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246. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

SUBJECT

  • Further Support for the Kurds in Iraq

You will recall that, following your visit to Tehran in 1972, we began working with the Iranians in providing some support to the Kurds in northern Iraq. That program was designed to strengthen the capacity of the Kurds to preserve their own position in their efforts to negotiate a form of autonomy with the Iraqi Government. The underlying purpose was to keep the Iraqi Government tied down and to limit its capacity for adventures abroad. Since that time we have provided through the Iranians a monthly subsidy of about [less than 1 line not declassified] together with some small arms and ammunition.

On March 11, the four-year truce between the Kurds and Iraqi Government came to an end, and the Kurds have been bracing themselves for new attacks by the Iraqi armed forces. The Kurdish leader has asked the Iranians for significant new aid which would permit them to set up a Kurdish-Arab government in a Kurdish safehaven in northern Iraq. This would require a total of some [less than 1 line not declassified] in financial subsidies, which the Kurdish leaders are now requesting. In short, this would be a totally different operation from the past.

Ambassador Helms believes that the Shah will provide increased assistance to help the Kurds hold out in the present situation but will be unwilling to go to the extent of underwriting an autonomous Kurdish government on a long-term basis.2 Nor could the U.S. provide, covertly, support on the scale requested. Further, it does not appear to be in the U.S. interest to support the establishment of a separatist government there.

We have, therefore, developed a package which would show that we are still concerned with the Kurdish plight and are willing to continue our support, but that we are not able to participate in the much broader concept they have in mind. We recommend approval of the following package, in addition to the continuing subsidy:

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—[less than 1 line not declassified]3 for “refugee relief.” This amount is available from funds previously appropriated.

—Airlifting to the Iranian intelligence service a stockpile which we have accumulated of [less than 1 line not declassified] small arms and ammunition.

Ambassador Helms shares our view that this would be about the right balance, given our limited objectives.

Recommendation

That you authorize dispatch of the attached telegram to Ambassador Helms instructing him to inform the Iranians what we are prepared to do.4

  1. Source: National Security Council, Nixon Intelligence Files, Subject Files, Iraqi Kurds, Box 8, 7 April 1969–12 June 1974. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Helms offered these views in backchannel message 857 from Tehran, March 28. (Ibid.)
  3. Nixon circled this amount and wrote in the margin a note that reads: “[text not declassified] if it can be used effectively.”
  4. Nixon initialed his approval of the recommendation. The attached message was sent as backchannel message WH40988 to Tehran, April 19, in which Kissinger authorized Helms to offer the Kurds [text not declassified] approved by Nixon. Responding to the Shah’s queries, Kissinger agreed that the assistance could be applied to food purchases and discouraged Barzani’s plan to declare Kurdish autonomy. He suggested that Helms point out that the U.S. objective was to give the Kurds capacity for negotiating recognition of their rights by Iraq and to keep the Iraqi regime tied down, but not to divide Iraq with the creation of an unviable Kurdish area that would permanently damage U.S. and Iranian relations with Iraq. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 426, Backchannel Files, Middle East/Africa, 1974, Vol. II)