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181. Backchannel Message From Robert B. Oakley of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

Hakto 7. 1. The following draft statement includes the themes suggested by HAK, as embellished by Roy Atherton, Peter and myself. HAK and all of us here are delighted that the White House is seizing the initiative with a statement.2 HAK told us this morning he intends to use the same themes in his toast tonight and his speech to the Joint Commission tomorrow.3 He will follow-up at the press conference.4 To the extent possible, Nessen and the State Spokesman should duck Q’s and A’s until HAK has held his press conference.

2. Begin text:

Draft statement for Ron Nessen

The Washington Post editorial5—and several other commentaries which have appeared in the media since the release of the report of the Humphrey Subcommittee6—suggest that the United States involvement with Iran is a one-way street running against our national interests, that it carries with it the danger of dragging the United States into a war against our will, and that our close relationship should therefore be diluted if not terminated. It is the view of the President that nothing could be further from the truth than this topsy-turvy view of [Page 541]our policy, and nothing could be further from the President’s mind than a weakening of our relationship with Iran.

Our overall relationship is of fundamental importance to the United States and to the interests of the entire Free World, involving close cooperation in all fields. It is a two-way street leading to great mutual benefit for the United States and Iran. An important element of this relationship is that of military supply, but it is merely one part of an integrated whole. It cannot be separated out for attack or termination without automatically calling into question the fundamental, overall relationship.

In order to understand the significance of this relationship, one must look first at Iran’s strategic importance, bordering the Soviet Union to the north; Turkey, Iraq and the Persian Gulf—so vital to the world’s energy needs—to the west; and Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east. Consider the value to the United States of having a strong friend and ally in that location, serving as a force for stability and moderation. Look at the economic importance of Iran, with whom the United States will have a two-way volume of trade during the period 1975–1980 of some 26 billion dollars exclusive of both the oil and arms, which attract so much public attention. Iran’s policy and practice has been to keep the oil flowing to the United States and other nations of the Free World rather than participating in an embargo. Look at the political importance of Iran, a country whose foreign policies parallel our own on almost every major issue, whose actions in the Gulf, in South Asia and in the Middle East have increased the chances for stability in these regions. Iran has good relations with Israel7 as well as the moderate Arab regimes and with India and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. Its policy is one of trying to promote peace and harmony among its neighbors. It has made liberal use of its oil revenues to this end by aiding the economic development of poorer nations.

The United States has long recognized the importance of a close relationship with Iran. There is nothing new or secretive about it. Immediately after World War II we came to Iran’s assistance in forcing the Soviet Union to end its military occupation in the north, and then helping it build the economic and military strength needed to protect [Page 542]itself and remain part of the Free World during the period of the Cold War. Our formal commitment to help Iran implement the principle of self-defense began with the Military Assistance Agreement of 1950, an agreement supported by annual Congressional appropriations over a period of twenty years.

By 1969, when President Nixon declared at Guam that the United States would henceforth expect its allies to assume greater regional security responsibilities, Iran was not only willing to do so but able to assume the financial responsibility for it. Following the British withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971, Iran and Saudi Arabia assumed the major responsibility for maintaining stability and moderation in the region, and for maintaining the all-important access of the Free World to the immense reserves of oil and natural gas. The United States has not had to assume this responsibility. However, in keeping with the Guam Doctrine and with our clear self-interest, we have a definite responsibility to help our friends and allies help themselves.

In our view it would be foolhardy to renounce or weaken our commitment to a valuable ally of long standing such as Iran, an ally willing and able to look after itself, just because it is buying the military equipment and training it needs from the United States. In our view, the greater Iran’s own capacity for self-defense, the less the likelihood that the United States might become involved militarily in that part of the world. Moreover, Iran has used its military, as well as its economic strength, wisely. It has avoided the temptations to which others have succumbed.

The presence of American military and civilian personnel does not make us a hostage to Iran in the event of war, as some have insinuated. Iran has always strongly opposed the participation of American personnel in Iranian military operations. As the Senate Subcommittee report points out, in recently assisting Oman to put down a radical rebellion, the Iranian Armed Forces neither wanted, needed nor used American military or civilian personnel. United States military personnel in Iran are under strict orders not to become involved, should there be a conflict, and the contracts of American civilians assisting the Iranian military make plain that they will not in any way become involved should there be hostilities. Thus, there is nothing in this aspect of our relationship which implies any such commitment by the United States.

Finally, our arms contracts with Iran have not been made in secret nor have they been made without thorough review by the highest authorities of the United States Government. Every major sale of weapons has been made public and has been sent to Congress as required by law. In addition to reviewing each major arms transaction, the administration has had periodic reviews, some formal and some not, of both [Page 543]our arms transfer policy and our policy toward the Gulf over the past four years. We have found no reason to change our policy of support for Iran.

Our close friendship with Iran is one of the successes of American foreign policy. It gives us a reason to be proud rather than grounds for apprehension. The President has sent Secretary Kissinger to Iran not only to attend an important meeting of the United States-Iranian Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation, but also to tell the Shah of the continuing strong backing his nation enjoys from this administration and of the President’s determination to make every effort to sustain and strengthen our relationship with Iran. This relationship is in the interest of the United States, of the free world, and of world peace. The President will not be deflected from it.8

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books and Cables of Henry Kissinger, Box 40, Kissinger Trip File, August 4–11, 1976—London, Tehran, Kabul, Islamabad, Deauville, The Hague, HAKTO. Unclassified.
  2. Kissinger had recently expressed concern at the state of U.S.-Iranian relations, telling Ford on August 3 that the timing of his Iran trip couldn’t be worse. “Treasury and Defense are going after the Shah. Simon is going around saying the Shah is dangerous and shouldn’t have exotic weapons. And Ellsworth and Defense are viciously anti-Iranian.” The President commented: “The Shah is a good friend. He didn’t go along with the embargo. We aren’t going to be stampeded by the newspapers.” Kissinger recognized that Ford was unable to act before the November elections but reiterated that the Treasury and Defense Departments were “on a vicious campaign.” Kissinger emphasized: “We are playing with fire. We have thrown away Turkey and now Iran.” (Ibid., Memoranda of Conversations, Box 20)
  3. For Kissinger’s toast at the August 6 dinner, see the Department of State Bulletin, September 6, 1976, pp. 305–307. Regarding the meeting of the Joint Commission, see Document 182.
  4. The transcript of Kissinger’s joint press conference with Ansary is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, September 6, 1976, pp. 307–314.
  5. On August 5, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Iran and the Arms Trade” declared that sales of sophisticated U.S. arms to Iran threatened U.S. interests by implying an American commitment to provide technical support even in case of war.
  6. See footnote 4, Document 179.
  7. In a meeting at Helms’s residence on August 7, Kissinger complained that on Iran policy, despite close relations between Iran and Israel, “50 percent of our trouble is the Israeli lobby. They want a carom shot off of Iran onto arms sales for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Since we are doing so much for Israel and it is so strong, it is hard to kill arms sales to the Saudis who are much weaker. So the best approach is to attack through Iran and kill the idea of all arms sales to the Gulf.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–1977, Lot 91D414, Box 17) Telegram 9641 from Tehran, September 25, reported that the Shah remonstrated with Israeli Defense Minister Peres on this subject. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, P840114–1435, N760007–0302)
  8. There is no record that the White House issued this statement.