308. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1

Barzani’s Request to Visit the United States for Medical Treatment

The Problem

Mullah Mustapha Barzani, the Kurdish leader who is currently living in Iran, wishes to come to the United States to visit the Mayo Clinic for further medical treatment. It is possible that once here he will wish to remain and have his family join him. We have to decide whether to issue him a visa.


Mohammad Dosky, Executive Director of the Kurdish-American Society, has informed us that Barzani, accompanied by three supporters, wishes to visit the Mayo Clinic for medical treatment. Last fall Barzani was brought quietly to the United States [less than 1 line not declassified] for hospitalization at the Mayo Clinic. He reportedly has lung cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy; last fall he was given six to nine months to live by his doctors. [less than 1 line not declassified] he has improved and we understand he now needs further treatment.


Dosky has affirmed that neither Barzani nor his traveling companions will engage in any political activity and that Barzani in no way [Page 835] wishes to jeopardize the UNHCR refugee program for up to 1,400 Kurds (approximately 400 to 500 to the United States) nor affect the conditions of his family and other Kurds who are now in Iran. We believe there is a fair likelihood that Barzani will adhere to these restrictions, but realistically we have to face the possibility of political activity or a request for permanent residence for himself and his extended family (fifty persons) in the United States. (If he did in fact wish to settle here, we could recommend that he apply to the UNHCR for “mandated status” which would permit him to enter as a refugee. This route would perhaps raise fewer problems than granting him political asylum.)

Whether Barzani is or is not politically active, his presence could revive domestic press and Congressional interest in the Pike Committee investigation2 and in our 1972–75 policy of covertly assisting the Kurds. We could expect the Iraqis to be very irritated, particularly if Barzani remained in the United States, and this could cause a setback to the present slight forward movement in our relations. The Iraqis have already protested here and in Baghdad our willingness to receive UN mandated Kurdish refugees from Iran.3 We do not know what the Iranian attitude would be, or whether an exit visa would be granted to Barzani or subsequently to his family members (see attached, the views of Ambassador Helms)4 but do not believe the Government of Iran would wish to receive critical world press reaction if Barzani’s trip were blocked.

There are no clear advantages in having Barzani come here. However, if we denied him a visa, we could expect Dosky to go public and to various Congressmen. Senators Jackson and Kennedy and George Meany of the AFL–CIO have previously indicated strong interest in Barzani and we could anticipate severe criticism from various groups and the press for our failure to recognize the overriding humanitarian aspects of the visit—or his subsequent desire to remain here.

We understand that the DCI believes the visit is not in the U.S. interest but can put up with it. C.I.A. does not wish to be involved in any way in the visit or arrangements.

There are only two real options: give a visa or refuse it. We could attempt to delay issuance but Dosky would not permit us to get away with it for long.

[Page 836]


On balance, NEA and D/HA believe the visa should be granted.5

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840041–1808. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Naas and concurred in by J. M. Wilson (D/HA), L. Laurence (SCA), and Saunders. Sent through Sisco.
  2. See Document 301.
  3. According to telegram 93324 to Baghdad, April 16, the Iraqi Government protested in both Washington and Baghdad the U.S. issuance of visas to Kurdish refugees. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760220–0428)
  4. A copy of telegram 3766 from Tehran, April 14, is attached but not printed. Helms expressed uncertainty about the likely Iranian attitude to the medical treatment of Barzani in the United States.
  5. There is no indication on the memorandum of Kissinger’s approval, but telegram 107340 to Tehran, May 3, authorized the Embassy to issue the visa to Barzani. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760170–0044)