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Who knew? The Baron and Iran

Was rapacious business behaviour by Baron Julius de Reuter 150 years ago a prime factor behind Iran’s hostility towards Britain and the West today?

In his latest book, The English Job, former foreign secretary Jack Straw recalls a long charge sheet of national humiliations in the late 19th century, notably including an infamous Reuter monopoly.

According to a review in The Sunday Times by Justin Marozzi, headlined Why Iran Hates Britain, the so-called Reuter concession of 1872 gave the Baron the monopoly to build railways, canals, irrigation systems and mines, and develop all future industries in the then Persia for 70 years.

“Not a bad return for the bribes totalling £200,000 (£23 million today) that Reuter paid the key players in Tehran,” says the reviewer.

Even arch-imperialist future foreign secretary Lord Curzon said the deal was “the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has ever been dreamt of.”

The concession was short-lived, however. Domestic and international outrage forced Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, king of Persia, to cancel the contract he had signed with Reuter and the deal lasted only a year.

Wikipedia adds that the debacle set the foundation for other revolts against such arrangements and demonstrated that any attempt by a foreign power to infringe on Iranian sovereignty would infuriate the locals.

However, it notes the cancellation resulted in a second Reuter concession which led to the formation of the Imperial Bank of Persia - by Baron Julius de Reuter. ■