31. Memorandum of Conversation1


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

Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Helms had spent ten minutes or so in private conversation before Mr. Saunders joined them and began taking notes.

Helms: Well, Henry, I don’t think I have too much business that remains to be done.

Kissinger: When are you going back?

Helms: I will be back in Tehran on August 15. I will be at the shore this weekend, then in New York seeing my mother. I will stop over for a couple of days in London where I will be available through the embassy.

I think we have the Kurdish problem on circuit. We will have a memo from CIA in a short time. They are doing an assessment of whether the Kurds have enough arms.2 Depending on that assessment, then the issue will be whether there should be any more hardware or [Page 130] whether the issue is simply providing or not providing additional economic aid.

Kissinger: What do you think they should have?

Helms: I will not know until I have this assessment. Perhaps Saunders could telegraph it to me so that I can give you my views.

Kissinger: I have thought about your message from Arafat.3 We have a nothing message to send back to him. It doesn’t say anything. As long as he hears from us, that is something.

Helms: I will tell my man simply to keep the channel open and to say that if they have anything to tell us, he will be available.

Kissinger: We have a few paragraphs here which you could have your man pass on. They don’t really say anything. [Memo attached.]4

Helms: [After reading] The last paragraph is all that really is needed.5

Kissinger: My experience with these channels is that all one really needs to do is to keep them open and to see what the other side puts into them.

Helms: I will keep this piece of paper to myself. It is too formal to give them a paper. I will let my man pass on the substance orally.

Kissinger: From whom will you say this is a response?

Helms: The US government. I think it is desirable to keep this as general as possible. They should know that they will just clog up the system if they press for too precise an answer. They are beggars, not choosers in this situation.

Kissinger: I will see Ambassador Zahedi and give him some language to use in his briefing for Ismail.

Saunders: I see [less than 1 line not declassified] that he has already sought his appointment with Ismail.

[Page 131]

Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Zahedi isn’t very bright is he?

Helms: There is divided opinion on that. On some issues he is pretty good, but on others he gets quite emotional and is not effective. In short, he is not effective. In short, he is not a known or predictable quantity.

Kissinger: What issues has he handled well?

Helms: He did the Bahrain negotiations very well, but he gets emotional on some things and then isn’t worth very much.

Kissinger: The President is still smarting from Zahedi’s having invited McGovern6 to his dinner for the Shah and the President. Whoever made out that guest list?

Saunders: Zahedi made it up.

Helms: If I were making up the guest list, they are not the people I would have chosen to put on a list for a social evening with the President. But as it turned out, I think it worked quite favorably for the President.

Kissinger: I do too, but that is not the view elsewhere in this building. I don’t mind seeing these people. I see them all the time socially. Kay Graham7 called me and asked my advice. I urged her not to accept the invitation and she was very good about it. I don’t know what the President would have done if she had been there. He might have left. That would really have ripped it. I don’t know how relations with the Post could get any worse, but that would not have helped.

I asked the Israelis whether they would consider retro-fitting the Jordanian tank. They promised to consider it. The retro-fitting and the C–130 are both money problems for us.

Helms: I don’t really have any view on these Jordanian issues. But please just keep me informed so I can tell the Shah where this issue stands.

Kissinger: Why don’t we ask Rifai whether he would rather have a C–130 than some other items in his military assistance program? Some people keep raising the question of a mission to Saudi Arabia. That mad man Clements wants to go out to Saudi Arabia on a mission.

Helms: I got an ear full yesterday when I saw him yesterday about the undesirability of having any contingency plans that involve Iranian involvement in Saudi Arabia if there is trouble there.

[Page 132]

Kissinger: We had an SRG meeting on this subject.8 I just raised the issue of what we would do if we woke up some morning and found a radical government in Saudi Arabia. Clements made an impassioned plea that Iran must never become involved in Saudi Arabia. He sees the answer as a mission to Saudi Arabia on which he serves. His solution is to pour arms into Saudi Arabia and then to squeeze Israel for a solution to the Arab-Israeli problem.

The way I see it is that any settlement Israel is likely to buy will be unfavorable to the Arabs. Therefore, we should get the radicals to sign it. If the Saudis are involved and have to sign it, if the Saudis yield to Israel, that could shake the monarchy. My strategy is to keep them uninvolved.

Helms: Clements should not go to Saudi Arabia. He has too many business interests out there. I understand that an economic mission under Casey might go to Saudi Arabia. That would be a good idea.

Kissinger: I am trying to get Simon to go.

Helms: That’s not a very good idea. We shouldn’t be sending him out if he is Jewish. Casey is an intelligent man and he could do a good job.

Kissinger: Is Simon Jewish? I hadn’t thought of that.

Saunders: One alternative is to invite Prince Fahd to come here. I have sent you a memo recommending that.9

Kissinger: Where is the memo? That is a good idea. I would approve having Fahd come here.

Saunders: Does that mean I should go ahead with the recommendation in my memo? I sent the memo over earlier in the week.

Kissinger: Let me look at the memo. I will approve it tomorrow morning. What do you think of having Fahd over here?

Helms: I think it’s a fine idea. My view has been that we have not done enough for the Saudis. Do I understand that we now have asked for agrément on Jim Akins as ambassador?

Kissinger: Yes, I removed the hold on him. Do you think this is a good idea?

Helms: Yes, it will be all right. Akins has been heavily involved in oil. But he is a big enough man to put that in the background and to show that he can deal with other issues.

Kissinger: Whom do you think would be a good ambassador?

[Page 133]

Helms: As I said before, I just think you need someone who has “RN” stamped on his forehead.

Kissinger: We can build him up when he gets out there.

Helms: Akins is a bright fellow.

Is there anything that came up in the President’s conversation with the Shah that I should know that I would not normally deduce?

Kissinger: I will show you the notes before you go.

At this point Dr. Kissinger was called out by General Haig. After several minutes he returned and agreed with Ambassador Helms that Helms would follow up on the contingency planning which the Shah promised to do on Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Mr. Saunders left, and Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Helms continued their conversation.

Harold H. Saunders10
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS–28, Geopolitical File, Iran Chronological File, Memcons, Notebook, 30 May ‘72–15 September 1973. Secret; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office. Drafted by Saunders on August 7. All brackets are in the original. On August 3, Saunders sent Kissinger a briefing memorandum for this meeting, with a checklist of follow-up actions from the Shah’s visit and a memorandum on contacts with the Fatah leadership. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 603, Country Files—Middle East, Iran, Vol. V, May–December 1973)
  2. Presumably a reference to Document 227.
  3. At their July 23 meeting (see Document 24), Helms gave Kissinger a report from a Fatah contact whom he described as “Arafat’s right hand man.” The contact reported that while Arafat could not guarantee complete immunity from terrorist acts, he, Arafat, had “‘put the lid on’ American operations by the fedayeen and that the lid would stay on as long as both sides could maintain a dialogue.” The contact went on to say that this was “not a threat;” rather it was a “recognition that talking was necessary.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, Presidential/HAK Memcons, April–November 1973, [3 of 5])
  4. Attached but not printed is an undated paper entitled “Paper for Response to Palestinian Approach.” It is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Document 81.
  5. The last paragraph of the paper reads: “Exactly how Palestinian interests reach an accommodation with those of others in the area is best decided by negotiation. If the Palestinians are prepared to participate in a settlement by negotiation, the U.S. would be pleased to hear their ideas. The objective of overthrowing existing governments by force, however, does not provide the best way.”
  6. Senator George McGovern was the Democratic candidate in the 1972 Presidential election.
  7. Katherine (Kay) Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.
  8. See Document 23.
  9. The July 30 memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–9, Documents on Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula; North Africa, 1973–1976.
  10. Saunders initialed “H.S.” above this typed signature.