Walking the Plank
July 14, 1951 — The Geraldton Guardian

The Mossadegh Project | February 7, 2021                           

Lead and sole editorial in The Geraldton Guardian newspaper of Geraldton, Western Australia on Iran.

The Geraldton Guardian newspaper (Geraldton, Western Australia)


A regrettable feature of the dispute between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which has had such wide repercussions, is that it need never have occurred. Persia sought a substantial increase in royalty revenue from petroleum and how easily that could have been obtained by friendly round-table discussion was shown, very recently, when the Iraki Government had no difficulty in negotiating a new agreement with its oil concessionaires, involving increased royalty payments consonant with the rising trend of world commodity prices. [Iraq]

Probably no other country in the world is so heavily dependent on revenue from oil royalties as is Persia. Yet the Teheran Government, instead of taking the open and easy road to increase its oil revenue, decided arbitrarily to abrogate the longterm concession it had granted to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to nationalise the oil industry.

To implement that decision it established an Oil Nationalisation Board, the extremist majority of which—led by the secretary (Hussein Makki)—embarked on a policy of harassing the widespread operations of the Company at all points. [Hossein Makki] Its ground and air communications were interrupted; an attempt to occupy the world’s greatest refinery at Abadan had to be forcibly resisted by the Company’s guards; and an endeavor was made to compel tanker captains to sign receipts acknowledging, not the Company but the Nationalisation Board, as the source of their cargoes.

As the skippers flatly refused and Abadan had been boycotted by the world’s tanker fleets, oil exports from Persia have ceased. With the shore storage rapidly filling, the output of the refinery has already been cut almost to vanishing point. So the result of the Persian Government’s policy—instead of producing the greater number of golden eggs it so greatly desired—has been to kill the bird that laid them. [Predicting the famous Gladwyn Jebb line at the UN in October]

For the moment oil royalty revenue, upon which the Persian Treasury depended to a major extent, has virtually ceased and—unless the United States supplements heavily, the monetary aid it has previously given—a financial crisis of the utmost gravity faces the country. In these circumstances the Persian Government has hurriedly withdrawn Hussein Makki from Abadan, has suspended the Anti-Sabotage Bill, which was regarded as a threat to the liberties and lives of Company employees, and in other directions has indirectly furnished evidence that at heart it really doubts its ability to run the oil industry without British assistance.

At the same time the Mossadeq Government appears to be firmly in power. According to recent information, this little sick old man (Dr. Mossadeq), a doctor of law who has suddenly become a world figure, is “a whirling dervish with a college education and a first-rate mind—a dervish in a pin-striped suit.” So weak is he that Cabinet meetings are frequently held at his bedside and a speech is liable to cause him to faint. “Yet in this fragile frame is a will tougher than the rock of the Elburz Mountains and more inflammable than the oil of Abadan.” It has been said of him by a resident Briton:—“We could deal with a blackguard. But how can you deal with an honest fanatic?” [Quotes/info from TIME magazine’s June 4, 1951 cover story, Dervish in Pin-Striped Suit]

Dr. Mossadeq’s father was Persia’s Minister for Finance for thirty years. The present Prime Minister also held that post at one period. His integrity and independence of thought, however, made him enemies: he was twice exiled and served one term in an underground prison. It was his honesty, in a country whose political corruption is notorious, that brought him to the front as Prime Minister.

Mohammed Mossadeq stands on one plank—oil nationalisation. If it fails, he falls. He is anti-British to the extent that he strongly resents anything which be considers to be gross exploitation of his country by a British company. But he has no love for Communism or for Russia, and in the past has violently and successfully opposed endeavors by that Power to secure oil concessions in North Persia. The extreme danger, however, is that the virtual bankruptcy, to which Persia has been reduced by oil nationalisation, may cause disorders enabling the Communists to seize power, thus paving the way for Russia’s entry.

An Anglo-American monthly (“Intelligence Digest”) is well informed, and strictly factual rather than prophetic. But in its July issue, after condemning the British Government for the weakness of its Persian policy, it makes in block type the categorical forecast that, within twenty-four months, all Persia will be under Russian domination. That, of course, is an opinion from merely one quarter and need occasion no alarm. If neither the British nor the Persians want the Soviet influence to assert itself, Russia has still some big hurdles to jump.

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

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Related links:

Persia now has its problem | The News (Adelaide), June 27, 1951

Persian Oil Blaze | The Goulburn Evening Post, June 22, 1951

Be wise and help to nationalise! | Peter Russo, June 5, 1951

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

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