Hotheads and Fanatics

June 22, 1951 — The Age

The Mossadegh Project | March 18, 2014                           

This was the lead editorial in major Australian newspaper The Age on Friday, June 22, 1951.

Australian media archive


The Age (Australia) newspaper WHILE the situation in Persia remains critical, a distinct threat to vital British Commonwealth and Allied interests is implicit in the Persian Government’s decision to nationalise the vast undertaking of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., in which the British Government holds a controlling interest.

The dispute affects not only a huge capital investment, including refineries at Abadan, but an oil-bearing area of 500,000 square miles of southern Persia, where the Anglo-Iranian Company exercises rights conceded by Persia by the 1933 and later agreements, in terms of which the company is paying £2,000,000 a month to the Persian Government. Since the nationalisation move was first mooted, the British Government has been extraordinarily patient and forbearing. Britain was prepared either to review the agreement in negotiation or to submit the Persian claim to independent arbitration. Neither course appealed to the extreme nationalist faction demanding nationalisation, apparently on a basis of expropriation.

Every effort was made by Britain to assure the Persians that there was not the least desire to obstruct any legitimate aim which would permit continued operations by the Anglo-Iranian Company, and ensure respect for rights under an agreement which has many years still to run, even if the Persian Government’s share of its earnings were made even more generous. Had Britain shown the least weakness or adopted a policy of surrender to blackmail and threats, the results to British Commonwealth prestige throughout the Middle East and Asia, would have been disastrous.

The practical effect of yielding to Persia’s demand would be to deprive Britain and its Atlantic Pact partners of a major source of the oil and petrol that are indispensable to fulfilment of their defence programmes, as well as to the running of their essential industries and transport. In protecting the lives of British nationals and in upholding its rights under agreements with the Persian Government Britain takes firm legal and moral grounds.

Apart from established rights, Britain is called upon to defend much wider interests by ensuring the continued efficiency of an enterprise vital to the adequate defences of the West against the threat of world-wide Communist imperialism. The Anglo-Iranian Company has been criticised for failing to make known in Persia the very generous wages it pays to its workers — about five times what they could earn in textile factories, for example. The company is said to be the only industry in the country which pays superannuation. “Yet it is everywhere reviled,” said the “Economist” — “perhaps because it gives too much in secret, for instance in advances that veil the inefficiency of the Persian Government’s financial management.”

Whatever the relation of the Tudeh party with Moscow, it seems likely — even though direct proof be lacking — that Russian influence, and a nationalist movement tinctured by Russian proselytising, are behind the oil fields acquisition moves. Persia’s northern borders run with those of the Soviet Union. Both the Tudeh party and the fanatical nationalists clamoring for the expulsion of foreigners are doing work acceptable to the Kremlin.

It would certainly be a great day for Russia if Britain could be humiliated to the extent of being forced to relinquish its vast oil interests in Persia. Such a turn of events would be a magnificent opportunity for Russia, but a most damaging blow to British honor and prestige. In view of this background, it would be unrealistic to pay much heed to arguments that ascribe to Persians a capacity, as well as the right, to manage a huge technical undertaking in their midst. Britain would be untrue to its great trust. If it failed to use whatever strength may be needed to assert its rights and to defend its legitimate interests. This course may involve risks, in view of the engagements of the Soviet-Persian treaty of 1921. Such risks must be faced if the Persians attempt violence.

What is at stake is something of crucial importance to the western world, not the defence of private profit-making.

Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954
Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954


Related links:

Canadian Letter to New Republic on Oil Nationalization — August 6, 1951

OIL: Negotiations in Iran | TIME, September 22, 1952

Steal or Settlement? | August 6, 1954 editorial

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

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