The Middle East


May 1951

on the World today

THE assassination of Iranian Premier Ali Razmara and the turmoil over the nationalization of Iran’s oil provide a dramatic sequel to the Azerbaijan incident of 1946. Ever since the reluctant evacuation of Russian troops from northern Iran in May, 1946, a combination of Russian threats and favors has kept Teheran anxiously on guard. In the same period relations with Britain have been disturbed by disagreements over oil revenue.

Up to a year ago Russia’s chief threat was to invoke the treaty of 1921. which gives her the right to move troops into Iran for her own protection if Iran becomes a base for potential operations against Russia “by the partisans of the regime which has been overthrown. On the basis of an obviously unwarranted interpretation of this provision, the U.S.S.R. has protested against the use of American advisers to the Iranian Army, the Seven-Year Plan, and the new government-sponsored Iranian Oil Company formed to explore in several provinces of Iran.

Iran took the position that the treaty of 1921 is not applicable to any of these matters, and that in any event it is now superseded by the United Nations Charter. Relations had become so strained over this issue by June, 1950, that the Shah felt compelled to appoint his army chief of staff. General Ali Razmara, as premier, the day after disturbances broke out in Korea.

Premier Razmara’s task was to utilize this improved atmosphere to re-establish trade outlets for the northern provinces without yielding any new political toe holds to Moscow. At the same time he attempted to clean up the corrupt Teheran government sufficiently to attract Western loans and investment.

These efforts, sponsored by the Shah and a few enlightened leaders, met with consistent opposition from two extremes. The fanatical clergy and the rich landowners fought every constitutional reform and every attempt to modernize the country. The Communist Tudeh Party, officially underground but flourishing, labeled the entire reform program as a ruse to betray Iran to the Western powers, and the Seven-Year Plan as an imperialist scheme to colonize the country. In this chorus of complaint the loudest voices were those of Radio Moscow and Radio Baku, both of which have continually urged the nationalization of all Iranian oil.

Oil for Iran — and Russia

It is important to remember that Russian troops were finally withdrawn from Azerbaijan in 1946 only after Moscow had obtained a tentative agreement from the then premier, Qavam-es-Sultaneh, to share oil rights in northern Iran. However, this preliminary agreement violated an Iranian law passed in 1944 which forbids official discussion of oil rights with any foreigner, and it was rejected by the Iranian Majlis (parliament) in October, 1947.

At the same time the Majlis enacted a new bill providing that “in all instances wherein the rights of the Iranian people in economic wealth of the country have been infringed . . . and especially with regard to the southern oil concession — the government is directed to enter into negotiations and take action towards the establishment of these rights.” The bill also provided that any oil subsequently discovered by the Iranians in the north might be sold to Russin.

In this spirit of Iran for the Iranians, the government pressed for revision of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s concession, asking for a larger share in profits and in company affairs. At the same time Teheran attempted to extract from Moscow some twelve tons of gold due for Iranian advances to Russian occupation troops during the war. It also negotiated some slightly favorable adjustments in the earnings and control of the Caspian fisheries concession which the two countries share theoretically on an equal basis. The recent revival of a 1940 trade treaty signified considerably improved diplomatic relations with Moscow.

None of these signs of better relations with the U.S.S.R. compare in economic importance with the pay roll (70,000) and the revenue from the AngloIranian Oil Company. About 18 per cent of Iran’s total income comes from this source, which has also provided almost all of Iran’s dollar exchange and all of the funds spent so far on the Seven-Year Plan. It was for this reason that the late Premier Razmara was so emphatic in his last speech to the Majlis that Iran could not afford to nationalize the oil company.

This moderate position has been weakened in recent months by the failure of long-anticipated American loans to materialize and by the pressure of events in Saudi Arabia. There King Ibn Saud in late December secured a revision of his concession agreement with the Arabian-American Oil Company whereby he became entitled to a total return of up to one half of the company’s net profits.

Inevitably the pressure for an equally favorable deal for Iran was built up. The tragedy for Iran and for the entire Middle East is that this pressure erupted into the violent nationalistic frenzy which culminated in the assassination of Premier Razmara. For Razmara was the symbol of a policy of independent neutrality determined by the competing demands of Russia and Britain. So long as Iran remains independent, Russian ambitions to reach the Persian Gulf and deny its oil to Western Europe are thwarted. The danger is that the fanatical right-wing opposition to all moderate forces will deprive Iran of all freedom of maneuver in dealing with both Britain and Russia.

Arab nationalism on the march

Nationalism is on the march in the Arab countries as well as in Iran. There are signs, however, that the Arab-Asian philosophy of neutrality in the cold war is giving way to a more realistic concern with collective security. The Moslem supernationalists, the isolationists, and the opportunists have all fought against any new alignment with the West. Anti-Western feeling, feeding on resentment over the division of Palestine, still runs high in all Arab countries. Against this sentiment Middle East leaders have lately been attempting to bring home to the people a more realistic appreciation of the implications of Korea for all small and weak states. The prevailing sentiment among Arab leaders now seems to favor cautious collaboration with the West on Mediterranean defense.

There are, however, important qualifications attached to this new coöperation. The Arabs expect to collaborate on a basis of complete equality as members of the United Nations. They also expect the West to arm them. In other words, the day of providing bases for foreign use and remaining passive hosts to Allied armies is over. On the contrary, the Arab states hope to make their own collective security system solid enough to play an active role in regional defense plans now in the making.

Egypt wants Suez and the Sudan

Negotiations for revision of Egypt’s present treaty with Britain have been in progress for over a year, with Egypt demanding evacuation of British forces from Suez. The security question is complicated by Egypt’s simultaneous demand for the unity of the Nile valley, bringing the Sudan under the Egyptian crown.

The history of this dispute is so bitter as to make any fresh approach between the two countries almost impossible. No Egyptian leader could survive an open compromise on either point. At best, therefore, the prospect for the moment is that some multinational solution may be found, either by including Egypt in some association of Mediterranean powers for defense, as is favored by Greece and Spain, or by associating it with the North Atlantic Treaty system as Greece and Turkey are now associated.

The whole problem of reconstructing a second line of defense, beyond the main line running along the northern borders of Greece, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, is complicated by the continued stalemate in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Israel’s policy of “non-identification” with either East or West still stands officially. Nevertheless the Israeli government has been strengthening its ties with Turkey and, even more significantly, with Britain.

From a position a year ago of violent anti-British resentment, the government appears lately to have shifted to a realization that both its internal and external security would be served by continued British influence in Jordan. The visit to Israel early this year of General Sir Brian Robertson, British Middle East Commander in Chief, signified this important change in relations. Full diplomatic relations were established between London and Tel Aviv a year ago, and there has been an amicable settlement of outstanding financial accounts between them.

Meanwhile, however, the official Arab boycott of Israel continues and all Arab collective security plans exclude her: there is no lessening of the determination to isolate her.

Resettling the Arab refugees

The Arab refugee problem presents one of the most serious threats to Middle East security. This becomes plain when it is realized that their number has increased rather than diminished since the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) took over the problem a year ago; that funds subscribed fell short of estimated needs; that only a fraction of the 860,000 on relief rolls during 19501951 were employed in works projects; and that no significant resettlement has yet taken place. The desperation of UNRWA’s staff in attempting to stretch inadequate funds over extended relief operations has been reflected in periodic signals for help from its director, Major General Howard Kennedy, to Lake Success.

In response, the UN General Assembly in December authorized UNRWA to continue relief operations for another year, until June 30, 1952, on 20 million dollars to be solicited at the UN. In addition, the resolution authorized the establishment of a “reintegration” fund of 30 million dollars exclusively for permanent resettlement. The Assembly again urged peace negotiations through the Conciliation Commission and directed the Commission to set up machinery for compensation of dispossessed Arabs.

Fortunately the awakened Arab interest in security has engendered a more realistic attitude toward settling the refugees in countries where they now are. Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon have all acted to take advantage of UNRWA’s financial assistance for such resettlement. But clearly UNRWA will have to have substantial support, sustained far beyond 1952, to get more than a fraction of the families now on relief settled on whatever lands are available to them.