This lesson accompanies The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy.  

In this lesson students will:

  • Identify and consider the issues raised by Iran’s nationalization of its oil industry and the 1953 coup.
  • Consider the competing interests of Iran and the United States in 1953 by the United States.
  • Evaluate the outcome and effects of the coup.
  • Assess and analyze primary source documents.

Required Reading

Students should have read Part II of the student text of The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy and completed “Study GuidePart II” or “Advanced Study Guide—Part II.”

Note: Colored pencils or markers might be helpful as students annotate their primary sources.



“What major historical events have shaped relations between Iran and the United States?” (Jo-Anne Hart)



Source 1
Excerpt from Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh’s Testimony to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, June 1952

Source 2
Excerpt from the National Security Council Assessment of the Situation in Iran, November 1952

Source 3
Excerpts from CIA Plan to Overthrow Mossadegh, June 1953


In the Classroom:

1. Reviewing the History

Ask students to recall from the reading what they know about Iran in the mid-twentieth century. Who was Mohammad Mossadegh? Why did he nationalize Iran’s oil industry? You may wish to review what it means for an industry to be nationalized (in contrast to foreign-controlled). What international issues was the U.S. government facing in the early 1950s?

2. Analyzing Sources

Tell students that they are going to analyze primary sources about the nationalization of oil in Iran and the 1953 coup in order to gain insight into the motivations and interests of the U.S. and Iranian governments. The sources include top secret U.S. government documents and testimony from Mohammad Mossadegh. Divide the class into groups and distribute the three sources to each group. Assign the task of analyzing one of the sources to each group. Tell students to follow the instructions on their handout and to prepare to summarize briefly their findings to their classmates.

3. Sharing Findings

After the groups have completed the questions, break the class into new groups made up of representatives from each source group. Have students share their findings within the new group. Be sure that the representatives share the three most important sentences from their sources. (This could also be done as a “fish bowl” activity with a single group in the center of the classroom.)

4. Making Connections

Have the whole class consider oil nationalization and the coup in its larger historical context. What were the motivations and interests of the Iranian government? What were the motivations and interests of the U.S. government? Ask students how perceptions affected these motivations and interests. Which Iranian perceptions of Great Britain are reflected in Mossadegh’s testimony? Why did the United States see the Soviet Union as a threat? (Remind students of other international events shaping U.S. government perceptions of the Soviet threat in the early 1950s, e.g., the Korean War, mainland China’s communist takeover, crises in Berlin, and the first Soviet nuclear test.) Remind students that the coup forced Mossadegh from power and made Reza Shah an important U.S. ally for the next twenty-five years.

Have students watch the video by Professor Jo-Anne Hart called, “What major historical events have shaped relations between Iran and the United States?” How does Professor Hart suggest the coup affected U.S.-Iran relations? What connection does she make between the 1953 coup and the 1979 hostage crisis? Do students believe this connection is important? Why or why not?

Ask students to think beyond this case and consider the following: Are there times when the United States government should intervene and change the governments of other countries? Why or why not? What might be the short-term and long-term effects of these decisions?

Extra Challenge

Challenge students to write down two answers and rationales to the question about whether the United States should try to change the governments of other countries. One answer and rationale should support intervention and the second should oppose it. Ask some students to share their answers. After a few minutes, have students share the answer that they support most strongly with their classmates.


Students should read Part III in the student text of The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy and complete “Study Guide—Part III” or “Advanced Study Guide—Part III.”

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