|British diplomats tried to suppress details of MI6 role in Iran coup||
TEHRAN – British diplomats tried to convince their U.S. counterparts to suppress “very embarrassing” details of MI6’s role in the 1953 coup in Iran, new documents reveal, the Daily Telegraph reported on Monday.
According to the report, Foreign Office records from 35 years ago show elaborate efforts by the British Embassy in Washington to keep secret Britain’s part in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected Mosaddeq government.
The U.S. academic behind the disclosures told the Daily Telegraph that even today, 60 years after the coup, Britain may still be working behind the scenes to hide details of the secret mission known as “Operation Boot”.
Malcolm Byrne, deputy director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said he believed British diplomats were still working to conceal MI6’s activities from more than half a century ago.
“Sixty years after the coup we are still not able to get a full picture of the role played by British and American intelligence,” he said. “It appears the reason is that history and current politics are intersecting and the British are still reluctant to have their role acknowledged.”
The covert action in 1953 by MI6 and the CIA toppled Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iran’s prime minister, in retaliation for his decision to nationalize British oil assets in the country. Mr. Mossaddegh was replaced by autocratic rule by the Shah of Iran.
But by 1978 the Shah’s government was tottering on the verge of collapse as Iranians protested on the streets. Watching from afar, the Foreign Office grew concerned that its own role in installing the Shah would become public and further inflame anti-Western sentiments.
Chief among their worries was a plan by historians at the U.S. State Department to release documents related to the 1953 coup, according to records found by researchers at National Security Archive.
In a confidential memo from October 1978, one diplomat warned that “if released, there would be some very embarrassing things about the British in them”.
By December a second diplomat had written to London saying that a friendly State Department official had promised “to sit on the papers”. The document shows the embassy approached the historians’ office directly, inquiring how they could keep the files from being made public.
The embassy’s efforts appear to have succeeded because the documents were never officially released.
By the mid-1990s and with the end of the Cold War both the State Department and the CIA had committed to a new policy of openness about past U.S. covert operations.
They agreed to issue revised versions of the Foreign Relations of the United States, an official government history text which was first started by Abraham Lincoln.
The State Department historians began work on a new volume on the 1953 coup, which was expected to acknowledge the role of Western spy agencies.
The revised volume was completed by 2006 but has still not been made public.
Mr. Byrne said that even the secretive CIA agreed to release documents about their part in the operation, suggesting that resistance to the State Department’s revised history was coming from outside the U.S. government.
State Department records show that U.S. government historians “made at least two efforts to promote a joint U.S.-British project on Iran, including one through the British Foreign Office,” but none came to fruition.
In a 2009 article in the Daily Telegraph, Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, made reference to MI6’s actions saying: “Our role has not been a pretty one”. It is believed to be the first time any senior British politician acknowledged the operation, although Mr. Straw had already left government by that point.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said it was department policy to neither confirm nor deny British involvement in the coup.
The State Department confirmed that it was working on a new volume “covering U.S. relations with Iran from 1951-1954, to include the 1953 coup” and said it would “include documents never before published”.
A spokesman said the volume “is well along in production, but there are a series of complex processes still ahead of us, so we can’t project a publication date at this point”.
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