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

2751. Subj: Iran/Iraq Accord: Analysis of Iranian Perspective. Ref: Tehran 2684.2

Summary: Five considerations seem to have influenced Iran’s reaching Accord with Iraq: Iraqi concessions of thalweg principle, probability of Kurdish defeat in absence of increased Iranian assistance, threat to Iran’s OPEC leadership, internal problems and GOI’s perception of change in Middle East. We think these considerations sufficiently strong to sustain Iran’s determination to do its part for extended period to carry out its accord with Iraq. There is already evidence to support this analysis in Iran’s attitude toward Barzani and his followers. End summary.

1. Iran/Iraq Accord, plainly one of more significant events in Iran’s recent diplomacy, raises two questions. Based on previous hostility, how long can Accord be expected to last? Secondly, does Accord signify basic shift in Iran’s orientation towards Middle Eastern states? As background for approaching these questions, we think there were five considerations which led Iran to conclude Accord with Iraq:

A. The thalweg. Clearly, when offered long-sought and psychologically important thalweg as Shatt al-Arab boundary, Iran could hardly refuse, especially in presence of OPEC partners. However, Iran would not have been offered thalweg had it not made significant concession on its aid to Kurds. Kurdish problem, because of its high human costs, appeared to have been on verge of causing serious difficulties for Baathists. Iran already had workable de facto situation on Shatt al-Arab, and to cause Shah to abandon his prime objective of shaking despised Baathist regime there must have been more powerful motivation than recognition of thalweg. In other words, we believe thalweg was more of a condition than a motive for the Accord. Without thalweg there would have been no Accord, but it was not sufficient reason in itself for Iran to conclude broad agreement with Iraq.

B. Termination of Kurdish fighting. Against background of last year’s relatively successful Iraqi offensive against Kurds, and prospect of another drive against them this spring, Iran faced dilemma of either watching the Kurds defeated or substantially increasing military assist[Page 762]ance and risking escalation to open war with Iraq.3 We do not think the Shah wanted to become more deeply involved with the Kurds, primarily because we do not believe he has unlimited confidence in capabilities of his army and he has said he had no great regard for ability of Kurds to withstand Iraqis. Therefore his concession to Iraq was also a timely adjustment in Iran’s commitments.

C. OPEC leadership. No one in OPEC wanted serious Iranian/Iraqi conflict which could cause Arab states to take sides and fracture organization’s unity. Iran, in particular, did not wish to see troubles with Iraq result in weakening Shah’s leadership position. Harmony with Algeria and Egypt is important for the Shah in order to prevent Saudi Arabia from assuming a foremost postion in OPEC and to enable Iran to exercise moderating influence against radical tendencies led by Algeria within organization. Thus Algeria, Iran and Iraq, each for separate national reasons related to OPEC, saw great benefit in Algiers Accord.

D. Internal problems. We have impression that Iranian leadership feels considerable irritation at continuing manifestations of internal dissent. With obvious improvement in standard of living and prospects for greater progress over relatively short term, persisting difficulties with unruly students and sporadic terrorism are source of frustration for GOI. Shah has been told by Egypt, Jordan and Algeria of greater moderation in Baathist outlook and possible Egyptian-like turning away from Soviets in Baghdad. It would be major coup for GOI if Soviet influence in Iraq were broken. Shah probably thought it was worth testing Iraq’s willingness to limit support for subversion and propaganda against Iran, just as he earlier did with USSR, China and other Communist countries. Moreover, tensions with Iraq have never been popular with Iranian religious elements or left-wing students. GOI was certainly not adverse to courting public favor on this issue.

E. Middle East political flux. There is an active search for new alignments in this region: Saudi Arabia and Arab oil countries are buying friends with large sums; Egypt’s diplomacy seems more active and successful than ever; Iraq is sending feelers to moderate states; and U.S. position on Israel seems subject to possible modification. In these conditions of new opportunities and uncertain future, Shah must feel it necessary to be on as friendly a footing as possible with his regional [Page 763] neighbors. He certainly would not wish to see Iraq achieve a morally improved position in Arab world at Iran’s expense.

2. If foregoing analysis is correct, we believe following consequences may be expected:

A. Iran will maintain its end of bargain and will be relatively patient with Iraq as it fills its obligations. Facade of cooperation will be important for both regional and domestic reasons. (If thalweg were Iran’s only motivation, Accord could be denounced on any pretext and Iran would have achieved its point with acceptance of thalweg principle by an Iraqi Government.)

B. Main difficulty will be Iraq’s treatment of the Kurds. Iran has already been subjected to international criticism for abandoning that cause. We believe that at least through this summer Iran will make a large effort to maintain Accord and let Kurds remaining in Iraq shift for themselves. Border peace over next 6–8 months appears definitely in Iran’s interests because hostilities during summer and early fall could erupt into serious fighting, OPEC–consumers talks are in prospect, and domestic scene must be put in order during period when new single party is being formed and Iranian elections are scheduled.

C. Accord probably marks significant Iranian shift towards Egypt and Algeria without, however, fundamentally altering GOI’s relationship with Israel. As long as Israel remains militarily strong and able to absorb Arab energies, we see definite Iranian interest in maintaining quiet, mutually beneficial relationship with that state. Israelis will be concerned, however, if, as we anticipate, there are increasing demonstrations of Iran affinity for Arab cause. We suspect that Shah feels Arab states may be riding new crest of confidence and influence and he will wish to strengthen his ties in their direction.

3. There is already evidence of Iranian seriousness in maintaining Accord. Prime Minister Hoveyda is to visit Iraq next week. Iranian press carries optimistic reports of planning for pilgrimages to Iraqi Shiite shrines. And Kurds are receiving absolutely no encouragement in their difficulties with Iraq. In general, publicly and privately, Iranians are welcoming Accord as very positive achievement of regime.

4. Department may repeat this message as desired. If assessment of Iranian motives is to be given to foreign governments, we believe it should be carefully sanitized, as we would not like to see unfavorable interpretation of Iranian motives reflected back to Tehran.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750103–1087. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Document 283.
  3. According to a memorandum from Ellsworth to Clements, April 28, the Shah offered the risk of open warfare with Iraq to MAAG Chief Brett on April 21 as his motivation for reaching an accord with Saddam Hussein. In a handwritten note, Clements wrote: “Interesting. I don’t agree—probably more to do with Shah’s idea of improving relations with Sadat and Saudi Arabia! C” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, Iran 000.1–299, 1975)