177. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

5127. Subj: MAAG Requirement Study. Ref: (A) State 119079 (DTG 141703Z May 76), (B) 75 Tehran 11995 (DTG 110730 Dec 75) (Notal).2

1. Elimination or sharp reduction in size of U.S. security assistance elements in Iran would effectively nullify present Iranian plans for military modernization, seriously damage U.S. political, economic, commercial and military relations with Iran and critically weaken U.S. stra[Page 529]tegic position in this region. It is difficult to conceive a more harmful action that U.S. could take against Iran or against our own overall interests here. Urge that highest priority be assigned to retention of U.S. security assistance group in Iran at current manning levels.

2. As we see it, there are three powerful factors in support of this recommendation:

A. U.S. military ties to Iran have longer and more stable history than is case with most other countries, including most NATO members. Since World War II U.S. has provided most of equipment and technical advice for Iranian armed services. Our performance has been excellent and, in consequence, we are trusted as is no other country with a military link to Iran. Over past three decades, our behavior and effective working relationship with Iran, rather than any formal agreements or assurances of our leaders, have created a commitment that is heavily relied upon in this country. Although Iranians may not now expect us to exercise kind of influence we used with USSR during Azerbaijan crisis, they do expect us to continue to help them help themselves to defend their own and Western interests in this region. They do not expect from us shoddy treatment Soviets have given their friends such as Egypt and Indonesia.

B. More than any other country of comparable size or importance, Iranian sovereign is de facto commander-in-chief of his nation’s armed services. The Shah personally makes decisions on major weapons systems procurement and management of his military establishment. He relies heavily on U.S. advice and continued good performance. Were we to back off in significant way from Shah’s level of expectations, we could expect his reaction to be personal and forceful.

C. During past four years, we have signed more orders for military goods and services with Iran than with any other country. Only about 25 percent of ordered equipment has been delivered to date, and next few years will see arrival of bulk of hardware and rigorous testing of Iranian absorptive capacity. Implied in our willingness to sell this equipment has been understanding that we would stand behind it with training, logistics and management support. Included on Iranian order list are some of our most sophisticated weapons systems such as F–14, Spruance ships, and I–Hawk. Putting these systems to effective use in Iranian armed forces, which have limited managerial and technically skilled personnel, will severely strain Iranian capabilities. In fact, it is clear that without outside assistance, effective use cannot be made of most complex weapons systems. Although heavy reliance is placed on services of civilian contractor personnel, role of official U.S. DOD personnel is crucial in providing overall management assistance and advice to GOI. In Iranian Air Force, logistics system is integrated with USAF supply sources. Similar supply linkages exist with IIGF heli[Page 530]copters and new naval system. Termination of U.S. military role would reduce Iranian logistics networks to chaos.

3. Should we not be able to avoid Congressional limitations on our military presence in Iran as outlined in current legislation, we foresee following possible consequences:

A. Cancellation of number of major military weapons systems procurement actions with U.S. and probable refusal of GOI to settle on our terms.

B. Sharp reduction or cancellation of orders from U.S. firms in civilian sector.

C. Political/economic actions against USG interests, including conceivable association with any future Arab oil embargo, less cooperative posture on regional, U.N. and other international matters, and complete loss of leverage over iranian transfers of weapons to third countries.

D. Growth of selfishly motivated civilian defense contractor influence in Iran without countervailing USG voice. As GOI would be subject to heavy contractor pressures, absence of any meaningful military presence here would require that we respond to Iranian requests or initiatives with legislation or other equally blunt instruments, e.g., denial of certain sales, rather than persuasion.

E. [4 lines not declassified]

F. Repercussions throughout region if U.S. were to treat with so little consideration a faithful ally which has, in fact, taken no action against U.S. interests (unless one wants to mention oil prices) nor in any way worked against U.S. policy. No country in this region could feel secure in its relationship with U.S. Soviet influence, now at relatively low ebb, would grow apace.

4. In summary, our inability to overcome Congressional strictures on military presence in Iran would be disastrous.

5. We believe that manning levels should be continued at roughly current level. Presently we have 209 U.S. positions assigned to MAAG, 728 technicians under TAFT contract, 438 support personnel (including TAFT component) and 128 other security assistance personnel. Total of 1,500 personnel should be adequate for next 2–3 years. There will be fluctuations up and down as some technicians finish their work on projects and others begin new tasks. All but 8 MAAG spaces and 70–80 percent of other elements will be funded by GOI in FY 77, a small increase in GOI support over FY 76 financing. As our military presently is organized according to historical rather than rational principles, some reorganization within numbers allotted is planned in near future.

6. There are no rpt no satisfactory alternatives to present DOD manning levels in Iran. We see no point in erecting alternative straw [Page 531]men (e.g., contractor or third country substitution) only to knock them down. To extent that DOD numbers are cut back, we would suffer some of effects listed in para 3 above.

7. DefRep, Chief, ARMISH/MAAG, and I have been engaged in effort to restrict number of personnel to lowest level practical. These efforts will continue and are far preferable in terms of USG interest, we believe, than imposition by Washington of radical cuts or arbitrary ceilings.

8. U.S. DefRep and Chief, ARMISH/MAAG concur. See also Ref (B) for additional points.3

Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760194–0078. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated to SecDef, USCINCEUR, and CJCS.
  2. In telegram 119079 to Tehran and other posts, May 14, the Department advised that the President had vetoed the foreign assistance bill which required the disestablishment of certain MAAGs by September 1976 and the rest by 1977 unless specifically authorized by Congress. Since Congress was revising the legislation, however, an interagency study was being undertaken to identify which countries continued to require the presence of MAAGs. The Department therefore requested that the Embassies submit evaluations justifying such missions. (Ibid., D760189–0441) NSSM 243, “MAAG Requirement Study,” May 10, directed the preparation of the study. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, National Security Decision Memoranda and National Security Study Memoranda, Box 2, NSSM 243) Telegram 11995 from Tehran, December 11, 1975, on the subject of a letter to Senator Humphey on the foreign assistance bill, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750430–0826.
  3. In response to this assessment, Edward Padelford (NEA/RA) ranked Iran second of the countries in which NEA was interested in retaining a MAAG. In a memorandum to his NEA colleagues, June 14, Padelford wrote: “We have ranked [Iran] below Saudi Arabia only because we feel that the Iranians would have a greater capability to continue to maintain Defense readiness without a U.S. mission, than would the Saudis.” (Ibid., P820091–0591)