Persia (Anglo-Iranian Oil Company)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1951.

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Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham 12:00 am, 21st June 1951

Had the hon. Gentleman listened to me instead of talking all the time he would have heard that I said that if we found ourselves compelled to send troops into the South, the Russians might exercise their treaty rights to send troops into the North. I went on to say that if we had to choose between the alternatives of having either a divided Persia— I am not suggesting that we should necessarily occupy a large area—or of Russia occupying or indirectly controlling the whole of Persia, the first alternative would, in my opinion, be the lesser of the two evils.

I have heard it said that if we were obliged to send troops into the Abadan area we should be giving the Russians an excuse to start a world war. All I can say is that if the Russian Government thought that the opportune moment had come to challenge the Western world in a major conflict, I do not think they would be at a loss for an excuse. They could easily manufacture some pretext which would serve their purpose. I cannot believe for one moment that the planners in the Kremlin would be led by an incident on the Persian Gulf to embark upon such far-reaching action if they regarded it as premature.

In any case, I submit that there is hardly a spot in the whole world which, from the Russian point of view, would be strategically less advantageous as a starting point for a war than Southern Persia. For the Russians to dispatch an expeditionary force to Southern Persia and to maintain it at the far end of interminable lines of communication across mountains and desert would be an act of military madness almost unprecedented in history. Therefore, I suggest that we should not be unduly deterred in discharging our duty by vague anxieties which are quite unsupported by any objective study of the situation.

To sum up, I consider that we have three vital responsibilities in this area. The first is to protect British nationals and to enable them by that protection to carry on the job they are doing in Persia at the moment. The second is to preserve our vital strategic and commercial interests which, if abandoned, would have disastrous repercussions on British prestige and influence throughout the whole of the Middle East. Thirdly, it is our responsibility to deny these important oil supplies to the Soviet Union.

As I have said, without detailed knowledge it is not possible to judge whether the situation today is such that troops should now be sent into the Abandan area. On the other hand, I am perfectly prepared to say that if the only alternative is scuttle, with all the grave consequences which that would have both now and in the future, then I certainly think we should not hesitate to use troops or any other appropriate measures that may be necessary in order to discharge our responsibilities to our own people and to the rest of the free world.