315. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Barzani’s Wish to Remain in the United States


The Shah may raise with you the question of Kurdish leader Barzani’s efforts to remain in the United States permanently.2


Barzani, accompanied by two of his sons, a personal doctor, a political adviser, Savak [less than 1 line not declassified] has been in the United States since late June. We and the Iranian Government approved this travel so that he could undertake medical and dental examinations and treatment at the Mayo Clinic, where he had previously been treated.

The Mayo Clinic determined that Barzani has had a remission of the cancer from which he had been suffering; his tumor had shrunk significantly. He is in reasonably good health. The Mayo Clinic can do no more for him for the present; the Clinic’s only requirement is that further x-rays be taken in late September and these could be done in Iran.

In meetings with the NEA/ARN Country Director on July 9–10, Barzani indicated that he would like to remain in the United States for seven or eight months. He finally appeared to accept our advice, however, that he return to Iran fairly promptly, on the basis of the under[Page 846]standing worked out between the U.S. and Iranian Governments that his visit would be for medical purposes exclusively. After further consultation with you, we agreed to his request that he come to Washington so that he could call on certain Americans who had been sympathetic to him and his cause in the past. You also indicated that, if he wanted to remain for a few weeks in the U.S., he should not be pressed to leave.

During his stay in Washington, Barzani has been in touch with George Meany, Senators Jackson and Stone, Congressman Wilson, Ray Klein, and probably Barny Blackman of Jimmie Carter’s campaign staff.3 He has, however, refused to meet with journalists; the stories that have been written about his stay here have been drawn from other sources.

During the past week, Barzani has indicated he would like to remain in the U.S. permanently. He and his entourage communicated his wishes to stay through a General Hashim to the Savak Chief, General Nassiri. Nassiri in a message to Barzani on August 1 asked him to return to Iran within one week and told him, “If you do not do so, you cannot expect any more help from me for yourself or your relatives.” Barzani replied that he intended to stay in America until after his medical treatment was finished.

On the evening of August 2, the NEA/ARN Country Director had a long meeting with Barzani. Barzani confirmed that he wished to stay in the U.S. permanently, arguing that he would never be allowed to leave Iran once he returned there. He said frankly he hoped, by remaining here, to persuade the United States to use its influence in appropriate ways—with Iraq and through such intermediaries as Iran and Saudi Arabia—to help the Kurdish people in Iraq. Barzani told the Country Director that he had been informed that General Nassiri was going to talk to the Shah on Thursday, August 5, about his case and that he expected a message from General Nassiri shortly thereafter, possibly as early as Friday, August 6. (Ambassador Helms [less than 1 line not declassified] confirmed in a message [less than 1 line not declassified] that Nassiri will indeed meet with the Shah on the Barzani matter on the fifth, and pointed out that the Shah may bring the matter up with you.)

The NEA/ARN Country Director stressed in his August 2 meeting how important it was that Barzani maintain a good relationship with the Iranian authorities, pointing out that there remained in Iran nearly 40,000 Kurdish refugees. Barzani, who is clearly stalling for time, finally said that if he could be allowed to stay in the U.S. for a final [Page 847] check-up and x-ray examination at the Mayo Clinic on or about September 20, he would at that time accept USG advice as to whether he should return to Iran or remain, as he wished, in the U.S.

Basic Considerations

—Although there may be some in the Iranian Government who would prefer to have Barzani out of the Iranian hair, we suspect that the Shah would prefer him to remain in Iran where his activities could be carefully controlled, and where he would not compromise the warming Iranian-Iraqi relationship. Outside Iran, Barzani could quite easily undertake a propaganda campaign critical of Iran as well as Iraq.

—While Barzani may not be aware of our existing laws and policies, a formal request by him for political asylum in the United States would be difficult to deny, at least on legal grounds. If a person seeking asylum can establish clearly that he has every reason to expect persecution if he returns to his native country, there is a prima facie case for granting asylum.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840071–0027. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Morris Draper (NEA/ARN) on August 3.
  2. Kissinger visited Tehran August 6–7. See Documents 181183.
  3. Senator Richard B. Stone (D–Florida), Congressman Charlie Wilson (D–Texas), and philanthropist Raymond Klein. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was the Democratic Party nominee for President.