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 Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East 12:00 am, 21st June 1951

All right, I will go into details to make the charges precise. There is first of all a gentleman about whom I need only repeat the report in the "New York Herald-Tribune." He is Max Thornberg, an ex-Standard Oil man, and he was out there in Teheran as the chief adviser on nationalisation to the Persian Government. He had to be slung out by the State Department after an official protest from us.

Secondly, there was a great deal of whispering by Americans that if the British were got rid of the Persians would find available to them American technicians. I am not saying that this was done formally in Teheran. As we know, the whisper is everything in the Middle East. What is significant is that the Persians were led to believe that if they did not sign the agreement with Anglo-Iranian they could get a better deal from one of the American oil companies.

That was certainly the reason General Razmara found it so difficult to deal with the Majlis. Let us have no illusion about the Majlis. It is a tiny collection of very rich gentlemen who have prevented any social advance in Persia or any advantage from the oilfields coming to the Persian people. Parliamentary democracy is being used in Persia not to help the common people but to obstruct social change and defend the privileges of a decadent minority. The Majlis were alarmed by General Razmara because he intended not only to get more money from the British but to use it for raising the standard of living of the people instead of putting it into the pockets of the wealthy. When they felt that some American company might help them to get a better deal and receive bigger profits, their resistance to General Razmara and the Anglo-Iranian offer was greatly increased.

In the third place, I would add an even more serious charge. Mr. McGhee made a most unfortunate impression in Teheran during his visit. We know that Mr. McGhee, who was primarily an Oklahoman oil tycoon and a millionaire, is a very high official in the State Department who visited the Middle East on a tour of inspection. It is common knowledge that, in American parlance he "shot his mouth" in Teheran about the weaknesses of Anglo-Iranian. Whether he was right or wrong in his criticism of Anglo-Iranian, the impression he made on the Persians was that if the British were kicked out they could rely on somebody else and they might do a little better.

I say that because if we are to succeed in the Middle East we cannot have this sort of division and disloyalty between Britain and America. If we ever behave in the same way in any other part of the world, I hope that it will be exposed in Congress. It is far better to have this out in the open. The crisis that has developed in the last four months—in which the State Department had in the end to make it clear that American technicians would not be available to the Persians—was a crisis created by American oil-parties in Persia. It was not the Russians who stabbed us in the back. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury said, the fatal thing was the belief among the Persians that they could find some Americans who would help them through their difficulties when they chucked out the British occupier of the house at Abadan.

In the Middle East a whisper grows into a fact within an hour; and people always calculate from a phrase or an expression what is the real policy of a Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington knows what I am talking about. Persians see everything in terms of that sort of Philip Oppenheimer diplomacy. So what would they conclude when they hear Mr. McGhee from the State Department saying nationalisation was a good idea? What he said in Teheran and Cairo, where he made it quite clear that in his view it was not necessary for the British to retain their Suez base, was a singularly unfortunate kind of assistance to us in this moment of grave difficulty with the Persian Government.

It is not fair to the British Government for hon. Members to speak as they do and omit the main reason why this position has grown up. The reason is not the Tudeh Party, the Russians or the Communists. It is traditional oil politics, which disregard national interests and think solely in terms of commercial profits, of one company against another of dollar versus sterling. It is that which has let us down in the Middle East.

I turn to the practical problem of what should be done. I have given my reasons why I think that, unless we really get to a much more serious situation than that which we are in at present, we should think twice before advising a military occupation of this area. I doubt whether the Chiefs of Staff would strongly and enthusiastically support such a proposal. We have already got one war on our hands at the end of a terribly long line of communications with the enemy on a short line of communications. If we move troops to protect the refinery there would be a possibility, which the Chiefs of Staff would regret, if hon. Members opposite do not, of a war against the Persians and a possibility of a war against the Russians who, in such a situation, would be entitled to enter Persia and to assist the Persian Government in throwing out the aggressors.

That is what the 1921 Treaty entitles the Russians to do if there is a threat to Persian sovereignty. Who could deny that a British occupation of a province of Persia would be a threat to Persian sovereignty? We should, therefore, be asking the Russians into Persia and giving them absolute legal justification for assisting the Persian Government in throwing us out.