123. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State and the Embassy in Bahrain1

4508. Subj: Shah’s Statement on Foreign Forces in Gulf. Ref: Manama 0545.2

Summary: Although GOI rhetoric may be evolving to more neutral or independent posture as Iran and Arab states move to improved and more active relationships, we do not believe there will be any real change in Iran’s desire for close ties with U.S. and USN in Gulf. Never[Page 370]theless, we believe USG should recognize changing Iranian public stance and give careful consideration to proposed naval activities or use of Iranian facilities which might appear to conflict with that stance. End summary.

1. As reported in Wireless File of May 5, Shah told London Observer that he wanted “any permanent American military presence removed from the Persian Gulf area, including the American naval base in Bahrain.” At same time, Shah said, “he expects Iraq to agree to a similar exclusion of Soviet bases in the Gulf.” This is a more explicit description of GOI position on Gulf security than has normally been presented—i.e., that Iran believed security should be in hands of littoral states and that these states should not depend on super power support.3 Iranians regularly add that as long as littoral states are unable to assure own security it is inevitable that they will have to look to outsiders and as long as one super power (USSR) is present in Gulf or Indian Ocean, GOI wants other (U.S.) to remain in order to keep a strategic balance. New element in Observer article is specific mention of removal of American presence at Bahrain. As noted above Shah hedged this position by saying Iraq would have to agree to exclusion of Soviet bases in Gulf. Story has not been played by local press, suggesting either that paper’s quotation of Shah is not sanctioned as GOI policy position or that GOI does not want to highlight the issue on the eve of Shah’s visit to Washington. It is, of course, possible that reporter misquoted or misinterpreted the Shah.

2. Whatever the explanation for the statement, in wake of Iran–Iraq Accord and mutual Iranian-Arab efforts to strengthen ties, we believe we may anticipate some similar movement in Iranian rhetoric towards Arab viewpoints and vice versa. We understand that both sides are not allowing nomenclature for Gulf to stand in way of expressions of cooperation—while neither, however, is yielding its respective position on Persian or Arab designation. Although GOI will be cautious in its evolving relations with Iraqis and other Arabs, it is possible that GOI may find itself engaged in Gulf summitry or negotiations for non-aggression pacts or other such diplomatic business. Certainly the flow of Arab visitors to Tehran shows no sign of abating and GOI seems to find process useful, not the least for internatl political reasons.

3. We do not believe these changes in Iranian rhetoric or diplomatic manifestations will bring any basic change over the near term in substance of Iranian position on realities in Gulf, particularly GOI’s perceived value of U.S. Navy in this region. Iran is committed to devel[Page 371]opment of a blue water navy and is depending heavily on USN for assistance in that endeavor. Shah has remarked on several occasions that he personally appreciates the ready and effective cooperation of the USN. We doubt that he would take inconsistent and unfriendly step of actively pushing for COMIDEASTFOR to leave Bahrain and the Gulf, but he is trying to carry water on both shoulders. Therefore, Shah might be reluctant now to send emissary to Bahrain to support presence of COMIDEASTFOR as he did last year or to otherwise oppose its departure if demanded by other major littoral states.

4. In these changing circumstances, we believe that we should be sensitive to Shah’s public position on Gulf security, and give very careful consideration to the frequency, duration and public exposure of ship visits and joint exercises. Also, P–3 operations at Bandar Abbas should be examined for their continuing utility and appropriateness. This more complicated matter will be subject of a forthcoming message.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750170–0050. Confidential. Repeated to London, Jidda, Kuwait, SecDef, CNO, JCS, CINCUSNAVEUR, COMIDEASTFOR, and USCINCEUR.
  2. In telegram 545 from Manama, May 8, Ambassador Twinam requested comment on the Shah’s reported criticism of the U.S. naval presence in Bahrain. (Ibid., D750162–0190)
  3. For the Shah’s earlier views of the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–4, Documents on Iran and Iraq, 1969–1972, Documents 104, 159, and 160.