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While Truce talks were stalling Korea, sabers were rattling in Iran, this August 23rd in 1951. With accusations flying back and forth between North Korea and the UN forces, it wasn’t looking optimistic that the guns would fall silent any time soon. Meanwhile, a contingent of 10 British warships were massing just outside the Iranian port city of Abadan in the Persian Gulf, just in case British talks with the Mossadeq government went south and the newly nationalized oil fields in Iran stopped shipping oil to Britain.
On 28 April 1951, the Shah appointed Mossaddegh as Prime Minister after the Majlis (Parliament of Iran) nominated Mosaddegh by a vote of 79–12. The Shah was aware of Mosaddegh’s rising popularity and political power, after a period of assassinations by Fada’iyan-e Islam and political unrest by the National Front. Demonstrations erupted in Tehran after Mosaddegh’s appointment, with crowds further invigorated by the speeches of members from the National Front. There was a special focus on the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the heavy involvement of foreign actors and influences in Iranian affairs. Despite the fact that Iran was never a colony or a protectorate, it was still heavily controlled by foreign powers beginning with concessions provided by the Qajar Shahs, and leading up to the oil agreement signed by Reza Shah in 1933.
The new administration introduced a wide range of social reforms: unemployment compensation was introduced, factory owners were ordered to pay benefits to sick and injured workers, and peasants were freed from forced labor in their landlords’ estates. In 1952, Mossadegh passed the Land Reform Act which forced landlords to turn over 20% of their revenues to their tenants. These revenues could be placed in a fund to pay for development projects such as public baths, rural housing, and pest control.
On 1 May, Mosaddegh nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, canceling its oil concession (expired in 1993) and expropriating its assets. Mossadegh saw the AIOC as an arm of the British government controlling much of the oil in Iran, pushing him to seize what the British had built for Iran. The next month, a committee of five majlis deputies was sent to Khuzistan to enforce the nationalization. Mosaddegh tried to justify his nationalization policy by claiming Iran was “the rightful owner…” of all the oil in Iran, and also pointing out Iran could use the money.
The confrontation between Iran and Britain escalated as Mosaddegh’s government refused to allow the British any involvement in their former enterprise, and Britain made sure Iran could sell no oil, which is considered stolen. In July, Mosaddegh broke off negotiations with AIOC after it threatened to “pull out its employees”, and told owners of oil tanker ships that “receipts from the Iranian government would not be accepted on the world market.” Two months later the AIOC evacuated its technicians and closed down the oil installations. Under nationalized management, many refineries lacked the trained technicians that were needed to continue production. The British government announced a de facto blockade, reinforced its naval force in the Persian Gulf and lodged complaints against Iran before the United Nations Security Council.
A tense and testy day on both sides of the world, as reported on CBS Radio’s Edward R. Murrow and The News with Don Hollenbeck substituting for August 23, 1951.