Cool Your Jets
May 16, 1951 — The Nashville Tennessean

The Mossadegh Project | October 26, 2020                 

A well-reasoned editorial in The Nashville Tennessean newspaper on the Iranian oil dispute, shortly after the nationalization of AIOC.

On the Other Foot

“Informed sources” in London report that Britain will propose probably today sending a highest level government commission to Iran to seek a solution to the threatening oil dispute between the two countries. We hope these informants know what they are talking about. And we further hope the reported proposal represents a cooling-off on the part of London statesmen who have been considering the use of force to back up their demands that Iran call off its nationalization of British-owned oil properties.

For several days now, London has been abuzz with rumors that an alerted British parachute brigade was being readied for immediate use in Iran. Giving some credence to this possibility was a statement in the usually steady London Economist that the foreign secretary [Herbert Morrison] had drafted a note to Iran warning that “if the Tehran government attempts to take over the installations then the British government will resist such action by force.”

The potential consequences of such a hotheaded course should be obvious to all. Lest there be any doubt, however, Iran’s parliamentary committee handling the oil nationalization spelled them out in clear and unmistakable terms. “If the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company doesn’t hand over its installations to Iran,” said the committee’s secretary, “the burden of responsibility for disturbing world peace will rest with them; this will mean the beginning of the third world war . . . We shall take all measures at our disposal in order to reclaim our rights.” [Hossein Makki, May 14, 1951]

The United States, no less than Britain, recognizes the paramount importance of seeing that Iran’s vast oil production continues to flow westward. The free world not only needs that oil; it wants to see that Russia does not get it. Unlike the British, however, we have recognized the right of Iran to nationalize the oil properties within its boundaries. Having had a similar experience ourselves with Mexico, we know that such disputes can be settled peacefully. And we are aware that continued access to Iranian oil is much more likely to be assured by negotiation than by a resort to arms that could touch off World War III.

It is ironic that Britain which has set a dizzy nationalization pace itself during recent years should now find itself so wrought up by a similar step in another country. Despite charges that the oil program was Communist-inspired, the best evidence from Iran is that the movement was the outgrowth of a long-smoldering nationalistic urge. The danger is ever-present, of course, that the Reds will move in from inside, outside, or both and take advantage of the situation if given the opportunity.

The most prudent course, for Britain and the western world, therefore, lies in seeing that they do not get this opportunity. Actually, Britain has more trump cards in Iran than it seems to realize. For it is generally agreed that the Iranians are in no position to take over the actual operation of the oil fields. Inasmuch as its representatives are already on the scene, therefore, Britain is in an excellent position to see that they continue to help operate the oil installations and maintain the status quo so far as possible under the new ownership. By thus accepting the nationalization as an accomplished fact, aiding the government in operation of the fields, and negotiating a financial settlement between Iran and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Britain could go far toward preserving friendly relations with the Tehran government and protecting the vital oil supplies. Only its pocketbook would be affected.

The alternative to such an approach is the use of force, which Iran almost certainly would resist and which very possibly could bring Russia to the defense of the little neighbor whose oil it has coveted for decades. It is strange to find Britain, which has urged caution often bordering on timidity in respect to the Korean war, now weighing in Iran a reckless and ruthless course which would be impossible to justify. As London has so often said in recent months, it is a time for cool and carefully considered action. Armed intervention in Iran would hardly meet that description.

70th Anniversary of TIME’s 1951 Man of the Year


Related links:

A Lesson In Oil | The Toledo Blade (Ohio), May 4, 1951

Iran: The Genie of the Lamp | The Morning News, June 22, 1951

Mossadeq’s Dream | Goulburn Evening Post, May 23, 1951

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

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