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Warm Water Ports - Persia

Since the time of Peter the Great, Russian rulers have longed for a warm-water port on the Persian Gulf. Beginning in the 1700s, the weak and decadent Qajar dynasty of Persia suffered intermittent Czarist pressures and encroachments. A number of humiliating treaties were forced on Persia by the Russians, who were prevented from gaining total control of Iran only by the counter-balancing power of the British Empire.

While England approached Persia from the sea, the pressure exerted by Russia upon the northern frontier is far more direct. Her conquest of the Turcomans and absorption of Khiva and Bokhara have made the boundaries of the two empires conterminous for about a thousand miles. The development of navigation on the Volga and the construction of the Transcaspian railway have given to Russia the bulk of the trade with northern Persia. Russia was said to aim at more than a preponderating influence. Persia naturally looked north, and the capital itself was within a hundred miles of the Caspian, to all intents and purposes a Russian lake. Were Russia left a clear field, all indications pointed to the gradual but complete absorption of Persia into the huge framework of the Muscovite empire.

It was hopeless, even if it were desirable, to supplant Russia in her predominant position in the north-the natural and fitting outcome of her great military and political strength in that region. Russia was credited with the desire of proceeding ultimately to the annexation of the northern provinces of Persia, especially of Khorasan, and penetrating by way of Seistan along the Afghan frontier to a port on the Persian Gulf.

But the commercial and political rivalry of Great Britain barred the way. Persia stood on a different level from that of the central Asian khanates, though she was hardly more able than they to resist by material force the relentless advance of Russia. She possessed an ancient though decaying civilisation ; and the glamour of her past still faintly illumined her degeneracy. Down to 1887, the influence of England in Persia, at one time great, had steadily tended to decline, but the appointment of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff to Teheran in that year did much to restore her waning prestige.

The loan made by the British bank in 1892 was guaranteed by the customs of Fars and the Persian Gulf ports. The loan made by the Russian bank in 1900 was guaranteed by all the Persian customs with the exception of those assigned as the guarantee of the loan made by the British bank. These guarantees gave the Russian and British Governments the right to interfere diplomatically in favor of the rights of their subjects; they did not give those governments the right to take control on their own initiative of the Persian customs. But Persia was in too disturbed a condition either to observe the subtle meaning of the terms of the Anglo-Russian agreement or to enter a protest against them.

A check was put by the British Foreign Secretary's pronouncement in May, 1903, that Great Britain would regard the establishment of a naval base or of a fortified port in the Persian Gulf by any other Power as a grave menace to British interests, to be resisted by all possible means. Lord Curzon's visit to the Gulf was the complement of this notable declaration; but the final development of the policy was not reached till after he had laid down his office.

On August 18/31, 1907, a convention was signed between Great Britain and Russia, the general object of which was "to settle by mutual agreement different questions concerning the interests of their states on the continent cf Asia." In that treaty the two Powers while engaging "to respect the integrity and independence of Persia" state that "for geographical and economic reasons" they have "a special interest in the maintenance of peace and good order in certain provinces of Persia adjoining or in the neighborhood of " their frontiers, and that they are "desirous of avoiding all cause of conflict between their respective interests in the abovementioned provinces of Persia." They thereupon agree in Articles 1, 2, and 3, to limit the spheres of their respective interests in Persia to the Persian provinces adjoining their respective frontiers, thus dividing Persia into three spheres of interest: a British sphere, a Russian sphere, and a neutral sphere.

Within their respective spheres each party is to be free from competition in seeking economic concessions from the Persian Government. Article 4 provides that the revenues from the Persian customs shall be devoted as previously, certain of them to the amortization and interest of the loans concluded by Persia with the Banquc d'Escompte et des Prets de Perse (a bank controlled by Russians and connected with the Russian State Bank), and certain others to the service of the loans concluded by Persia with the Imperial Bank of Persia, a. British bank incorporated in Great Britain by a royal charter of September 2, 1889. Article 5 contemplates the possible necessity of either government establishing control over the sources of revenue mentioned in Article 4 " in the event of irregularities occurring in the amortization or the payment of the interest of the Persian loans concluded with the Banque d'Escompte et des Prets de Perse and with the Imperial Bank of Persia."

A treaty was signed on 26 February 1921, only five days after an Iranian Army colonel, Reza Khan Pahlavi, overthrew the government in a military coup. Although Iran repeatedly renounced article six of the 1921 agreement, the Soviet Union continued to maintain that its provisions were binding and used the treaty as a pretext for armed intervention.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the British eagerly accepted the Soviets as allies. As German successes in Russia mounted, the British were determined to take whatever action was necessary to keep the Soviets in the war. Recognizing Iran's vital geopolitical positionas a potential supply route to the Soviet Union, and concerned over apparent growing German influence in Iran, the British proposed that the Soviets cooperate in a joint occupation of Iran.

With World War II over in 1945, the Soviets refused to leave Iran, as previously agreed to under a 1943 treaty. Instead, relying on sympathizers in the local populace they had worked to cultivate during the war, the Soviets commenced a blatant attempt to annex the northern regions of Iran, coveting both the oil and access to a warm-water port. By the time American and British troops had departed from Iran in spring 1946, the Soviets were firmly ensconced in the province of Azerbaijan and were moving into Iran's Kurdish region.

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