Oil and geopolitics crossed paths repeatedly throughout the 20th century. And perhaps nowhere were the political effects of their intersection more pronounced than in Iran. For nearly five decades, the Anglo-Persian Oil Co., later renamed Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., the forebear of what would eventually become British Petroleum, enjoyed near total control over Iran’s oil sector. When Iran nationalized the sector in 1951, the United States and United Kingdom responded by overthrowing its architect, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, just two years later. Those events heavily influenced the 1979 Iranian Revolution, a foundational element of which was resource nationalism.
And now it appears that BP is returning to its roots. During the week of May 2, the head of Iran’s national oil company announced that BP will soon open an office in Tehran. Meanwhile, the country is opening up its energy sector and considering admitting foreign oil companies to set up joint ventures and operate oil fields there for the first time since 1979.
But Iran faces new challenges. To revive his country’s economy after years of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani is now driving an initiative to reinvigorate the oil sector. To do so, Rouhani will have to break what has become a steady cycle of backlash — aimed at foreign and domestic actors alike — over the distribution of oil revenue in Iran.
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