Inasmuch as the early stirrings of nationalism had been a protest against the unbridled economic activities of Russia, Great Britain watched the development with particular interest. In July 1906 when Grant Duff, the British chargé d’affaires at Qulhak, was asked by representatives of the discontented merchants and bankers whether they would be protected by the British Legation if they took refuge there, the answer was emphatically in the affirmative. At this time the interests of the nationalists and Great Britain coincided.
But circumstances soon began to change dramatically when, for the first time in their age-old rivalry, Great Britain and Russia decided to cooperate for the sake of their “greater interests." This rapprochement, which was crystalized in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, produced an entirely new set of conditions with which Iran had to contend until the Bolshevik Revolution. For about a century the British counterweight had kept Russia from unilaterally absorbing Iran. The rapprochement gave Russia an unprecedented opportunity to intervene in Iran.
Many considerations underlay the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. One was Germany. Germany was determined to challenge Great Britain’s rule of the seas. In 1898 and 1900 Berlin launched its program of naval rearmament. The “big navy” policy was the pet child of Admiral von Tirpitz, Secretary of the Navy from 1897 to 1916, who was supported by Kaiser Wilhelm. Germany was also bent on penetration of the Middle East, a policy that alarmed both Great Britain and Russia. The ambitious Baghdad railway plan was designed to link the Persian Gulf with Konia, the terminal point of the German-controlled Anatolian railway. The concession for the railway was secured by Germany from Turkey in 1902, and in spite of British and Russian opposition the 200-ldlometer stretch from Konia to Eregli was completed by the autumn of 1904.
Great Britain’s traditional interests in India and the Persian Gulf played an important part in the conclusion of the convention. For more than thirty years the government of India had feared that Russian influence might penetrate to the province of Sistan, the eastern province of Iran contiguous to the Indian frontier. Lord Curzon, in his famous dispatch of September 21, 1899, accorded Sistan great significance. By reason of its geographical position in relation both to northern Khorasan, to western Afghanistan, to British Baluchistan, and to the Persian Gulf, Sistan, he said, is of no small strategical importance. It “is the present meeting point of the advanced pioneers of British and Russian influence.” “The Government of India could not contemplate without dismay the prospect of Russian neighbourhood in Eastern and Southern Persia.” Sir Arthur Nicolson, afterward Lord Camock, who began the official negotiations for the 1907 convention with Alexander Izvolsky, the Russian Foreign Minister, therefore approached “the Persian problem solely from the point of view of the defense of India.”