MOSSADEGH: NO AGAIN
March 22, 1953
Yesterday in Iran it was Norouz, New Year's Day. By tradition Iranians should have been turning over a new leaf.
The tradition apparently carried little weight with Premier Mohammed Mossadegh. On Friday in a national radio broadcast he flatly rejected the latest British offer for settlement of the Anglo-Iranian oil dispute. In the new year as in the old, it seemed, the dispute would drag on.
Actually the dispute goes back two years. In March, 1951, Premier Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry, then owned by a British company. The British responded with a two-fold policy designed to induce Iran to pay compensation for the nationalization. On the one hand, they took action—based on the contention that Iran had no clear title to the oil—to prevent Iran from selling the nationalized oil abroad. On the other hand they presented, through American auspices, a series of offers for settlement. The latest offer, made on Feb. 20, promised a lifting of the legal blockade and a grant of U.S. economic aid, if Iran would submit the question of compensation to an impartial tribunal.
Dr. Mossadegh's rejection of the offer was no surprise. He has long made plain his reluctance to sign up with the British. Moreover, recently his hand has been strengthened. Ten days ago a Venetian judge denied a British motion for seizure of Iranian oil brought to Italy, on the grounds that he had no competence to overrule Iranian nationalization. The British have appealed the Venetian decision, but in Iran it has been widely hailed as the first breach in Britain's legal blockade. The feeling was that Premier Mossadegh, confident that he would soon be able to market Iranian oil without British approval, was in no mood for an agreement.
His speech on Friday reflected a feeling of strength. He characterized the British offer "as a form of plunder." He predicted that Iran, by holding out against the British, could win "a great national victory."
A British Foreign Office spokesman replied that Premier Mossadegh had put "a fallacious interpretation" on the offer. But fallacious or not, there seems little the British can do about it. In Iran itself, Dr. Mossadegh's action, temporarily at least, will go unchallenged. Parliament and the press have shut down for a two-week New Year's celebration. Moreover, unless the British repair the damage to their legal blockade it seems doubtful that any agreement with Iran can be struck.