Iran Cuts Diplomatic Relations With Britain
1952 Note Orders Shutdown of UK Embassy in Tehran

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | May 31, 2016                    


The severance of formal diplomatic relations between two countries is never pretty. In foreign affairs, it is the apotheosis of a decaying relationship, even a harbinger of chaos and death.

History has shown this to be so. It was only 3½ months after the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961, that the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion happened. By October 1962, the world was shaken by the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the U.S. and the USSR stared each other down in a terrifying game of nuclear chicken.

During the 1979 revolution, after Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 of its personnel hostage, Iran and the United States went from allies to adversaries practically overnight. The deeply traumatizing hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days, included a failed helicopter rescue mission which killed eight U.S. servicemen. This led shortly to U.S. aid to Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War (an extremely bloody, pointless, eight year ordeal), the 1983 terrorist attack which murdered 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut, the massacre of 290 passengers on an Iranian airbus in 1988, and numerous other calamities. Nearly four decades onward, there are still no normal diplomatic channels between the two countries.

The Iranian-American relationship really pivots not in 1979, however, but a quarter century earlier. In October 1952, following 18 months of quarreling over the oil nationalization issue, relations between England and Iran had deteriorated so badly that the Iranian government finally pulled the plug on the British. At the time, this was predicted by some to be the beginning of either a Soviet takeover of Iran, or the beginning of something like World War III.

Premier Mossadegh was the first to announce Iran’s intention, explaining the decision in an October 16th radio broadcast. The Truman administration had long feared that this day would come. Immediately, the State Department issued a ‘say it isn’t so’ statement, to no avail.

The media, too, howled in disapproval. The New York Times described the move as “merely one more attempt to blackmail not only Britain, but the West in general, with the threat of national suicide.” The Sydney Morning Herald predicted that the break-up “could do nothing to further Persia’s cause, and would plainly inconvenience Teheran far more than London.”

Prior to the breach, Iran asked Sweden to look after its interests in Britain, who, in turn, requested Switzerland do the same in Tehran. The modern day version of this arrangement is the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, now located within Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, DC. The U.S. interests section in Tehran is handled by the Swiss.

How exactly does one nation tell another’s diplomatic corps to, in essence, ‘pack up and get the hell out of our country’? With civility and tact, of course.
Dr. Hossein Fatemi Shown below is the text of Foreign Minister Hossein Fatemi’s message to the British Charge d’ Affaires, George Middleton. The note, delivered on October 22nd, ordered Middleton and his staff to evacuate the premises within a week. According to a British Foreign Service spokesman, there were 50 British embassy personnel in Tehran at the time, many of whom, Middleton included, resided in a compound in the nearby city of Shemiran. Fatemi also announced that martial law would be temporarily in effect there.

Dr. Fatemi left the door open to reconciliation, however, expressing the hope that Britain would “revise their attitude”. Rather than adjust its disposition, Britain chose to join forces with America and overturn the entire government in exchange for a pliable military dictatorship. Conveniently, the U.S. embassy in Tehran became the de facto headquarters for the August 1953 CIA operation, which resulted in lifetime house arrest for Mossadegh, and a chest full of bullets for young Fatemi.

Anglo-Iranian relations remained severed until December 1953, when the coup regime restored them prior to coming to any kind of an oil settlement. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Iran Severs Diplomatic Relations With Britain (Oct. 1952)


Monsieur le Chargé d’Affaires,

I have the honor to inform you of the decision of the Imperial Iranian Government to break off diplomatic relation with Her Brittanic Majesty’s Government. The Iranian Government much regret that they have been compelled to adopt this decision.

In the course of the dispute with the former Oil Company my Government constantly endeavored to prevent the dispute from impairing the friendly relations between our two Governments and are of the opinion that had the British Government taken into account, with due regard to equitability and friendship, the purpose of the Iranian nation and Government which solely consisted in recovering their despoiled rights, the relations between the two Governments would never have reached the present stage.

Unfortunately, however, in this matter which is of vital importance to our people, your Government not only did not help to bring about a settlement of the dispute but by giving illegal protection to the former Company prevented the attainment of an agreement. Furthermore, certain officials of that Government procured difficulties, by means of provocations and unjustified interferences, for the purpose of disturbing the country’s peace and tranquility.

The Imperial Government of Iran hope that Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, realizing the truth and the nature of the Iranian nation’s movement, will revise their attitude. Should such a favorable atmosphere and good understanding be produced, the Iranian Government, being always desirous of maintaining good relations between the two Governments, will take, with great pleasure, measures to resume diplomatic relations.

In conclusion I should like to inform you that the members of the Imperial Embassy in London have been instructed to leave for Tehran within a week as from October 22, 1952.

Please accept the assurances of my high consideration.

Dr. Hossein Fatemi
Minister for Foreign Affairs

Indecent Proposals : 1951 — Oil, Iran & the Anglo-American Art of Non-Negotiation
Essential Background on US - Iran Oil Negotiations


Related links:

Persia Likely To Rue Severing Relations With United Kingdom | October 18, 1952

Iran’s Break with Britain Puts Burden Upon the U.S. | U.S. editorial, October 21, 1952

Resumption of Relations With Britain | Christopher Gandy (Oct. 13, 1953)

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

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Tumblr   Instagram