This column by journalist Edgar Ansel Mowrer (1892-1977) reacted to the news that Ambassador Harriman would be mediating the fray between
England and Iran.
Compared with his usual libelous propaganda against Mossadegh, Mowrer showed remarkable restraint here, though his ethos against nationalization was firmly intact.
Harriman Must Show Great Diplomatic Ability
THE LONG AWAITED break in the dispute between the Iranian government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company has occurred. Iran’s Premier is now “ready to enter into immediate discussions of how to keep the oil flowing.” He also welcomes W. Averell Harriman, President Truman’s personal assistant, as a peace maker.
Hitherto, Mr. Mossadegh has preferred invective to negotiation. He has been doing a sort of dervish dance over the nationalized properties, whirling and shouting rather than arguing. This has unquestionably delighted the Iranian “nationalists”, the Iranian mob, all former colonial people—and the Kremlin.
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ON THE WHOLE, American public opinion has taken Iran’s side in the dispute, regardless of the dangers to us inherent in the quarrel. When however, in a crescendo of frenzy, Mr. Mossadegh defied the World Court’s recommendation, most Americans began to wonder. How could any Iranians turn against the United Nations that, back in 1946, had saved them from communism?
This change the astute Mr. Mossadegh felt. Hence his apparent willingness to stop spinning and talk to Mr. Harriman and, let us hope, to the British company.
Mr. Harriman may find it easier to deal with the British government in London than with the British oilmen or diplomats in Iran. Whereas the former thinks in global terms and desires above all to cooperate with the United States, Britishers, in areas which they once dominated are not only slow to make concessions to “natives” but go into hysterics at the thought of American interference. Perhaps Mr. Harriman, fresh from Washington, can do what U.S. Ambassador Henry F. Grady was unable to do, namely, bring Premier Mossadegh, British Ambassador Sir Francis Shepherd and a representative of the oil company together over the conference table.
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SO FAR, after months of quarrel, threat and counter threat, neither side has made a serious offer.
Mr. Harriman’s success or failure will depend, however, not only on his ability to start negotiations, but on his appreciation of the issues inherent in the situation. The Iranian government will, under all circumstances, insist upon keeping title to the oil properties.
The Iranian government will, under all circumstances, insist on keeping title to the oil properties. Yet its manner of unilaterally breaking a contract with the company cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. If it does, it will stop any further foreign investment in the spirit of the Point Four or Colombo programs. It will encourage “nationalists” throughout the Middle East to throw aside any considerations of law or contract and simply seize any and all foreign holdings on their territories. [Mowrer didn’t mention that nationalization is a legal right of all nations and Iran intended to compensate AIOC]
This would be harmful to everybody.
It is not in the interest of Iraq or Saudi Arabia or the sheikdom of Kuwait to “nationalize” the oil properties. It is certainly not in the interest the Egyptians to assert unlimited control over the Suez canal or arbitrarily stop the transit of foreign ships as it is doing at present. Nothing can be more damaging to any country than to assume responsibilities which it lacks the strength to fulfill.
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THEREFORE, complete surrender by the Anglo-Iranian Oil company to Premier Mossadegh might start a whole series of acts leading to further disaster.
On the other hand, it is desirable that the exploitation of the oil properties and sale of the products should remain with the company. Nobody else is so well qualified for both. Britain desperately needs foreign exchange and Europe needs Iranian oil. And whether Anglo-Iranian remains in Iran or not, that company must be adequately compensated for its properties
Furthermore—and to me this is the crux of the problem—whatever foreigners are put in charge of Iranian oil must be prepared, on all levels, to junk the old “colonial attitude” once and for all. They must recognize equality of status to Iranians on all levels, from government to workmen. They must end segregation. For these are things that the dark skinned “natives” of the World will no longer tolerate. Any attempt to maintain them will end by driving all Asia (and Africa as well) into the arms of the USSR. [The British “colonial attitude” necessitated the nationalization drive in the first place, genius]
Clearly, Mr. Harriman has a great responsibility. On the other hand, he has in Tehran a unique opportunity to show that he is of the stuff that great diplomats are made.