Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran

 Mohammad Mosaddegh in court, 8 November 1953

Mohammad Mosaddegh in court, 8 November 1953

In 1953 the US and Britain overthrew Iran’s first popularly elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. External Affairs played a small part in overthrowing Iranian democracy.

Mossadegh wanted Iran to benefit from its huge oil reserves. Following the British lead,  Canada’s external minister criticzed the Iranians move to nationalize its oil. In May 1951 External Minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons the “problem can be settled” only if the Iranians keep in mind the “legitimate

interests of other people who have ministered to the well-being of Iran in administering the oil industry of that country which they have been instrumental in developing.” Later that year Pearson complained about the Iranians’ “emotional” response to the English. He added: “In their anxiety to gain full control of their affairs by the elimination of foreign influence, they are exposing themselves to the menace of communist penetration and absorption — absorption into the Soviet sphere.”

In response to the nationalization, the British organized an embargo of Iranian oil, which Ottawa followed. The embargo weakened Mossadegh’s government, enabling the CIA’s subsequent drive to topple the nationalist prime minister.

Thirteen months before the coup Canada’s Ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa:“The situation in Iran could hardly look worse than it does at present. Mossadegh has been returned to power with increased influence and prestige and will almost certainly prove even more unreasonable and intractable than in the past, so that a settlement of the oil dispute will be harder than ever to arrange.”

Pearson did not protest the overthrow of Iran’s first elected prime minister. Privately, External Affairs celebrated. Four months after the coup, Canada’s ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa about “encouraging reports from their [US] embassy in Tehran on the growing strength of the present [coup] government.” Establishing diplomatic relations with Iran in 1955, Canada followed the lead of the UK and US in doing business with the brutal dictatorship of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, which ruled for 26 years.