62. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

5268. Subject: Iran’s Current Foreign Relations—An Analysis.

1. Summary: Recent multiplication of oil revenues has given Iran new tools to carry out its long-cherished desire to play more influential role on world scene, particularly in regional affairs. Shah has skillfully used this economic leverage to enhance Iran’s political and strategic objectives, and country is riding wave of confidence and pride in its new prominence and power. In past six months some thirty countries have sent high-level delegations to Iran seeking aid and trade agreements, and many have offered political IOU’s in exchange. In Persian Gulf area Iran has sought to safeguard its oil lifeline by building its own armed strength and giving economic (and in case of Oman, military) aid to bolster sheikdoms and help them survive insurgent threats. Hostility towards Iraq which Shah views as Soviet stalking-horse and regional troublemaker will continue for time being. On subcontinent, in order to foster stability and bring its own relations into better alignment with power realities Iran has drawn closer to India while maintaining good rapport with other countries. Improvement of relations with Egypt and Syria will give Iran new backing in Arab councils, while economic deals with dozen African countries will increase Iran’s influence there and provide it with many needed commodities. Shah remains deeply suspicious of Soviet intentions and actions in Middle East, and commercial and political disputes have cooled relations be[Page 196]tween two countries. With China, however, relations have improved considerably because of congruent interests. Numerous OECD countries recently have negotiated economic deals with Iran which could possibly amount to $18 billion or more, and Iran is purchasing increasing, but still small, share of its military hardware from Europeans. United States remains single most important country for Iran. Fundamentally our interests are similar and our relations excellent, and we should continue to play influential, if not exclusive, role in Iran’s development as a substantial power. End summary.

2. Shah has long been determined to carve out role in world affairs for Iran commensurate with its size, wealth and past glory. Thanks largely to recent multiplication of its oil revenues, Iran now enjoys greater ability to project its power and influence abroad than it has had for centuries. Iranians are riding wave of confidence and ebullience about their foreign relations and are taking enormous satisfaction from image of British, Italians, and others rushing to Iran for help in solving their economic difficulties.2 Steady stream of Heads of State, Cabinet Ministers and economic delegations—over thirty in past six months—has come to Tehran seeking aid or trade. Similarly, Iranian officials have carried offers of economic assistance, joint commercial and investment ventures, and guaranteed oil supply to all parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. On multilateral scale Shah has also seized initiative by proposing establishment of development assistance fund for LDC’s and promising large loans to IMF and IBRD to cushion effects of higher oil prices on LDC’s.3

3. Shah has used Iran’s new economic leverage to enhance his long-term political and strategic objectives, exchanging economic concessions, most of which will not come due for many years, for political IOU’s. Among these objectives, discussed in more detail below, are (A) assuring dominant political and military role for Iran in Persian Gulf and eventually effective influence in Indian Ocean affairs; (B) thwarting what Shah sees as continuing Soviet threat to Iran through encirclement and subversion of Gulf, Indian Ocean and subcontinental states; (C) isolating Iraq and gaining settlement of conflict with that country on terms acceptable to Iran; (D) undercutting radical Arab influence in underdeveloped world and increasing Iran’s influence with LDC’s; and (E) assuring necessary supplies and markets for future Iranian industry after oil runs out.

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4. Clearly Iran has made remarkable use recently of its economic and diplomatic assets to gain new influence and to project an image of strength and responsibility on international scene. In assessing this performance, however, we must not lose sight of fact that for present at least much of this image is more a statement of future intentions than of current reality. In many ways Iran is still very much an underdeveloped country itself and will require years of steady progress domestically before it can make good on all commitments and promises it is now making. Although thin layer of trained technocrats is very good indeed, only about one-third of population can read and write, and country is already hard-pressed to find people with managerial and technical skills it requires. Diplomatic service which must carry out expanded foreign policy is critically short of competent middle and senior level talent. It will be years before military has received and assimilated impressive arsenal of new weapons now on order. Industrial base on which Iran pins its hopes for post-oil power is still in embryonic stage. And Iran is desperately dependent upon drive, vision, and skill of one man to continue it moving rapidly toward that world position it already claims for itself.

5. There follows a region by region analysis of recent developments in Iranian foreign policy and an assessment of what it all means for the United States.

6. Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. Notwithstanding expansion of diplomatic and economic influence on subcontinent and in Eastern Mediterranean and Africa, area which remains most vital to Iran is nearby Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula. Ever since 1968 when British announced plans to withdraw, Shah has sought to become dominant power in region in order to safeguard oil lifeline upon which all of Iran’s plans to become a major power and to develop the “great civilization” depend. Shah is deeply concerned with potential for instability in Gulf states and with Soviet and radical Arab efforts to exploit it. For some time he has sought in a variety of ways to establish mutual security arrangements with other littoral states, but none except Oman has responded positively. Iran is providing substantial military assistance to help Oman defeat PDRY-backed insurgents4 and is giving economic and development assistance to a number of Gulf sheikdoms to help assure their survival and political cooperation. Among reasons Arabs have been reluctant to collaborate on defense arrangements are lingering distrust of Iran’s size and strength, fear that such a pact could provide Iran with carte blanche to intervene on Arab side of Gulf, and [Page 198] reluctance to take sides between Iran and Iraq against whom pact would clearly be directed. In any case, if Shah perceived that subversion or coups in littoral states genuinely threatened free passage through Gulf, he probably would take whatever action he considered necessary and possible whether previous collective security arrangements existed or not.

7. Geographically, Saudi Arabia should be Iran’s natural partner in maintaining security of Gulf, but Iranian efforts to foster greater collaboration thus far have not succeeded. In addition to reasons mentioned above, other factors inhibiting effective cooperation have been traditional Arab/Iranian hostility, Iran’s seizure of Tunbs and Abu Musa, Saudi realization that under present conditions it would be junior partner, Iran’s relations with Israel, and, in recent months, difference over oil price policy. Nevertheless, Shah wants a stronger Saudi Arabia able and willing to cooperate to ensure peace and stability in Gulf, although he professes little hope for positive Saudi contribution as long as Faysal rules. Shah agrees with our reasons for recent massive aid and arms offer to Saudis and does not feel threatened by it, perhaps because he realizes Iran is already so far ahead and increasing its lead.

8. Despite reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Iraq,5 that country remains focus of Iran’s most intense hostility and suspicion, not only because of ethnic, religious and political differences and long-standing border disputes, but also because Shah is convinced Iraq has become stalking-horse for Soviet penetration of Middle East and stirs up subversion throughout region. Consequently, Shah is not interested in piece-meal improvement in relations such as settlement of land frontier dispute which would take pressure off Iraqis but not solve essential difficulties. Instead, he has made clear he wants package deal which would not only settle land border and Shatt al-Arab disputes, but lead to cessation of Iraqi interference in affairs of other states as well. Further recent aggravant in relations is heavy Iraqi bombing of Kurdish population which Shah condemns as genocide against ethnic group related to Iranians. Iran doubtless will continue to give enough assistance to Kurds to keep them from being defeated both for humanitarian reasons and because conflict keeps Iraqi Government off balance. In longer term Shah hopes to see less Soviet-influenced and more cooperative government replace present Baathist regime.

9. Subcontinent. In early 1974, Pakistanis were jolted when Iran reached new cooperative agreement with India and seemed to downgrade special relationship it had had with Pakistan. After 1971 war, not wanting weak and unstable Pakistan on its border and fearing further [Page 199] dismemberment of Pakistan which might have attracted Iranian Baluchis to an autonomous Baluchistan, Iran made it emphatically clear that it stood behind Pakistan and issued strong statements of support for its territorial integrity. For its part, India, unconvinced by Iran’s assurances that agreement with Pakistan was purely defensive (and wanting to ensure steady supply of oil), entered into closer political and military relations with Iran’s enemy, Iraq.

10. Strategic implications of close political and military ties between India, Iraq, and Soviet Union worried Iran, especially after an apparently leftist coup in Afghanistan seemed to add another link in chain of hostile encirclement. Relations between Iran and India continued to deteriorate, not because of any bilateral dispute but because of mutual suspicions about other country’s arms buildup and intention toward Pakistan.

11. By late 1973 Iranian relations with subcontinent countries began to shift into better reflection of power realities there. On one hand Iran’s special relationship with Pakistan began to cool because of Bhutto’s cultivation of Arab states, particularly Libya, and fact that close support of Pakistan complicated Iran’s relations with Afghanistan; this coincided with India’s increased willingness to take pragmatic view of Iran’s role in area. New atmosphere of good will grew as both sides began to realize advantages of closer collaboration. In December Shah singled out India as kind of country where Iran was prepared to invest surplus capital, and major trade agreement followed in February 1974 effectively giving oil at concessionary prices and promising heavy investment in industry to India in exchange for commodities. Mrs. Gandhi’s visit to Tehran in late April further cleared air politically and laid groundwork for still closer cooperation, particularly in commercial field. One area of potential conflict in future is Indian Ocean where two countries both have ambitions but disagree on role superpowers should play.

12. Rapprochement with India has not resulted in Iran’s abandonment of good relations with Pakistan but has only brought them into better balance. During Bhutto’s visit in March, Shah reassured him of continuing concern for Pakistan’s territorial integrity, promised to continue modest program of military cooperation, and offered generous financial aid to meet balance of payments and development needs.

13. Similarly, Iran has used its new wealth to improve relations and increase influence with Afghanistan and, most recently, Bangladesh. Iranians now see Daud as non-Communist who is probably best leader likely to arise and are doing what they can to buttress him in power, although they have to proceed carefully to avoid Afghan charges of paternalism. Having waited to recognize Bangladesh until [Page 200] after Bhutto did so, Iran has now offered limited assistance to help keep that country afloat, thereby enhancing subcontinent’s stability.

14. Near East and Africa. Iran’s relations with Egypt in recent months have taken even more dramatic turn for better than with India. Shah, who despised and feared Nasserism, admires Sadat and before October war had made several moves to improve relations with Egypt. He was pleased when in early 1974 Sadat encouraged Numeiry of Sudan and Qabus of Oman to turn to Iran for assistance. Short time later Shah sent Minister of Economy to Cairo to see whether offer of Iranian economic assistance would help heal rift between two countries. Finding it would, he invited Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister to Tehran in May where substantial aid and development pact amounting to nearly one billion dollars was signed.6 Undoubtedly Shah hopes this investment will reinforce split between Egypt on one hand and USSR and Libya on other, gain Egyptian assistance in moderating Iraqi policy, and lead to Egyptian support for Iranian views in Arab oil councils and international organizations.

15. For somewhat similar reason, and again using economic aid as means, Iran has drawn closer to Syria, although Shah still has doubts about intentions and trustworthiness of Assad. Given progress in achieving Mid-East peace settlement and simultaneous improvement in US relations with Syria and Egypt, Iran’s new relationship with those two countries should not endanger its ties with Israel and may even make it possible to bring them more into open.

16. In Africa, Iran has recently offered or concluded economic assistance agreements with Sudan, Senegal, Zaire, Morocco, Tunisia, Lesotho, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa. In addition to increasing Iran’s political influence in those countries, simultaneously undercutting radical Arab influence in black Africa, and paving way for African support on international issues, these deals will provide Iran with many needed commodities, access to markets for future industrial output, and constructive use for its surplus oil revenues.

17. Relations with other countries. Despite better relations with Soviet Union and series of aid, trade and development agreements since 1962, Shah remains deeply suspicious of Soviet intentions toward Iran and Middle East. With declining Soviet influence in Eastern Mediterranean, he fears USSR will now turn with increased vigor to expanding its influence in Gulf through closer ties with Iraq and support of insurgent attempts to topple conservative governments in littoral states. [Page 201] Opening of Suez Canal will facilitate this Soviet effort in Shah’s view. For that reason he favors continuing US military presence in Indian Ocean as a balance to Soviet, although in pursuit of better relations with India and other LDC’s he still publicly professes support for nuclear-free Indian Ocean resolution. Other strains on relations between two countries have been quantity of Iranian arms purchases, Iran’s military assistance to Oman in Dhofar fighting, and its CENTO role and bilateral ties to US. Outside security field, Shah is resentful of USSR for high price it charges for steel mill equipment, low price it pays for Iranian natural gas, unwillingness to renegotiate gas price as called for in agreement, and increasingly hostile anti-Iranian propaganda broadcasts from Moscow and client states.7 In spite of these strains and divergent interests, however, Shah recognizes that it is essential for Iran to maintain minimally good relations with its colossus to the north and therefore to extent possible he tries avoid public confrontation with Soviets.

18. Since 1971 Iran has sought better relations with China as long-term political counterweight to USSR. Iranian and Chinese interests have coincided on such matters as support of Pakistan against further dismemberment, opposition to stronger Soviet influence in India and Afghanistan and, for differing reasons, opposition to Soviet-sponsored Asian collective security system. Shah established diplomatic relations with China in 1971 and sent Empress on goodwill visit following year. Since then Iran’s commercial and economic ties with China have expanded somewhat and air service between capitals will begin this summer, but it is still in political sphere that relations are most important.

19. In recent months OECD countries also have scrambled to get part of Iranian action and to ensure their future oil supply. Trade, joint-venture investment, and technical agreements which could amount to $18 billion or more have been negotiated or discussed with Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Canada, among others. In military field Iran has diversified its sources of supply: it purchases British tanks, hovercraft and missiles, French patrol boats, Russian vehicles and artillery, German tank engines and Israeli communications equipment, although great bulk of military hardware is still bought from US. Shah’s policy is to keep Imperial Air Force 100 percent American equipped. High-level visits have been exchanged with many East and West European countries, and Shah and Empress themselves are in France at this moment. Unlike case of China, basic importance of Ira[Page 202]nian links with European countries and Japan is in economic terms, although by-product of improved political relations is important secondary benefit.

20. United States and Iran. Despite expansion of Iranian ties with other areas of world, single most important and influential country for Iran remains United States. There are no major issues between us aside from difference on oil price, and we have many mutually beneficial interests. Iran looks to us to provide (A) strategic umbrella which allows it to play major regional role even when its policies conflict with those of USSR; (B) sophisticated military hardware and training in its operation and maintenance; (C) modern technology, plants, equipment and services; (D) education for large portion of its future leaders; and (E) political support. US for its part has great stake in Iran’s survival and welfare because (A) it has ability and willingness to play responsible role in region; (B) it has history of close and friendly ties with US; (C) it is reliable and important source of oil and other resources; (D) it is growing market for our goods and services ($7 billion in US civilian and military contracts in past two years) and a hospitable location for US investment; (E) it provides essential air corridor between Europe and Orient; and (F) it allows us to use its territory for special communications and intelligence facilities.8

21. In general, US and Iranian foreign policy interests have coincided in recent years and as our aid and tutelage phased out a close relationship as equal partners has evolved. We have encouraged Shah to play constructive leadership role in regional affairs and in Gulf Iranian actions seem almost classic case of Nixon Doctrine in action. However, we should continue to seek ways to encourage Saudi Arabia to play more active regional role so Iran’s increasing predominance does not overwhelm and frighten other littoral states. Iran’s efforts to maintain a balance in its relations with East and West, Arabs and Israel, India and Pakistan, developed and developing, parallels our own and should be encouraged. We must recognize, however, that these diversified ties, combined with Iranian pride, nationalism and self-assertiveness, may sometimes lead to differences in our view of bilateral or international issues. One such difference on horizon may be in international economic field where Iran is espousing views which would require fundamental changes in monetary, trade and economic structure built up over past thirty years. Another area of possible concern in future is whether Iranian military power becomes so disproportionate to that of [Page 203] its neighbors that it ceases to be stabilizing factor and becomes disruptive.

22. But given fundamentally excellent relations between our countries and assets we can bring to bear, there is every reason to believe we will win our share of these disagreements as we do with other countries and will continue to play an important and influential, if not exclusive, role in the development of Iran as a substantial power.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740168–0680. Confidential. Repeated to Islamabad, Jidda, Kabul, Moscow, New Delhi, USUN, Baghdad, Cairo, Amman, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Manama, Doha, Tel Aviv, Damascus, Dacca, Kathmandu, Beijing, London, and Kuwait.
  2. In telegrams 5469 and 5681 from Tehran, July 3 and 11, Helms reported the Shah’s plan to advance $1 billion to France over the next 3 years in prepayment of imports needed in joint ventures, and $1.2 billion to the United Kingdom, mostly in loans. (Both ibid., D740176–0579, [no film number] respectively)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 53.
  4. In exchange for Iranian economic and military aid, Oman agreed to provide facilities for the expansion of the Iranian military presence, according to telegram 1869 from Tehran, March 8. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P740145–0919)
  5. See footnote 2, Document 236.
  6. The Embassy reported in telegram 4241 from Tehran, May 27, that the recent visit of the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Abdel Aziz Hegazi, had produced an agreement for Iranian loans and credits totaling $870 million, with details to be worked out later. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740132–0920)
  7. The Embassy noted in telegram 4716 from Tehran, June 10, that Iran was taking public positions on Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf regional issues in conflict with those of the Soviet Union. (Ibid., D740148–0523)
  8. In telegram 138373 to Tehran, June 27, the Department recommended declassification of the fact that the U.S. Air Force, with the approval of the Iranian Government, operated a research station on the Shah’s Royal game preserve for the purpose of monitoring the Limited Test Ban Treaty and conducting research used in support of possible future international agreements on nuclear testing. (Ibid., D740169–0670).