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


  • US-Iranian Relations and the Arms Deal with Moscow

As you are aware, the Iranians recently signed an arms agreement with the Soviet Union which went beyond the levels of arms purchases that they have made in the past from the USSR.2 This new “opening to Moscow” must be seen in the context of the Shah’s perceptions of his relationship with the US and the overall trend of those relations over the next few years. The Shah has become increasingly upset by what he sees as a growing challenge in this country to the close bilateral relationship between the United States and Iran. Over the past few months, this sensitivity has been reflected in his public comments, his conversations with Ambassador Helms and the Station Chief in Tehran, and in the tenor of his instructions and queries to Ambassador Zahedi. His dissatisfaction is the result of a series of essentially unrelated but mutually reinforcing issues:

Oil Prices. The Shah has been identified in the public mind as the leading “price hawk” in OPEC, and his outspoken support of higher oil prices has been linked to a need to pay for his very large arms purchases. As OPEC goes into another round of pricing discussions which may result in an oil price increase, the Shah is probably concerned that he will be cast as the principal villain and that in turn this will make it more difficult for the USG to respond to his requests for additional advanced military equipment.

Human Rights. Publicity by dissident Iranian students and others concerning political arrests and official brutality of Savak have received widespread play in the US media and have increasingly been picked up in the Congress. The Shah has responded characteristically with a blunt rejection and counterattack against these charges, but the fact that he has been hearing it in virtually every recent interview with Amer[Page 584]icans—from Mike Wallace to Senator Culver3—has evidently irritated him even more than usual. He is particularly incensed by the possibility that Congress may link arms sales to Iran with human rights questions.

Level of Arms Sales. Although no Iranian request for military equipment has yet been rejected by the Congress, public criticism of the Shah’s appetite for sophisticated hardware has recently become more prevalent and is receiving greater attention from Congress, given impetus by such carefully documented reports as the SFRC study4 and recent newspaper accounts of the F–18L request. This is another subject the Shah hears about repeatedly from visitors and in the US press. It also cropped up during the recent campaign, and the Shah may attribute the lack of a US response to his F–18L request to the effects of this criticism.

Toufanian’s recent visit to Moscow and the conclusion of a major new arms agreement with the USSR should be seen in the context of these concerns. Its occurrence less than a month after the election is probably more than coincidental, and the fact that the Shah chose to inform us of the deal personally only two days after it was signed suggests that he did not intend the signal to be overlooked. This new agreement (which includes 500 armored personnel carriers, 500 tank transporters, and an undetermined number of SA–7 shoulder-fired missiles and ZSU–23 anti-aircraft weapons) goes well beyond the non-lethal nature of previous arms purchases from the Soviets, and the inclusion of the SA–7 may be intended as a specific response to our footdragging in response to his request for Stinger and Hamlet, just as the overall transaction is a signal relating to our general approach to Iranian arms requests.

Of particular interest is the Shah’s statement that Toufanian had asked the USSR to provide surface-to-surface (probably SCUD) missiles. The Soviets reportedly turned him down (as we did earlier on the Lance), but the Shah’s willingness to approach the USSR for weapons of this nature suggests that he is willing to pay a considerable political price to obtain a missile system. His reasons were spelled out more fully during a recent briefing on Iraqi military capabilities by General Wilson of DIA, when he emphasized his need for a weapons system capable of neutralizing Iraqi SAM sites without risking the loss of large [Page 585] numbers of aircraft. (His views may have been reinforced by the recent loss of an F–4 to PDRY anti-aircraft fire on the Omani border.) In any event, we should anticipate further efforts by the Shah to obtain a surface-to-surface missile system—from us or from some other source.

Following shortly on the heels of the highly publicized Sophia meeting of Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy with Gromyko, this is the second rather ostentatious case of bridge building to Moscow which we have observed in the last month. Although Egypt’s objectives are quite different from the Shah’s, it is evident that both are going to considerable lengths to let us know that they are keeping their options open as they approach a period of anticipated tough bargaining with the new Administration.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 13, Iran (13). Secret. Sent for information. Scowcroft initialed the memorandum.
  2. The Embassy provided details of the arms deal in telegrams 11933 and 12216 from Tehran, November 30 and December 9. (Both in National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760443–0448 and D760454–1271)
  3. Telegram 10345 from Tehran, October 14, informed the Department that CBS was producing a report on the American community in Iran, featuring a Mike Wallace interview with the Shah. (Ibid., D760385–1127) Telegram 11630 from Tehran, November 21, reported on the visit of a Congressional delegation to Tehran, in which Senator John Culver of Iowa asked the Shah about repression and SAVAK activities. (Ibid., D760433–0589)
  4. See footnote 4, Document 179.