Risk Assessment
May 28, 1951 — The Sydney Morning Herald

The Mossadegh Project | November 23, 2021                   

Lead editorial on Iran in The Sydney Morning Herald of Sydney, Australia.

Australian media archive on Iran


Persia’s long delay in replying to the British Note offering direct negotiations on the future of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, her rejection of moves to appoint arbitrators, and strong evidence that she is not prepared to negotiate, have led naturally, to British reference of the dispute to the International Court. Legally, Persia has not got a leg to stand on. It is not a question of a State’s “sovereign rights.” What is at issue is a deliberate breach of an international agreement, freely entered into by the Teheran Government in 1933, after British oil rights had been fully debated before the Council of the League of Nations.

This agreement gives the company exclusive rights until 1993 to extract and market any petroleum within the specified Persian territory. The all-important article is Number 21, which provides: “This concession shall not be annulled by the Government, and the terms therein contained shall not be altered either by general or special legislation in the future, or by administrative measures, or any other acts whatever of the executive authorities.” Clearly, the Persian Government’s expropriation move directly contravenes this provision.

Yet, despite the strength of Britain’s legal position, it is extremely doubtful whether the hotheads now in charge at Teheran will pay any attention to a judgment of the International Court. Indeed, the Finance Minister has already intimated as much in a letter to the oil company. [Mohammad Ali Varasteh on May 20th] Claiming that the nationalisation of the oil industry, based on the enforcement of the right of sovereignty of the Persian people, was not subject to arbitration, the Minister bluntly declared that “no international authority was qualified to investigate the matter.” [correct quote: “no international authority has the competence to deal with this matter.”]

Consequently, although Court proceedings may bolster Britain’s moral position, they are unlikely to resolve the practical problem of protecting British interests in Persian oil. Nor is there any guarantee that Dr. Mussadiq and his henchmen will stay their hands until the Court delivers judgment. Britain must, therefore, take all necessary measures to ensure that she is ready to counter any attempted coup by the Persian Government.

Equally important is a demonstration to Teheran that, in the last resort, Britain will not shrink from strong action to safeguard the oil supplies upon which her safety depends. The long hesitation in moving paratroops to the Middle East has largely destroyed the salutary effect produced by the announcement that they had been alerted. It is significant that the Persian Government’s party newspaper recently carried a cartoon of the British lion on crutches, with the caption: “This is the thing that’s threatening us!”

For there is no doubt that the fanatical minority now in control of the Majlis has been able to overawe opposition, and has been encouraged to reject British overtures so contemptuously, simply because the Persians are convinced that Britain can today be baited with impunity. A show of force may well be necessary to restore their perspective. Such a move would involve grave international risks. But, in the balance of risks, that of losing essential oil supplies is the greatest. To avert that calamity, other risks must be accepted.

Richard Stokes’ Second Thoughts on Iranian Oil (1951 Letter)
Richard Stokes' Letter to Clement Attlee, Aga Khan Concurs (1951)

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Related links:

The Road To Disaster In Persia | The Sydney Morning Herald, June 28, 1951

Bleak Outlook In Persia | Newcastle Morning Herald, May 5, 1951

Has Persia Won? | The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), July 24, 1952

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

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