September 30, 2023

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London should admit role in Iran coup: ex-UK top diplomat

TEHRAN – Former UK foreign secretary David Owen has called on Britain to finally acknowledge its role in staging a coup in Iran in 1953.

Owen said the move would enhance UK credibility and help what he called the Iranian reform movement. 

The call comes after the U.S., complicit in the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosadeq, acknowledged a decade ago that it played a role in the coup. The U.S. acknowledgment came in the form of declassifying a large volume of intelligence documents, which made clear that the ousting of Mosadeq was a joint CIA-MI6 endeavor. 

The formal UK government position is to refuse to comment on an intelligence matter.

The original plot, codenamed Operation Boot, was drafted by MI6 after Mosadeq became prime minister and the dominant British oil company in Iran was nationalized. Harry Truman’s administration did not want anything to do with it, seeing Mosadeq as a bulwark against communism, but Winston Churchill was able to persuade his successor, Dwight Eisenhower. In the spring of 1953, the CIA began joint planning with MI6 and the operation was renamed Ajax.

On the 70th anniversary of the coup on Tuesday, David Owen, who was foreign secretary from 1977 to 1979, told the Guardian: “There are good reasons for acknowledging the UK’s role with the US in 1953 in overthrowing democratic developments. By admitting that we were wrong to do so and damaged the steps that were developing towards a democratic Iran, we make reforms now a little more likely.”

During Lord Owen’s tenure at the Foreign Office, the ailing shah’s regime fell in the Islamic Revolution. 

Owen said he had admitted “errors” he made from 1977 to 79 and called on the British government to follow suit with respect to its errors in 1953. 

While the UK government continues to keep its role in the 1953 coup under wraps, the U.S. has already declassified documents on the coup. In 2017, the U.S. State Department declassified a long-awaited “retrospective” volume of U.S. government documents on the 1953 coup, documenting the role of the CIA in the coup against the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mosadeq.

“This retrospective volume focuses on the evolution of U.S. thinking on Iran as well as the U.S. Government covert operation that resulted in Mosadeq’s overthrow on August 19, 1953,” the Preface of the declassification read.

“This volume includes National Security Council and Presidential materials that document the U.S. decision to proceed with the operation against Mosadeq, and the operational files within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that document the implementation of the operation, codenamed TPAJAX.”

Back in 1989, the U.S. government published a FRUS volume on U.S.-Iran relations between 1951 and 1954 that failed to mention any covert operation against the Iran government. The earlier volume was widely denounced by historians and commentators as a fraud.

“The omissions combine to make the Iran volume in the period of 1952–54 a fraud,” wrote historian Bruce R. Kuniholm in 1990.

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