Jack Straw on “perfectly democratic” Mossadegh

Former Foreign Secretary Diagnoses the “Iranian Psyche”

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | April 3, 2007                   
[Updated November 25, 2013]

Jack Straw

Though the American CIA declassified its once secret history years ago, the British government has never officially acknowledged their role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Mossadegh.

In December 2005, we reported that according to the British Broadcasting Company, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw rebuffed their request in the development of their radio documentary "A Very British Coup". In fact, his office refused to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act about British involvement in the crime.

The BBC then requested an interview with Mr. Straw, and were flatly rejected. They requested a written statement explaining why he would not talk, and were told it was “not possible”. Then they asked if his Foreign Office could at least explain why they refused to make any comment whatsoever about Britain’s role in the coup, and received this terse response: “There will be no further comment from the FCO.”

Not long after this sequence, Jack Straw delivered the keynote address at the Foreign Press Association, where the BBC program he refused to cooperate with was awarded Radio Story of the Year.

Since that time, Jack Straw has confessed his nation’s role in the overthrow of a “perfectly democratic prime minister” (his words). At the 2006 World Economic Forum in Davos, Straw revealed that the first time he met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President immediately brought up the 1953 coup; they were in fact his first words to him.

Jack Straw was Tony Blair’s Foreign Secretary until 2006, and led the House of Commons until June 2007 when he was appointed Gordon Brown’s Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. The first British Foreign Minister to visit Iran since the Iranian revolution, Straw visited the country five times Between 2001 and 2003.

"Even if Iran gets the Bomb, it won’t be worth going to war" — February 25, 2013
by Jack Straw [link]

Jack Straw’s column in The Telegraph argues that the “all options on the table” mantra has been counterproductive in nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“Resolving the current impasse will require statesmanship of a high order from both sides. From the West, there has to be a better understanding of the Iranian psyche. Transcending their political divisions, Iranians have a strong and shared sense of national identity, and a yearning to be treated with respect, after decades in which they feel (with justification) that they have been systematically humiliated, not least by the UK.

“Kar Inglise” – that “the hand of England” is behind whatever befalls the Iranians – is a popular Persian saying. Few in the UK have the remotest idea of our active interference in Iran’s internal affairs from the 19th century on, but the Iranians can recite every detail. From an oppressive British tobacco monopoly in 1890, through truly extortionate terms for the extraction of oil by the D’Arcy petroleum company (later BP), to putting Reza Shah on the throne in the 1920s; from jointly occupying the country, with the Soviet Union, from 1941-46, organising (with the CIA) the coup to remove the elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, then propping up the increasingly brutal regime of the Shah until its collapse in 1979, our role has not been a pretty one. Think how we’d feel if it had been the other way round.”

Jack Straw at the British Museum — February 17, 2009
by Souren Melikian [link]

In this portion of an article in the International Herald Tribune, Mr. Straw interjected British-Iranian politics at the British Museum’s private opening of the exhibit "Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran".

“Then Jack Straw, a former foreign secretary, briefly noting that relations had been established between Britain and Iran in the early 17th century, jumped to modern times. British and Iranian politics had been intertwined in the 19th century, he said, and there had been many British "interferences" in 20th-century Iranian affairs. A democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mosaddegh, had been toppled in a coup in which Western powers, Britain included, had had a hand. Britain had later supported the regime of a shah to which Iranian opinion became largely hostile.

You could almost physically feel the sense of amazement that such a discourse, never heard in a museum arena in England, caused among those who stood in the room, glass in hand. There was more to come. Iran, they heard from Straw, was the most important country in the entire Middle Eastern region, and it would play a role in maintaining stability, in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. It all felt like a dry run for an international conference aimed at bringing together long-estranged buddies.”

Jack Straw Praises Dr. Mossadegh — Dec. 23, 2006

On December 23, 2006, Jack Straw formally responded to the UN Resolution 1737, which imposed sanctions against Iran for its continuation of “uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities”. He ridiculed Iran’s exploitation of parallels with the oil nationalization fight in the 1950’s, extolling the virtues of Dr. Mossadegh in contrast with the Islamic regime’s extremist character:

“Despite tireless diplomacy by Javier Solana, Iran has chosen not to pursue our proposals. And rather than suspend enrichment – since July, a legal obligation – it has continued on a bigger scale.

So we have little option but to increase the pressure. The measures the Security Council adopted today are aimed at constraining activities that could contribute to a weapons program. They will be frozen if Iran complies and lifted in the event of a long-term solution.

I hope Iran’s leaders heed the Security Council’s message.

The regime wants to portray this as a national struggle, a rerun of Prime Minister Mossadegh’s battle with Britain in the 1950’s over control of Iran’s oil revenue.

This is ironic. Because of other things Mossadegh stood for – like constitutional and accountable government – they are normally anxious to play down his legacy, and decline even to name a street in Tehran after him, though they happily honor the likes of Anwar Sadat’s assassin, Khaled Islambouli.

And the Iranian government is not defending the national interest, as Mossadegh did, but betraying its citizens.

Straw Acknowledges Britain’s Pro-Shah Mistakes — October 2006

In October 2006, Straw was interviewed by the Austrian newspaper "Die Presse". The article was only published in German, but here is an English translation followed by the original German version:

Die Presse: How heavily does the history weigh on the relations with Iran?

Straw: That is the truth, which we all must draw in the calculation: the Iranians feel historically without friends and isolated. I understand that. They feel degraded by the great powers: America and Britain deposed in 1953 Prime Minister Mossadegh, and we helped to keep the Shah on the Peacock throne much longer than was justified.

Die Presse: Wie schwer drückt die historische Last auf die Beziehungen zum Iran?

Straw: Das ist eine Wahrheit, die wir alle ins Kalkül ziehen müssen: Die Iraner fühlen sich historisch ohne Freunde und isoliert. Ich verstehe das. Sie fühlen sich erniedrigt von den Großmächten: Amerikaner und Briten stürzten 1953 Irans Ministerpräsident Mossadegh, und wir halfen, den Schah viel länger auf dem Pfauenthron zu halten, als es gerechtfertigt war.

We Must See Things From Iran’s Point of View — February 8, 2006

Rt Hon. Jack Straw also raised the subject during testimony on Iran at the House of Commons’ Select Committee of Foreign Affairs on February 8, 2006:

Jack Straw

“You asked also whether President Ahmadinejad is articulating a widespread desire by the Iranian people for a nuclear program. He is when it comes to a nuclear power program. It would be an error by everybody else if it was thought that it is unpopular in Iran for Iranian governments not to have an aspiration of a nuclear power program, it is popular, and it is popular with opponents of the regime as much as it is with supporters of the regime, let us be clear about that. Of course, President Ahmadinejad is playing on the suggestion—completely wrong—that we are trying to stop Iran developing a civil nuclear power program because he is aware of that aspiration.

If I may detain the Committee for a moment, Chairman, you have got to understand how isolated Iran feels in that Iran is not an Arab state, it may be Muslim but just as in Europe there were religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, and one in our country over decades, centuries, so the fact they are Muslim does not mean that they have been immune from conflict between these states, internal conflicts over many decades, not least the Iran Iraq war.

Secondly, Iran feels over the last 100 years it has been humiliated by great powers, by the United Kingdom. There was this constitutional revolution in 1906 and in 1908 we came along backing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and ensured that we got the lion’s share of oil revenues and that went on for decades. We supported the Shah in what amounted to a takeover of that country and did not do anything when he implemented very crude anti-Islamic policies, including making it a criminal offence for women to wear even the hijab, the headscarf, on the street. We and the Soviet Union occupied the country for five years in the north from 1941-46 and then elements of British intelligence and the CIA stopped a perfectly democratic prime minister, Mossadegh, from office and failed to see the signs of the decadence of the Shah’s regime and many Western countries, actually less so the United Kingdom and some continental countries, actively supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. [According to Straw’s book The English Job, he actually said “forced” rather than “stopped”, yet this was altered in the official transcript.]

You have got to see it from their point of view and if we do not see it from their point of view as well we will make mistakes in the way we handle this. As to whether there is widespread support for a nuclear weapon program, that we do not know because the Iranian Government consistently say that they do not want it and have no intention of having a nuclear weapon program.”

Past Interference By UK Causes Problems Today —
July 4, 2004


QUESTION: The arrest of the eight British service men accused by Iran of intruding into their territorial waters led to some sharp words between London and Tehran and there have been renewed suspicions among those who know that despite its protestations Iran is pressing ahead with a nuclear weapons’ programme. I asked the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw if the row over the seizure of the service men was symptomatic of Tehran’s intransigence.

JACK STRAW: On the whole the co-operation which we have received from Iran both in respect of Afghanistan and in respect of Iraq has been good and productive so it’s unfortunate that this incident has arisen. I hope it can be resolved satisfactorily. We’ve got the men back which was the prime matter but there are other matters still outstanding and we can then move on.

QUESTION: But you’ve always advocated engagement with Tehran, the Americans haven’t always been entirely supportive of this but doesn’t this suggest Foreign Secretary that quiet diplomacy of your sort simply doesn’t work?

JACK STRAW: Part of the problem that we have in terms of our relations with Iran go back to our domination of that region. We had been instrumental in putting the Shah’s father on the throne and many aspects of the Shah’s regime were brutal, repressive, sought to strike out Iran’s past and also its Islamic heritage and its Islamic beliefs. So those things are associated in many Iranians’ minds with the United Kingdom. I happen to believe that the approach that we in the United Kingdom Government have adopted in recent years is the correct approach. Iran is a very important country, it is the dominant player in the region so you can’t ignore it and I think that the approach that we have adopted and I’m working very closely with France and Germany particularly on the nuclear dossier is the correct approach.

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Related links:

Iran’s Shah Offers Principal Hope for Stability and of Frustrating Red Influence (1953)

Iran Will Take Aid From Anyone, Including Soviet | AP, August 24, 1953

Iran Needs Chance To Earn Its Way | The Saratogian, August 27, 1953

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

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