have put out feelers to Stalin to cut up Iran, with the northern half (chiefly the province of Azerbaijan, which adjoins Russia) being occupied by the latter, and the remainder, which has the fiercely-controversial oil resources, taken over by the British. Mohammed Riza Pahlevi [Mohammad Reza Pahlavi] would continue to reign as Shah, presumably, under joint Anglo-Soviet protection.


In the conferences with the President, Acheson was sharply critical of British policies and tactics throughout the Middle East.

The secretary of state stressed two points: Britain’s undercover operations are largely counter to U.S. efforts to work out peaceful solutions of the explosive problems, and London’s maneuvers could easily precipitate war in the ancient cockpit.

“What’s behind Churchill’s plan to set up the shah as dictator of Iran?” asked the President.

“The British seem to be convinced,” replied Acheson, “that Mossadegh’s hold is crumbling and that if the shah, with the Army’s backing, doesn’t take over, then the Communists will seize control. We see no real danger of that happening. There are Communists in Iran, but they are a small minority. The real danger is Russia and giving it the chance to again grab off a big chunk of Iran as happened in 1946.

“We feel that is exactly what will happen if a coup is attempted by the shah. That sort of thing would play squarely into Moscow’s hands.”

Acheson also reported the British didn’t seem to be disturbed by the prospect of Russian intervention in Iran. He characterized this significant indifference as highly disquieting.

The secretary of state further told the President that so far the Churchill government has rebuffed U.S. suggestions that concessions be made to Egypt on control over Sudan and the Suez Canal. London is taking the attitude that it already has pledged self-government to the Sudanese, and that the Wafd regime is afraid to consider terms on the Canal.

Reports the State Department is receiving from Teheran indicate sessions of the Majlis are even more turbulent than pictured by the press. Illustrative of this was the following incident: Premier Mossadegh, furious at opposition heckling, announced he was going on a balcony to address a mass demonstration. “Go, go and speak to your killers,” retorted an opposition leader.

“I will go”, shouted Mossadegh.

“To hell, fast — we hope,” screamed the opponent.

The Eisenhower - Mossadegh Cables: Complete Exchange of Messages
The Eisenhower - Mossadegh Cables: Complete Exchange of Messages


Related links:

Iran: How the Mess Came About | The Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1980

Herbert Morrison Rudely Interrupted in Parliament? | Billboard, August 4, 1951

Iran Premier’s Stubbornness Brings Crisis | The Brooklyn Eagle - September 12, 1951

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

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