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Mossadegh in America: A Turning Point, October 8-November 18, 1951

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Lear-Nickum, Ian Cole. “Mossadegh in America: A Turning Point, October 8-November 18, 1951.” (Under the direction of Dr. Nancy Mitchell.)

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Crisis officially began in April 1951, when the Iranian legislature nationalized Iran’s oil industry. This political action foreclosed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s claim on Iranian oil, and drew ire from Great Britain as well as international oil companies. Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran, was the elderly statesman responsible for leading this intense political movement. Nationalization, however, caused an international imbroglio of epic proportions, and in August 1953 Mossadegh was removed from office by a CIA/MI6-assisted royalist coup d’état that reaffirmed the power of Mohammad Reza Shah and ended the oil nationalization movement in Iran.

Control of Iranian oil was returned to the West, and American companies received a forty percent share. Initially, the United States was caught in the middle of this crisis, and the Truman administration sought to achieve a resolution. The best chance for a settlement came when Mossadegh – drawn to American shores by a British complaint submitted to the United Nations Security Council – visited the United States from October 8 to November 18, 1951. During this time period, the prime minister met with American officials in New York, defended Iran’s actions at the United Nations, and pleaded his case to President Truman in Washington. While brave and progressive, his unorthodox political tactics and uncompromising negotiating techniques – including threats of a Soviet-Iranian alliance if Iran did not receive American aid as well as almost daily reversals in his positions regarding Iranian concessions – would prove costly. Whereas at the beginning of his time in America the Truman administration was hopeful that a settlement could be reached, by the end of his stay the American position had shifted. Not only did the United States come to believe that Mossadegh was unworthy of American support, but by November 18, 1951 the Truman administration was beginning to align with the British, who had been clamoring for Mossadegh’s removal since his ascendance to the prime minister’s seat in April 1951. The United States would fully abandon any tangible support of Mossadegh by January 1952 and would decide that the only course of action was to strengthen the young Shah.

This thesis refocuses the historiography of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Crisis, and shows that the groundwork for the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh was set by the Truman administration starting in October-November 1951. Mossadegh’s time in America was a turning point for US policy: after experiencing the premier’s personality firsthand, realizing that his policies jeopardized international capitalism, hearing his threats of a Soviet alliance, and learning that their most valuable Cold War ally, Great Britain, refused to reenter negotiations with the polarizing prime minister, the United States decided to support the Shah and abandon Mossadegh. The Truman administration left the elderly statesman on his own to battle an international boycott of Iranian oil and a deteriorating political situation in Iran. The Americans decided that the needs of an ally and the standards of international capitalism outweighed the risk of Soviet subversion in Iran. In addition, this shift in policy, while directly moving the United States towards a position of covert intervention in Iran, would also heighten the tension in America’s early Cold War power struggle with Great Britain. Indeed, Mossadegh’s time in America would prove to be an important step in the United States achieving long standing hegemony in the Middle East at the expense of its British ally.

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