51. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Iran (Helms) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

120. 1. Would you please pass the following to Secretary Kissinger from me:

(A) Please have a look at the bottom of page three and the top of page four in the 17 January 1974 issue of The Economist’s Foreign Report.2 This kind of talk, which appears to give substance to Schlesinger’s remarks earlier this month,3 will, I fear, be believed by a lot of people in the Middle East not to mention Iran. The Soviets are probably responsible for pushing this line, if not originating it. But Iranians and Arabs alike believe in the conspiratorial theory of political life and are suckers for this kind of rationalization. Nobody in this part of the world will bother to muse over what the Soviet Union will be doing while our Marines are taking over the Gulf oil fields.

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(B) I bring this item to your attention, because I fail to see what American declarations are going to achieve toward lowering crude oil prices or making Saudi Arabia more interested in sitting down with the consumer countries. We have in front of us one hell of a problem which is not going to be made easier by American muscle flexing which may look good to Congress but which simply fans emotionalism and irrationality in the Middle East.

(C) Unless there is something in all this which we are completely missing, you may want to persuade other administration officials that there are no obvious shortcuts to rolling back crude oil prices or to persuading the OPEC members to line up and salute.

(D) I hope that none of the foregoing is taken amiss. My effort is to be helpful and constructive, so please read this no other way. Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 426, Backchannel Files, Middle East/Africa, 1974, Vol. II. Secret; Priority.
  2. The article noted that if the Washington Energy Conference, scheduled for February 11–13, failed, there was likely to be more talk of U.S. military intervention in the Gulf. “Some Arab commentators are already painting a lurid picture of American marines swarming ashore at any moment to seize the oil fields. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have placed explosive charges around their principal fields.” Although such contingency plans probably existed, the article continued, the administration knew that the Arabs could destroy the oil fields before U.S. troops reached them. Some U.S. officials thought Nixon was more likely to unleash the CIA to help install more amenable rulers in the Gulf, if he could not reduce oil prices without abandoning Israel. “Memories of Dr. Mossadegh,” it concluded, “are very much alive in Washington these days.”
  3. On January 7, The New York Times quoted Secretary of Defense Schlesinger’s comments in a public television interview that “the Arab countries ran the risk of increasing public demand for force against them if they carried their oil curbs too far. But he added that he believed the oil producers recognized the problem and would not push it to that extent.” See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1974, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 244.