Anglo-American Alliance

Gifford on Iran vs Britain at Security Council

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | May 16, 2023                      

Walter Sherman Gifford, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom (1950-1953) The U.S. Ambassador to Britain, Walter Gifford, cabled this message as the Security Council held its preliminary hearing: “Complaint of failure by the Iranian government to comply with provisional measures indicated by the International Court of Justice in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company case.”

U.S. State Department | IRAN 1951-1980

888.2553/10–151: Telegram

No. 99

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Gifford) to the Department of State1 [Walter Gifford to State Dept., repeated to Tehran]

London, October 1, 1951—6 p.m.


NIACT [night action]

1581. I am increasingly concerned at divergency which has developed in last few days between British and ourselves re nature of resolution which would be put before Security Council on Iran. As we have endeavored for some time to convey in our telegrams, feeling is running very high here both in government circles and in country at large on whole Iran issue. Although decision to refer matter to Security Council has been taken by government and accepted by country at large and talk of force has temporarily at least receded into background, I do not see how government can agree to or acquiesce in a resolution which does not express or imply moral condemnation of Iran for expulsion order.

In conversation with Holmes today, Makins, who is acting head of Foreign Office, strongly represented cabinet minister’s consternation at stand we have taken re British draft resolution. [Julius C. Holmes, Roger Makins] Makins added that French have promised them unqualified support of British resolution. Dept is, of course, already aware of this from Morrison’s personal message to Secretary1 and from Franks conversations in Washington. [Herbert Morrison, Oliver Franks] I do not want to give impression of arguing British case, especially since I think their draft resolution leaves much to be desired,2 but neither do I think ours goes far enough. Whatever earlier history of this dispute may have been and whatever British failings (and they have undoubtedly been many), it seems to me that they have on whole conducted themselves responsibly in recent months and whatever their inclinations may otherwise have been, have deferred to our views at number of crucial points. But we have now reached point where it seems to me there is clear-cut issue before us: Do we condemn or at least imply condemnation of Mossadeq for his continued irresponsibility or do we in effect condone it by associating ourselves with a resolution which attaches no blame and treats both parties equally?

The British say we have counselled against the use of force and now, in the next breath, we deny them support when they seek to obtain a judgment from the Security Council based on the rule of law. They are hurt and bewildered at this attitude of their main ally. It is no good talking to them about the parliamentary situation in the UN; they feel that they are right and that if we would simply back a strong resolution such as they have in mind, they are confident that it would command the necessary seven votes. Similarly, it is no good talking to them about the veto; that is a risk they point out we run in almost any important substantive matter before the Security Council. It is no good talking to them about possibility of a strong resolution strengthening Mossadeq’s hand, they maintain that a moral condemnation of Iran will make the Iranian people think twice as to where their action thus far has taken them and will therefore strengthen the hand of the opposition.

I feel confident that the Dept appreciates domestic significance of this problem in this pre-election period. This is no time for Anglo-American divergencies to become apparent on a question to which so much moral importance is attached here. Nor is it any time to risk weakening confidence of those who believe in workability of Anglo-American alliance.

I hope most earnestly that Dept may be able to give urgent consideration to these points with a view toward evolving new resolution which avoids what I consider needlessly provocative tone of British resolution and, at same time, weak nature of ours. I would suggest that such resolution might call on government of Iran to signify, as UK government has already done, its willingness to act in conformity with provisional measures recommended by ICJ, or, failing this, to work out with UK Government temporary measures acceptable to both parties and, in meantime, to suspend its order expelling British staff from Abadan. I have no knowledge as to whether foregoing suggestion would be acceptable to British. It may or may not be worthy of consideration but essential point is we must in my opinion take a stronger position in support of British than our draft resolution provides.


• Note: Abbreviations removed for better readability. [Annotations by Arash Norouzi]

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989)

Footnotes below from the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian:

1 “On Oct. 1 Ambassador Franks left the following message signed by Herbert Morrison and dated Sept. 30, for Secretary Acheson:

“My Dear Dean: I do not doubt the sincerity of the motives underlying the United States proposed Resolution in the Security Council on the Persian question, but I am bound to say that I am deeply concerned by its implications. I feel rather strongly that it is out of harmony with the friendly and understanding talks we had in Washington. We have honourably abided by The Hague decision and I do not like, after all our efforts for a peaceful and not ungenerous solution, being put into the dock together with Dr. Musaddiq. You know full well the efforts I have made in this country towards a close alignment of the policies of our two nations and at times it has been a difficult task—and there is no doubt that British public opinion would strongly resent the imputation in the United States Resolution if they heard of it. I ask you most earnestly as friend to friend to take this into account and to reconsider the United States proposal. America will surely not refuse to stand together with us in seeking to uphold through the United Nations the rule of law which has been our guiding principle in this issue.”

In a memorandum dated Oct. 1, Perkins stated that Ambassador Franks told him when he left the message that the British were withdrawing their technicians from Abadan and that this made the U.S. draft appropriate and the British draft resolution more appropriate. Bearing this in mind, Perkins told Franks that the Department of State would instruct its representatives at the United Nations to discuss the proposed resolution with their British counterparts with a view to working out the best possible draft. The text of Morrison’s message and Perkins’ memorandum are attached to a memorandum from Webb to Perkins, dated Oct. 2, in file 888.2553 AIOC/10–151.”

2 “Regarding the British draft resolution, see Document 92” [below]

No. 92

Editorial Note

On September 27 the British Cabinet discussed the oil question and took the following decisions on Iran:

1. The British were not prepared to authorize the use of force to maintain the staff at Abadan.

2. Because of the situation created by the expulsion order the British would refer the dispute to the United Nations Security Council after informing the United States.

3. The British staff should remain at their posts at Abadan and the question should be reconsidered at the end of the warning period.

4. No concessions should be offered Mosadeq.

5. The Shah should be informed that the British might make more acceptable proposals if they could deal with a more reasonable Iranian Government.

6. The Shah should be warned that expulsion of the British staff might lead the British to take more stringent measures to protect their legitimate rights and interests and these measures might further damage the Iranian economy.

A copy of these decisions was handed to Raynor [Hayden G. Raynor, Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs] just before noon on September 28 by Bernard Burrows, who also handed him a copy of a draft Security Council resolution which called on Iran to act in conformity with the International Court of Justice decision and in particular to allow the British technicians to remain in Iran. (Memorandum of conversation; 888.2553/9–2851) For texts of the British resolution and the letter transmitting it to the Security Council, see U.N. Docs. S/2358 and S/2357 in United Nations Security Council, Sixth Year, Supplement for October, November and December, 1951, pages 1-3.


Related links:

Ernest Gross Advises British To Revise Approach on Iran | Oct. 2, 1951

Amb. Walter Gifford’s Telegram on Britain and Iran (July 29, 1951)

Winston Churchill | Campaign Speech on Iran Oil Crisis (Oct. 6, 1951)

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

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