4. Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and Director of Central Intelligence Helms1

[Omitted here is discussion of when Helms would assume his position in Tehran.]

[6 lines not declassified]

[Nixon:] What I would like for you to do is this: have a talk with John [Ehrlichman] at your, next week sometime, would you?

Helms: Yes, sir.

Nixon: The Iranian oil thing is, as you know, is in a, apparently, one hell of a situation at the moment. Did you talk to Connally? Or you’re going to?2

Helms: I’m going to. I wanted to get myself educated a little bit before I talk to him. I thought that made more sense.

Nixon: Fine. I would say the first man to talk to is John Ehrlichman.

Helms: Right.

[Page 23]

Nixon: And then Flanigan, who has made a study.3 Read the whole thing.

Helms: Right.

Nixon: And what I want to do is, if you’re not going till March, maybe we could find a way to expedite it so you could even take a trip—you could take a trip even now, couldn’t you?

Helms: Oh, I could travel out there, certainly.

Nixon: Well, what we have—what I have in mind, I’ve talked to, and everybody here thinks it’s a great idea, and I’ve just been talking to Henry about this. What I really have in mind is for you basically to be sort of the, without downgrading the other Ambassadors, the Ambassador in charge of that sort of area, you know what I mean?

Helms: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Particularly with [unclear]. So you could go down to those [Sheikdoms?] and these other places, and pull this thing together, and then give us the recommendation, you know? In charge of the area not only in charge of oil and so forth, but in terms of the stability of the governments, what we can do, frankly covertly and the rest, and so forth and so on. You see what I mean?

Helms: I’ve got it.

Nixon: I think a trip of that sort would be very worthwhile. Let me suggest this: You come in to, you have a talk with John Ehrlichman at the earliest possible time.

Helms: Right.

Nixon: Have a talk with—the Connally thing is a little sensitive because he represents some [unclear—clients?]. But on the other hand, you should talk with him.

Helms: Right.

Nixon: And then sometime next week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday or so, maybe toward the end of the week because I’m going to be tied up the first of the week, we can, we’ll try to go over the thing.4

Helms: All right, sir.

Nixon: But my view is that you ought to take a trip fairly soon. In other words, you know the Shah well, right?

Helms: Yes, sir.

Nixon: If you could do that, I don’t think there’s any problem with Farland. You better think about that. But if you think it’s too sensitive to [Page 24]go out there or anything like that. But you’re still the Director of the CIA, right?

Helms: Yes, sir.

Nixon: Well that’s—

Helms: Well, why don’t I talk to these gentlemen and see what the score is.

Nixon: Right.

Helms: Maybe I can come up with a recommendation then.

Nixon: All right, fine. You talk and we’ll work something out. Because I don’t want—I’d like to get it, since you’re going to be in charge of the thing, I’d like to get you in the deal now, frankly, before it blows.

Helms: Right, sir.

Nixon: Then when it blows we can blame you.

Helms: [Laughter]

Nixon: Yeah, you’ve been through that before.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 36–113. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the tape recording published here specifically for this volume. Helms was appointed Ambassador to Iran on February 8.
  2. In a December 29, 1972, letter, Nixon asked Helms to meet with Connally to discuss Connally’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Algeria. He also asked Helms to make a “thorough study” of U.S. interests in the Middle East. The letter is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 149. When the President met with Helms on February 14, he asked Helms again to confer with Connally. “Helms responded that he had talked to him once and would do so again, and that he also had a first draft of the paper which the President had requested on the Persian Gulf.” Later in the conversation, “the President asked that Helms look at Middle East problems not just in terms of his CIA background, but in a general sense and especially with respect to the oil problem.” (Memorandum for the President’s File by Scowcroft; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 602, Country Files—Middle East, Iran, Vol. IV, September 1971–April 1973)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 153.
  4. They did not meet until February 14. See footnote 2 above.
  5. Helms submitted his report to Nixon on February 22. Noting the Shah’s unrealistic view of Iran’s capabilities, Helms wrote: “It will be essential, in the years immediately ahead, that the U.S. maintain a continuing estimate of (a) the threat to Iran and its neighbors, (b) the viability of a regional approach to common security and defense problems, (c) the viability of the Shah’s plans for the rapid modernization and industrialization of Iran and (d) the viability of the Shah’s defense program in terms of cost, the threat, the demonstrated abilities of the Iranian armed forces, the health of Iran’s economy and whatever regional arrangements may be developing.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, President’s Office Files, Box 20, President’s Handwriting, February 16–28, 1973) Helms’s report is printed in part in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 166.