The French Connection: A New Perspective on the End of the Red Line Agreement, 1945–1948



  • I am grateful to the editors and referees at Diplomatic History for publishing this article, and to the staff of National Archives II, College Park, Maryland, and the Special Collections Division of the Georgetown University Library for their boundless patience. Throughout this endeavor, I depended upon the advice and encouragement of the following colleagues at Georgetown University and the U.S. Department of State, who constantly challenged me to improve this article: John Bowlus, Michael Dennis, David Goldfrank, Mark Hove, Rahul Jagtiani, Douglas Kraft, Richard Moss, Meredith Oyen, Aviel Roshwald, Joel Suarez, Nancy Tucker, and Andrew Wackerfuss. Special mention, however, goes to my Doktorvater, David Painter, to whom I dedicate this article. Finally, the views expressed within this article are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.


For almost twenty years, the so-called Red Line Agreement compelled the members of the multi-national Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) to operate collectively within the Persian Gulf. In 1946, however, the two American members of the IPC announced that they were acquiring a 40% stake in the American-owned Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO), which held the most important oil concession in Saudi Arabia. The French member of the IPC (and by extension, the French Government, which was a major shareholder in the company) strongly protested, but eventually accepted a settlement that abrogated the Red Line Agreement and allowed for the expansion of ARAMCO. Although many studies have analyzed these events as an important episode in the history of the international oil industry, this article examines them within the context of U.S.-French relations and the early Cold War. It argues that the major American oil companies and the U.S. Government expended considerable effort in brokering an amicable settlement, and that the French received more favorable terms than previously assumed.