The British Precedent

May 21, 1951 — The Evening Sun

The Mossadegh Project | June 18, 2023                   

An editorial on Iran in The Evening Sun newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, followed by a letter to the editor in reply. The editorial came the same day that the U.S. government issued a statement which “reaffirmed its stand against unilateral cancellation of contractual relationships and actions of a confiscatory nature”.

Iran’s Rash Game

The Iranian Government has rejected the British proposal for arbitration of the dispute over the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. At the same time the reply from Tehran calls on the company to name representatives to assist Iran in carrying out the recently enacted nationalization law.

Coincident with this diplomatic step a spokesman for the Iranian parties which maneuvered the expropriation through the Majlis, or lower house of the Persian Parliament, attacked the British and American views on the issue as “worthless,” said his country will “nationalize our oil if it takes our last drop of blood” and accused the West of “pushing us towards communism and revolution.” The state of mind reflected by these frenzied words is not a promising one so far as the evolution of a compromise goes. And Iran’s official contention that the passage of the nationalization act obviates the necessity of respecting the 1933 concession agreement, providing for arbitration, is dangerously lacking in logic.

In effect this argument holds that a nation is justified in terminating an agreement not by the means stipulated in the agreement itself but by unilateral action. Were the contention to be accepted, countries such as Iran would suffer most seriously by the advantage that could be taken of the procedure by more powerful states.

In the present instance Tehran calculates that because of the importance of Britain’s stake in Middle Eastern oil and because of the presence of Russia in the north, Iran can play a reckless game. But in the long run such rashness is bound to recoil on a country whose continued independence is so largely contingent on Western friendship.

There is, however, one fact in the situation which prolongs hope. That is the need Iran has for technical assistance in implementing the nationalization program. Its request for the selection of Anglo-Iranian representatives points up this fact. Britain must still proceed cautiously but the chance of working out some kind of settlement remains so long as Iran is unable alone to carry out the operations which expropriation of the oil company will necessitate.

Letter to the Editor — May 26, 1951

Iran’s Oil

TO THE EDITOR OF THE EVENING SUN—Sir: Your editorial entitled, “Iran’s Rash Game,” in The Evening Sun of May 21, is interesting. Can you explain the difference between nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by Iran and the recent nationalization of the steel industry by England?

A man living in Paris who in 1933 purchased 100 shares of stock in a British iron works and 100 shares of stock in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company might well have done so in good faith. Certainly he would have had no reason to expect that one day nationalization of either industry “would obviate the necessity of respecting the 1933 concession agreement” reached by the companies and himself with each purchase.

Less than a year ago the British nation felt “justified in terminating” his 100 shares of iron works stock, not by any “means stipulated in the 1933 agreement, but by unilateral action.” It did this by the simple process of expropriating his property (the iron works stock) and issuing in its place nonnegotiable Government bonds of the “same value” bearing three per cent interest.

What will be Iran’s “rash game” — 2 cents on the dollar per year?

As loyal citizens interested in a secure America we should watch this affair in Iran with concern, but let us not be rash. The right of the Iranians to do with the oil of their land as they wish seems to lie in a precedent firmly established by England.


Baltimore, May 24

What Went Wrong in Iran? | Amb. Henry Grady Tells All (1952)
What Went Wrong in Iran? | Saturday Evening Post, Jan. 5, 1952


Related links:

Iran’s Oil | The Baltimore Sun (Letter), May 30, 1951

Bad Poker In Iran | August 25, 1951 editorial + letter

Loan To Iran | Letter to Editor, The Washington Post (Dec. 1951)

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

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