An outburst by Winston Churchill against any move that would threaten the British Empire opens the chapter “Iran, Turkey and the Empire” in S. M. Plokhy’s Yalta: The Price of Peace.
This statement by Churchill convinced Franklin Roosevelt that the British would in no way cooperate in relinquishing their empire. Churchill had reacted to part of a report of the foreign ministers presented by Secretary of State Edward Stettinius. The report actually dealt with Japanese possessions, not British. It also revealed that the foreign ministers had not reached any agreement on Iran.
The Soviets and the British had divided up Iran earlier in the war to prevent Nazi influence there and to secure the supply route to Russia. The two powers, though, had a history of competition for control of the region. Despite the Russian and British violation of the principles of the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt would not intervene on behalf of Iran.
Following the first meeting of the Big Three in Teheran in November 1943, Roosevelt spoke in favor of American aid for Iran. By the time of the Yalta Conference, all of the Big Three were contesting for influence over Iran’s oil. When Roosevelt delivered a speech at Yalta calling for aid to Iran, he drew little response from Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Thus Stettinius dropped the proposal, and the United States supported the British position in Iran. The Soviets refused to discuss Iran at Yalta. The conference communiqué only stated that the foreign ministers had exchanged ideas and would continue to discuss the situation.
The Soviets had another topic that they definitely wanted to discuss: The age-old Russian desire for control over Istanbul and the Black Sea straits. Stalin introduced the straits question at the February 10 plenary session. Churchill had already agreed to support Stalin on this matter at their October 1943 meeting. At Yalta, though, he requested a specific proposal for revising the 1936 Montreux Convention, which had given Turkey control of the straits. Stalin did not make such a proposal, and the issue was deferred to a future foreign ministers meeting.
The next chapter, “Secret Agreements,” describes Roosevelt as eager to wrap up the Yalta Conference and leave for his meeting with Middle Eastern leaders. Stalin, however, still wanted to confirm arrangements for the war in Asia. Foreign Commissar Molotov summoned Averell Harriman to a meeting at which he intended to tie up the loose ends of the deal for Soviet entry into the war against Japan. These issues involved granting the Soviets access to a Chinese port and to railways in Manchuria.
FDR already had agreed to keep this deal secret from the Chinese, to avoid having Soviet intentions leak to the Japanese. After more negotiation, Stalin agreed to joint operation of the railroads with the Chinese, and FDR agreed to the Soviets leasing Port Arthur.
The final issue that Roosevelt wanted to settle was the touchy matter of the number of Soviet versus American votes in the United Nations general assembly. The Soviets wanted two extra votes for their two largest republics, and FDR felt compelled by domestic political pressure to ask for three votes for the United States. Stalin replied that he favored this balancing of votes.