16 June 2010

Calling BP names

A few days ago US President referred to BP, the company at the centre of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, as “British Petroleum”, much to the consternation of the British Government and others.

It was a cheap shot.  British Petroleum formally changed its name to BP plc in 2001. It is a global energy company which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange as well as the London Stock Exchange. Having over the years taken over Burmah-Castrol, ARCO and Amoco, it has almost as many US shareholders as UK shareholders on its share register (39% and 40% respectively).

It was a cheap shot in another way.  While BP owns the Deepwater Horizon project and must take ultimate responsibility for the ongoing disaster, let us not forget that the wonderful US icon Halliburton was the company that did the physical work and must have something to answer for.

And if we want to play the game of calling BP by historical names, I have a much better idea. Having on 12 June just passed the first anniversary of the stolen election in Iran, and while the air is still ringing with the cheers of those find something to celebrate in the strengthening of sanctions against Iran, why not go the whole hog and refer to BP as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).  Then we could all be reminded of the events which set relations between Iran and the West on their current trajectory.

It needs to be remembered that it was on behalf of the then British Government-owned AIOC that CIA’s Tehran station chief Kermit Roosevelt (now there is a good Democrat family name) organised the 1953 coup that, with the backing of the British Government and the complicity of the Shah, overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq, who had had the temerity to nationalise the Iranian oil industry – meaning, in effect, nationalise AIOC. 

The coup came after the British Government had unsuccessfully contested the nationalisation at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  

It is not as though the Americans had not sought to avoid the circumstances which triggered the nationalisation.  The Iranian Government was resentful of how little benefit Iran was receiving from AIOC’s lucrative business exploiting its finite reserves of oil – a position that Australians ought to empathise with while Prime Minister Rudd is banging on about the need for a super profits tax on the Australian mining industry. No skills were imparted to Iranians – the British did not wish to take the risk that Iran would one day be able to run its own oil industry – and Iranian oil industry workers not only worked for a pittance, they worked and lived under appalling conditions.

The Americans politely suggested to the British that they really should do something about the Iranian Government’s concerns and the plight of AIOC’s workers, only to be told rather patronisingly that Britain had far more experience at dealing with “natives” than the US did, and knew what it was doing.  

And so tumult in the Iranian oil industry ultimately became tumult in the streets of Tehran, and culminated in the CIA-led, British-backed coup, following which the Shah got rid of all that silly democratic stuff about electing governments, and AIOC was re-privatised, except that this time around the original AIOC was only permitted to own 40% of the new company – that was part of the US-UK deal.

So we really do have a lot to be thankful to “British Petroleum” for.

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