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

974. Please pass the following message to Dr. Kissinger from me. Begin text:

(1) I have the impression that our close military relationship with Iran could be heading for difficult times if we do not take corrective measures. Over the past twenty-four months we have sold Iran practically all the weapons and technical assistance it has sought and our overall position here has been strengthened as a consequence. Increasingly during the past year, however, Iranian requests have met with prolonged delay or awkward handling which the GOI does not understand.2 Believing us more efficient than we know we are, Iranians are quick to perceive a conspiracy. They can understand and adjust to a quick and reasonable negative. But they tend to see delay as a form of pressure designed to extract some benefit or perhaps indicative of a [Page 232]wavering in our attitude towards Iran vis-à-vis its neighbors. It does no good to reject or deride this attitude. As you know, despite Western appearances, we are dealing here with Oriental thought-processes.

(2) The chief issue is the Iranian aspiration to co-produce significant military hardware. I outlined this problem for you in Tehran 6200.3 Almost a year has passed since the GOI began seriously to approach us on various weapons systems. For example, Maverick, TOW and Sidewinder missiles were raised in October 1973, Stinger, Hamlet and Land Sparrow in November, the inertial navigation system in April, and helicopters in June. I am aware that during the past month we have begun to move toward decisions and that improvements are being made in the State–DOD structure for dealing with co-production requests. We know there are very hard questions to be resolved. But the Iranians are not involved in our internal debates. From us they hear only silence.4 I believe we have an urgent need to tell the GOI what systems we can approve now for co-production. If we can come forward with two or three important items, the pressure should be substantially reduced.5

(3) Another example of an unnecessary problem was our handling of the GOI request to lease 20 helicopters to replace transport helicopters destined for Pakistan (Tehran 7382).6 Thirty days passed from the initial urgent GOI request until the negative State/DOD reply. The delay was bad enough, but the reply was unfortunately not convincing. In saying the U.S. Army could not spare 15–20 planes for six months, we were providing a weak, technical answer to an essentially political question. We are not reluctant to tell the Shah “no” when that is re[Page 233]quired. All we ask is that the decision-making process be accelerated and that it encompass full consideration of the merits of a significant Iranian request, including an evaluation of the consequences of a negative.

(4) A final example relates to our commercial opportunities here. The GOI asked through military channels to reach U.S. firms interested in building housing for 3,000 foreign families coming to work on defense projects. We realize that DOD is not in the housing business and that the military channel was not the normal procedure. But when the U.S. housing industry is in bad health, Washington agencies should be able to cooperate and get us a show of interest fairly quickly. We have now gone many days without response and we may lose the business to a third country. My point is that we need to gear up our Washington agencies to deal with the special opportunities afforded us in Iran. Our incipient program of cooperation with Iran will not be worth much if we continue on a business as usual basis.

(5) I believe I can understand the perspective of some action officers in State and DOD. The USG has been extremely forthcoming with Iran and we do not know the full implications of many of our decisions. This year we have already sold $3.6 billion in defense systems. Our sales since 1965 total over $8 billion. There are billions more in the offing. We can anticipate a community of some 12,000 private defense contractors, plus their families, with unknowable effects on our ties with this country. Iran appears to demand a great deal and usually urgently. The USG seems rarely to say no. Naturally thoughtful officers in Washington wonder where we are going and if we should not establish some limits on what we will do for Iran. They are concerned about Congressional reaction. I agree that the entire subject of our defense relationship with Iran needs careful study and we are glad to participate in a broad examination if this is undertaken. But we have an important position here and great opportunities are before us now which we must not allow to suffer. And we must not permit our policy towards this country to be made through ad hoc decisions based on a vague malaise and purely technical considerations.

(6) I am communicating with you in your capacity as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, because I feel that these matters are moving towards a time when the President should be briefed and become involved. Also, it seems that to deal effectively with these problems it will be necessary to coordinate and guide the work of both DOD and State, assuring that officers are targeted on the same USG goal. Handled properly, the issues I have discussed could become strong positive factors working for us. But if we permit drift, we may anticipate real problems and lost opportunities in Iran.

(7) Warm regards. End of text.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 4, Mideast/Africa. Secret; Immediate; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. MAAG Chief Major General Brett met with Schlesinger and others on August 14 in Schlesinger’s office. According to a memorandum of conversation, “A major problem General Brett has is a lack of answers on requests he forwards to OSD for information or decisions. He stated he badly needed answers even if the answer is ‘no.’ As examples he cited, helicopter co-production and Maverick, TOW, and Dragon missiles.” Schlesinger “agreed that we should do something in the co-production area with Iran—start it small and be sure it is digestible.” (Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330–77–0054, Box 16, Iran 320.2–333, 1974)
  3. Document 70.
  4. In telegram 7607 from Tehran, September 10, the Embassy conveyed the Shah’s disappointment at the lack of response to his requests for co-production of missiles and reported on his discussions with German weapons manufacturers. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740251–1013) Kissinger handwrote a note to Eagleburger on a September 11 memorandum that he wanted the matter “moved to a decision rapidly.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Iran, Chronological File, 4 May–23 September 1974)
  5. In backchannel message WH42604 to Tehran, September 21, Scowcroft advised Helms that co-production of the Bell helicopter had been approved and that other outstanding Iranian requests were being studied in the Inter-Agency Security Assistance Program Review Committee. To consider the political and economic implications of co-production, he added, the Under Secretaries Committee “is being tasked to prepare a study of this subject on an urgent basis for the consideration of the President.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 4, Mideast/Africa)
  6. Telegram 7382 from Tehran, September 2, warned of the likely Iranian reaction to the rejection of the Iranian request for a 6-month lease of 20 UH–1H helicopters to replace those Iran had lent to Pakistan to assist its efforts against militants in Baluchistan. The Embassy requested reconsideration of the negative response. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740243–0032) In a memorandum to the Secretary of the Army, September 16, Schlesinger agreed to the lease. (Washington National Records Center, OASD Files: FRC 330–78–0011, Box 64, Iran 452, 1974)