24. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Richard Helms, US Ambassador to Iran
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff

The conversation had been going on for some 20 minutes when Mr. Saunders was invited to join and began taking the notes below.

Helms: You asked for my recommendation on Bahrain. Here is a paper analyzing the situation and covering my recommendations [Attachment A].2 My recommendation is to leave the naval force there as it is.

You also asked for my views on Chinese support for PFLOAG. Here is a paper on that subject, too [Attachment B].3 The Chinese have indeed slowed their support for the rebels in South Yemen.

Kissinger: I am glad to hear that. I discussed this when I went to China in February. The Chinese have the same assessment as we do. They agree that Iran should be the pillar of a Middle East policy. I told [Page 79] them it would not work if they continued to support subversive elements which would drain Iranian strength. They said they would limit their support to subversive elements.4

Helms: They have done that. Cubans and Soviets have taken their place.

[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

In any case, it would be useful just to remind Chou En-lai that we expect to see a declining scale of Chinese support for the rebels continue. They probably can’t cut off their aid entirely.

Kissinger: Would you go to Peking sometime?

Helms: Yes. I am going to Pakistan in mid-October. You suggested it. Now Bhutto has invited me.

Kissinger: Yes, I mentioned it to Aziz Ahmad.

I want to talk to the Shah about Pakistan and about our general view of the area. If we share his judgment that Soviet activity adds up to a sort of geo-political pincers—whether it is planned or whether it comes about through the cumulative effect of general conflict—what can we do?

In Pakistan, we want to prevent a disequilibrium so the Indians will not be tempted to dismember Pakistan. We have no interest in promoting an arms race, and we would like to improve our relations with India. But we do not want India to be the dominant country in the Arabian Peninsula as well as in Southeast Asia. What concretely do you think the Shah has in mind?

Helms: First, he has to do more work on his armed forces. He feels that Iran cannot allow Pakistan to disintegrate. He wants to get the Chinese lined up. When the Chinese Foreign Minister came to Tehran and endorsed Iranian policy, the Iranians were dumbfounded. At the dinner where this happened, the Chinese Foreign Minister was not even scheduled to speak. He got up and delivered his remarks. The Iranian Foreign Minister had egg on his face; he did not even have any prepared remarks with which to respond.

The Shah will be concerned about what the Afghans will do on the Pushtunistan issue. He feels that Afghanistan is so backward that it is difficult to deal with them.

As far as arms for Pakistan are concerned, he sees the Pakistani armed forces as a “Russian salad.” They have a wide mixture of equipment from a number of sources. He does not know what can be done for them. He wants the US to do what it can.

[Page 80]

Kissinger: It is almost impossible for us to do anything for Pakistan in the way of military equipment that makes a difference.

Helms: During the visit, we should tell the Shah very explicitly what we can and what we cannot do. He should not live in a wonderland thinking that the US can do things it cannot do.

Kissinger: What do you think we can and cannot do?

Helms: My own judgment is that the policy now reflects about all Pakistan can handle at this point anyway. They cannot pay for more military equipment. They have to get their military house in order. The problem Bhutto faces is a political one not just a military one; the problem is how to hold the country together.

Kissinger: It is also important to give the army confidence in its support of Bhutto.

Helms: Can’t you do that with ammunition and spare parts? I am all for modernizing the Pakistani forces at some point, but that is not the biggest thing on our platter in 1973. The Shah is very cautious about his own involvement. He is proud of what his military has achieved, but privately he worries a lot about how his troops would perform in battle. If one is confident, one does not ask the kinds of questions that he asks. For instance, he asked General Goodpaster how one inculcates the kind of discipline in pilots that our pilots showed over North Vietnam when they went back again and again over targets where there was real danger that they would be shot down. He has a fine air force headed by the best man he has. It is all American equipped. It is a good show. But our policy ought to be not to put it to the test. Just to have it there is an asset. If we play our cards with good sense and give him what he wants including our moral support, others will not want to put it to the test.

Kissinger: Are we through talking about Pakistan?

Helms: I would simply tell him what we can and cannot do.

Kissinger: Should we talk about the Kurds now?

Helms: I would continue doing what we have been doing. We have some new proposals from the Kurds. I don’t want to get into the details of this. I would simply have Saunders, Kennedy and CIA work out a program on how much money to give them.

Barzani [the Kurdish leader] came to Tehran and saw the Shah.5 He asked to see me. I would not see him, but I had my Station Chief see him.

All of those arms which were in the program last year have been delivered. It was done with complete security. Also, Barzani has played [Page 81] his hand well. His recent public request for US support was a useful cover.6

I still do not think we should give Barzani an offensive capability. The Kurds cannot win against all of those Soviet weapons.

Kissinger: They ought to have enough money so that they can remain a thorn in the side of the government.

Helms: We ought to have a judgment now on what the arms have achieved. We now have new requests from Barzani. They should be reviewed along with what position the Kurds are in as the result of the arms shipments over the last year.

Kissinger: We want to be sure that the Soviets consider the Middle East too expensive an area to play around in.

Helms: I think the Kurds ought to keep after Kuwaiti and Saudi money. The Kuwaitis and Saudis have been reluctant to contribute so far. But I think the Kurds ought to keep pressing them.

I think we could give a little more. But I would do this by increasing their subvention, not their hardware. I think they have the arms they asked for to defend against Iraqi attacks. So I would provide money not equipment for the time being.

Kissinger: What I want is for the Politburo in Moscow to be in a frame of mind not to want to get involved in further adventures in the Middle East. I want them to recall that they were run out of Egypt and that Iraq turned out to be a bottomless pit. I want them to tell anyone who comes with a recommendation for renewed activity in the Middle East to go away.

I want the Shah to help in this strategy. We do not want to push the USSR against the wall. We just want them in a frame of mind where they judge that the costs for activity in the Middle East seem excessive. We also want the Arabs in the area to feel that they cannot get a free ride by linking up with the Soviet Union. We want the Kurds to have enough strength to be an open wound in Iraq.

Helms: Up to now, the Kurdish operation has been first class.

Kissinger: What are they doing with the aid we have given them?

Helms: Nothing yet. You will recall that the purpose of the program was to put them in a position to defend themselves if they are attacked. They have not been attacked so far. The big crunch will come in early 1974 when the current truce agreement runs out.

Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Helms: [7 lines not declassified]

Kissinger: What should we say about the Persian Gulf?

[Page 82]

Helms: The problem there is how Iran and Saudi Arabia can cooperate. These are two stubborn monarchs. The Shah recently sent a note to King Faisal about the islands in the Gulf. It was calculated to make Faisal hopping mad. The Iranians think Faisal is crazy.

Kissinger: [less than 1 line not declassified] I’ve only seen him once.

Helms: [less than 1 line not declassified] When Foreign Minister Khalatbari visited Saudi Arabia recently, King Faisal told him that Iran should do two things: Give the Persian Gulf islands back to the Arabs and get all the Jews out of Iran.

Kissinger: Khalatbari is a nothing, isn’t he?

Helms: I would say that Khalatbari is a quiet and loyal servant of His Majesty.

Those Gulf islands are not Faisal’s issue, but he has made them his issue. The only solution to that problem that I can see is for the Shah to deal directly with the Union of Arab Emirates or the Sheikh of Ras al-Khaima and give them enough money to satisfy them. If they were satisfied about the claim, they might take the issue out of Faisal’s hands. The problem is that those Saudis who would suggest something like this can’t vote Faisal’s stock. They could tell you what a rational solution to the problem would be, but when it gets to Faisal, that is a different story. Anyway, we might try something like this. It’s the only formula I have found. I’ve talked with a lot of people about it.

Kissinger: If Faisal were overthrown, what would the Shah do?

Helms: Why don’t you ask the Shah that question? He won’t mind. He’ll answer you.

Kissinger: Can we afford a Qadhafi in Saudi Arabia?

Helms: I would simply point out that the Saudi oil is entirely the operation of an American company, whereas in Iran Americans are only one part of the operation. I would also point out that Saudi Arabia has three times the oil reserves of Iran. I rest my case. We can’t afford to let Saudi Arabia go down the drain. Can we get an Ambassador in Saudi Arabia who will have “RN” branded on his forehead? Thacher is a fine man, and I don’t want to run him down. But we need somebody who has the White House stamp on him. I don’t think Frank Lincoln is the person. We need a new face.

Kissinger: Maybe we should send that mad man Clements. I’m just kidding.

Helms: He created my first diplomatic crisis. He used the phrase “Persian/Arab Gulf.” I found myself called from a dinner party to the residence of the Foreign Minister after the Shah learned about that. He told me that although the Secretary of State was already in the air on his way to the CENTO meeting in Tehran, the Shah would not receive him [Page 83] if that phrase was left to stand. Iran, he said, could not refuse to host the CENTO meeting at this late date, but it would not participate.

Kissinger: Clements, at an SRG meeting last week [on the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, NSSM 181], warned against Iranian designs on Saudi Arabia.7 He thinks in terms of settling the Arab-Israeli dispute in order to improve our relations with Saudi Arabia. I am all for moving on the Arab-Israeli issue if that’s possible, but I don’t want the Saudis to make that their primary objective in life. King Faisal looks to me as if he would be pretty intransigent on that subject. We should not get them involved.

Helms: Madness.

Kissinger: Clements wants to pour arms into Saudi Arabia. I would like to get the Saudis involved in South Yemen. We also ought to get an Ambassador of ours out there.

What other areas do we need to cover?

Helms: Jordan. I have not talked with the Shah about what Jordan could do in Kuwait.

Kissinger: What do we need in Jordan?

Helms: I talked with King Hussein in Iran. He was completely undone by the message from Golda Meir that she had had her friends in the United States restore the Senate’s cut of $30 million from the Supporting Assistance budget for Jordan.

Let’s see, the Shah will want to talk about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the Kurds and Brezhnev. That will cover the ground.

I just want to bring up one other issue. I have a fellow working with me who used to have very close contacts with Fatah. After the 1970 troubles in Jordan, he knocked off his contact. The contact recently turned up again, however, and wanted to see my fellow. I told him to go ahead and re-establish the contact once on my authority. No one here in Washington knows of this. I do not even know who the contact is; I do not want to know. But I can guarantee you that he is one of Arafat’s right hand men. Here is a memo that I prepared on this meeting [Attachment C].8 The issue is whether you want to have policy talks with the fedayeen or not.

Kissinger: I will think about it. [To Saunders] Look at this with an eye to what we can put into this channel.

At this point the note-taker left and the conversation continued for another ten minutes.

[Page 84]

Ambassador Helms also left a memo on some miscellaneous items [Attachment D].9

Harold H. Saunders10
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS–28, Geopolitical File, Iran Chronological File, Memcons, Notebook, 23 July–15 September 1973. Top Secret; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Attached but not printed is a July 15 paper entitled “The U.S. Naval Presence in Bahrain.”
  3. Attached but not printed is a July 15 paper entitled “Chinese Support for PFLOAG.”
  4. For the records of Kissinger’s meetings during his visit to Beijing, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVIII, China, 1973–1976.
  5. See Document 225.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 220.
  7. See Document 23.
  8. Attached but not printed is a July 18 memorandum on the subject of “Contacts with the Fatah Leadership.”
  9. Attached but not printed is a July 18 memorandum on “Miscellaneous Policy Items.”
  10. Saunders initialed “H.S.” above this typed signature.