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

12714. Subj: Human Rights: Tour d’Horizon With MFA on New Foreign Assistance Act (FAA Requirements).2

Summary: At request MFA, PolCouns and PolOff handling human rights matters briefed MFA Fourth Political (American) Department on new security assistance legislation and potential impact on Iran. Discussion went beyond technical details to philosophy of new legislation, U.S. Congressional attitudes, and Iranian approaches to human rights problems. EmbOffs consistently took line that what, if anything, to do about human rights is GOI decision while Embassy prepared to be helpful to extent GOI desires and provides relevant information. End summary.

1. At specific invitation of Fourth Political Department head Hatef, PolCouns Lambrakis and Stempel briefed him and three other officers on new provisions of FAA relating to human rights reporting and possible cutoffs of military sales. Discussion dealt both with FAA legislation and more philosophical aspects of problem. Hatef had read copy of [Page 586] Committee print, “Human rights in Iran,” which covered Fraser hearings August 3 and September 8, 1976,3 and asked EmbOffs for additional copies. Would appreciate Department pouching five copies this document.

2. Meeting opened with review of U.S. legislative reporting requirements, deadlines, and role envisaged for new Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in State Department.4 Hatef inquired if latter would have assistants who would travel to countries such as Iran to gather information. EmbOffs replied it is still too early to know what may develop, but for the present reports were prepared in the Department on the basis mainly of Embassy reporting. Hatef asked what Congress could do if State Department should report favorably on human rights situation in a country such as Iran. Would these reports suffice? EmbOffs pointed to certification option that law provides for Secretary of State as additional input. Hatef nevertheless expressed concern that Congressmen and staffers might prejudge a country and disregard State Department views in favor of “inaccurate reporting” such as Amnesty International’s or ICJ’s. Hatef pointed to multiple inaccuracies in Butler ICJ report along lines Tehran 6119 (but more comprehensively),5 and commented that it is sad some Congressmen give credence to instant “experts” rather than official, better-researched reporting. EmbOffs responded that Congressmen necessarily review vast numbers of reports and are themselves used to dealing on the basis of information which may not be accurate in every respect but contains information which they consider persuasive, or at least worth investigating. However, State Department appears to be maintaining its credibility with Congress—as witness good Congressional reception of Atherton and Habib testimonies6 (of which copies had been provided to MFA). EmbOffs noted human rights problem is important and a serious concern, but responsible people in both governments need not panic. Point is, new FAA legislation underlines heightened Congressional interest and requires more Embassy reporting. The more information Embassy can provide Washington, the better off everybody will be.

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3. Hatef said he personally favored providing maximum information, but GOI security officers not similarly inclined. EmbOffs suggested possibility of trying to distinguish more clearly in statistics and public information between those convicted of terrorism and those in jail for crimes not involving violence (“crimes of conscience”), whether these be Marxists or others. There then followed discussion of: (A) problems security forces have in dealing with detainees where timely interrogation may produce intelligence to blunt forthcoming terrorist threats; (B) Iranian use of preventive arrest where evidence suggests person or group about to commit crime; and (C) problems posed where professor or artist is accused of Communism or of assistance to terrorism and incarcerated, but no information made available, thus giving GOI opponents an open field. Hatef said GOI could challenge its detractors such as Amnesty International on almost all cases of torture alleged thus far but security officials did not want to let outsiders have current addresses of these former prisoners, citing need to protect their sources and even in some cases to protect persons of those released whom Amnesty International alleged were still in jail. EmbOffs noted this difficulty, but also public relations risks involved in complete secrecy. Hatef agreed.

4. EmbOffs spoke of cumulative image problem, saying organization like Amnesty International builds credibility by proving one or two cases in one country, with effect that its word is more easily accepted on other cases in other countries where evidence perhaps not as conclusive. It would appear to be in Iran’s own interest to dissociate itself in public mind from such other cases. Hatef remarked in passing on the difference between Iran today and Greece under the recent government of the Colonels; he had visited latter and felt police rule in the air. Iranians today do not have such feeling of fear, he said.

5. Hatef was given copy of Ottaway December 12 Washington Post article on growing human rights lobby in Washington and in Europe.7 Discussion continued on advantages of open information policy and on utility of GOI’s being as forthcoming as possible on human rights inquiries. EmbOffs noted Iran, as sovereign state, obviously might feel under no obligation to provide information, and it is up to GOI to weigh political consequences of not doing so. There are times when prompt explanations might defuse concern. EmbOffs suggested stressing historical background of human rights problems in Iran and speculated personally that stronger presentation of Iran’s case, especially by non-governmental figures, would probably be useful in improving understanding of Iran’s circumstances. EmbOffs agreed general image problem might be exacerbated at times by issues (such as oil [Page 588] price rise) having nothing directly to do with human rights, but that efforts to meet human rights criticism on case-by-case basis would probably help give better picture of Iranian human rights situation, particularly in context terrorist threats. Meeting ended with Hatef indicating it had been very useful to him, and he expected to come back to the question after he has reported to his superiors.

6. Comment: Importance of meeting lies less in what was discussed than in fact Iranians in MFA at least seem seriously to be focusing on problem and on U.S. concerns. Hatef said meeting was at Undersecretary Assar’s specific instruction. Hatef’s assistants took copious notes. Discussion will clearly be reported to higher levels of GOI. We think these talks in relaxed, forthcoming manner and at working level are useful both for getting U.S. points across in non-confrontational setting and for developing mutual basis for further discussion. Hatef and colleagues at no time accepted even partial validity of charges against Iran (he fished very hard for EmbOff judgments) but at least implicitly agreed with EmbOffs that matter requires better Iranian handling. Hatef probed what future Congressional attitudes and procedures might be in applying new law. EmbOffs stressed several times that legislation is new, and procedures still not worked out beyond steps outlined in FAA.

7. In process of discussing mutual false impressions, Hatef referred to case of an Air Force man who went to U.S. or Canada, deserted, and is now claiming he would be tortured or killed if he returned to Iran. This is patently false. Sensing similarity to possible case discussed State 280682 and Tehran 11813,8 EmbOffs asked for, and Hatef agreed to provide, details of case. Will report when these provided.

8. In separate but related matter also indicating increased Iranian interest in human rights, local English, French, and Farsi press has over past week attacked Amnesty International for parroting same line as French Communist journal Humanité on subject of Iranian students arrested in Paris for attacks on Iranian Consulate. December 19 Ayandegan and December 20 Ettela’at go even further, but with different thrust, attacking Amnesty International for being tool of “international imperialism.” They even allege it is receiving CIA backing and contributions. Informal translations principal items being pouched Department (NEA/IRN).

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760471–0342. Confidential.
  2. President Ford signed the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976 on July 1. Telegram 231122 to all diplomatic posts, September 17, provided guidance on the section of the legislation that linked security assistance to human rights. The posts were instructed to inform officials in host countries of this provision and report their reactions. (Ibid., D760353–0445)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 184, and Document 185. The full title of the report is Human Rights in Iran: Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, Second Session, August 3 and September 8, 1976.
  4. James M. Wilson was appointed November 17 as the first Coordinator for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
  5. Telegram 6119 was not found; see Document 184 and footnote 11 thereto. Regarding the Butler report, see footnote 12, Document 184.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 185. The text of Habib’s statement for his testimony on the F–16 sale to Iran before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee was transmitted in telegram 229306 to Tehran, September 16. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760353–0445)
  7. The article by David B. Ottaway is entitled “The Growing Lobby for Human Rights.”
  8. Telegram 280682 to Tehran, November 15, inquired on behalf of Congress about the likely punishment facing the IIAF deserter, who claimed that he would be tortured or executed. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760426–0922) In telegram 11813 from Tehran, November 28, the Embassy expressed doubt that deserters would face torture or capital punishment. (Ibid., D760441–0041)