Conflict Resolution

May 26, 1951 — The Vassar Chronicle

The Mossadegh Project | December 5, 2021                    

Lead editorial on Iran from the student newspaper of Vassar College, an all women’s university in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Boiling In Oil

The eyes of the world today are looking at Iran, the strategic key to the entire Middle East. After months of growing tension in that country, the great blow has come. The government of Iran has decided to nationalize the oil industry. Why is there so much excitement? Other nations have socialized their industries without great alarm among all the nations of the world.

The answer to this puzzle lies in the fact that a British concern, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, signed a sixty year lease in 1933 with the Iranian government to have full rights to the oil supply of that country. The British are now seeing that treaty broken by the Iranian government’s action. It is natural that the British should be alarmed over the fact, as the British economy has been very dependent on this source of oil which is one-twentieth of the world’s supply. On the other hand, the Iranian government feels that it is now necessary to its own economy to have the oil industry, and it bases its right to nationalize the industry on the natural sovereignty of nations which, it holds, is above a treaty made nearly twenty years ago.

To consider only the legal side of the question, however, is not sufficient. Treaties have been broken before, and international law is not strong enough to enforce decisions. The reasons for Iran’s action and the expected results of the West’s different alternatives must be considered. First we should look at the reasons that have influenced the decision of the Iranian government. There is a rising nationalism in the country, a situation which all history proves will mean change of some sort. The hysteria of Iranian politics and the fanaticism of the Moslem sects are other factors which cannot be brushed lightly aside. And there is also the natural resentment against foreign interference, a feeling which must always be coped with in every nation. The British, according to Iranian government reports, have exploited the nation’s people and resources. Finally the Iranians want to benefit to the greatest possible degree from their own resources.

The British also have their reasons for wanting to keep the oil wells of Iran in the hands of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. [AIOC] In addition to the legal point, the British want the oil supply at this time to keep the dollar shortage from growing. Britain earns dollars by selling the oil to United States concerns; it saves dollars by reducing the necessity of purchasing oil from dollar areas. The fear of Russian intervention in Iran is another reason for wanting to keep the oil supply in British hands. Britain thinks that if the industry was nationalized, the Russians might find it easy to enter Iran. And the control of Iran might lead to intervention in Iraq and Arabia.

Although both sides have very strong arguments in their favor, it is necessary to look at the entire picture. If the British sent troops to Iran to protect their interests, the Russians might send troops also according to their treaty with Persia in 1923, giving them the right to enter Iran if foreign troops enter. [1921 Soviet-Persian Treaty] Since a Russo-British conflict would probably force the world into another great war, it seems that the sending of British troops should be dismissed as an impractical idea. If the officials of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company would remain in Iran to manage the government’s oil industry, as they have been invited to do, it would seem to be the most effective way of preventing intervention from the U.S.S.R. The great fear of Russian backing in this action seems unwarranted when one considers that the premier of the country, Mohammed Mossadegh is a member of a rightist party which bitterly opposes Russia. [National Front]

After a consideration of all the facts, the wisest course seems to be for Britain to recognize the Iranian nationalization for the sake of world peace in spite of the economic difficulties that the nation will face. The United States should assume the responsibility of helping Britain in this time of economic stress.

After Britain accepts the nationalization, the Iranian government should make satisfactory terms with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It is reasonable to expect such an agreement from Iran, as all indications so far have hinted in this direction. The company could be slowly liquidated by a payment in oil. If the wells were kept productive through the utilization of the knowledge of Anglo-Iranian, and the nationalism of the people was recognized by the nationalization of the industry, all parties concerned might find a satisfactory answer to the controversy.

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


Related links:

Persian Oil Dispute | House of Lords, May 29, 1951

A Principle in Persia | The Tablet (London), May 19, 1951

Britain Must Protect Her Rights In Persia | Sydney Morning Herald, May 28, 1951

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

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