The Popular Mood

March 17, 1951 — The Washington Evening Star

The Mossadegh Project | May 27, 2021                     

An editorial in the Washington, DC newspaper which would later become known as The Washington Star. Oil nationalization in Iran was finalized the following month.

Iranian Oil Muddle

In voting unanimously to nationalize the country’s oil industry, the lower house of the Iranian Parliament has completely reversed the position it took only about two months ago. At that time it joined Premier Ali Razmara in opposing such a course, doing so primarily because of two matter-of-fact considerations: (1) That Iran lacks both the capital and the skilled manpower to make the most of its great petroleum resources and (2) that it needs the revenue of British-paid royalties to finance long-overdue economic and social reforms.

These considerations have not changed within the past two months. They remain as valid as ever. But Iranian public opinion—always a bit mercurial on the subject of foreign oil ownership—has been passing through a period of excitation during recent weeks. Climaxed by the brutal assassination of Premier Razmara, the excitation has been the work of fanatical nationalistic elements whose efforts have been spurred by the Communist-controlled Tudeh Party. Accordingly, considering the pressures created by this tense and turbulent political atmosphere, the turnabout parliamentary vote is not altogether surprising.

The immediate effect of the vote has been to cast grave doubt on the future of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the biggest industry in Iran. The company has been operating under a concession that is supposed to remain in force until the year 1993—a fact which the Attlee Labor government (ironically enough, an ardent practitioner of nationalization in Britain) has called to Teheran’s attention in a note protesting against the parliamentary move to nationalize AIOC. [Clement Attlee] Mere protests, however, are likely to do little good. Although the lower house’s decision is subject to the approval of Iran’s Senate, and although the Senate possibly may reject it, the lower house still has the power to make its will effective merely by reaffirming the action it has taken. Given such a reaffirmation, the measure could then be blocked only if the Shah dissolved Parliament—a step that seems improbable.

Actually, the truth of the matter is that the idea of expropriating and nationalizing this great British company is popular in Iran. That is why the Parliament in Teheran threw a monkey wrench into last year’s negotiations to double the country’s share in the company’s earnings. The Attlee government favored the doubling, but the Iranian Parliament—mindful that Iran’s royalties have added up to less than the taxes (exclusive of dividends) that Britain has received from AIOC—wanted more. Not without justification, it wanted Teheran to have a larger voice in management, and it insisted on conditions at least as favorable as those governing American oil relationships with Saudi Arabia.

From this line of reasoning, in a time of Iranian political unrest, it has been only a step to the proposal for expropriation and nationalization. In reversing its former rejection of such a measure, the lower house at Teheran has acted in tune with a currently popular emotional mood. But the impracticality of its decision seems so great that it may reverse itself again after it completes the two-month study that is to be undertaken to figure out just how to put the decision to work. The results of the study will be awaited with keen interest, and more than a little anxiety, not merely by Britain but by the United States and all other powers with reason to fear that this muddle in Iran may play into the Kremlin’s hands.

Truman and Mossadegh’s First Messages on Iran Oil Dispute (1951)
President Truman and Premier Mossadegh's First Messages on Iran Oil Dispute (1951)


Related links:

The Communist Danger in Persia | Britain’s 1952 Report to U.S.

A Note on Point IV | The New York Post, August 15, 1952

Money For Iran | November 20, 1951 editorial

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

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