122. Conversation Among President Nixon, the Ambassador to Iran (MacArthur), and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1 2
[Omitted here are greetings, a photography session, and the start of a discussion on a Presidential visit to Iran.]
MacArthur: The other reason that I want you to come, sir, this year is, as you know, as you know so much better than I do, when the British pull out of the Gulf.
MacArthur: That vacuum is going to be filled. Iran is going to have to play the major part in doing it.
Nixon: Are they capable of it? He talks about that, and I hope now, and I know he talked about [unclear]. And as you know, I’m, as I’m sure you are, I’m stronger than a horseradish for him. But then I raised it with our staff here-Defense they sort of stare at it [unclear]—but they say, “Well the Shah just hasn’t got the stuff,” is that right, Al? Isn’t that what we find? They don’t think-they just don’t think he’s got the stroke to do it.
MacArthur: Well, this-
Haig: There is a feeling, yes, sir,—
Nixon: Well, the point, in my view-
Haig: That he can’t do it all the way.
Nixon: If he could do it, it’d be wonderful because he’s our friend. Right?
MacArthur: Yes, sir. Absolutely.
Nixon: He runs a damn tight shop, right?
MacArthur: He does.
Nixon: And can these guys, they can probably fight pretty good if they have to.
MacArthur: Sure, if they have to. But the point is-
Nixon: They don’t-may not have to. Theyr’e rich.
MacArthur: They may not have to. You see, the problem is this vacuum when the British pull out, who can fill it? We can’t fill it. The Japanese, who get 90% of their petroleum from the Gulf, aren’t going to do anything. Neither NATO-Europe, which gets 56% and-it’s either going to be filled by the radical Arabs-there are-
MacArthur: Who are setting up liberation fronts.
Nixon: I see. Well, that’s-
MacArthur: Your influence-
Nixon: That’s what he told me.
MacArthur: Your influence on him is extraordinary. He said to me-I’ve got a very good relationship with him, he said, he talks quite frankly, he said, “You know, I admire your President. He understands the international world and this part of the world particularly much better than either of his predecessors.” He said, “They really didn’t understand this Middle East thing at all, with all its complexities.” And from your many talks with him he’s convinced that, that, that you are. Now if you-when you go there, we’ll have some suggestions about things-
MacArthur: That he should talk about. But coming at this period, just before the British pull out.
Nixon: Another good reason to go.
MacArthur: Would be-
Haig: Yes, sir.
MacArthur: Would be marvelous. It’s awfully important.
Nixon: Well, you put in the, you put it in the wheels here. Let me suggest this, Doug, do not at this moment, do not at this moment put it in the wheels at State.
MacArthur: I won’t, sir.
Nixon: For the reason-not that I, I mean I’ll tell Bill Rogers-
Nixon: Sometime privately. I’ll just say “Now look, if you hear about this it’s because I talked to the Shah personally.” But if I put it in the wheels at State then, of course, all the desk officers over there’ll say, “Well, why doesn’t he do this and that beforehand”—
MacArthur: Well I remember from—
Nixon: And the goddamn thing is ruined.
MacArthur: Well I remember from—
Nixon: Yeah, you remember how the trips—
MacArthur: The Eisenhower administration—
Nixon: Always get ahead. So what we want to do—what I want you [Haig] to do is you talk to Haldeman—
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: —about my own schedule here. Tell him I’d like to see what we can work out. And let’s just block off a little time in September. I need it to fit in perfectly.
Haig: Yes, sir.
MacArthur: The only thing I’ll say at State is, what I’ve said before—
MacArthur: —that I know that you want to go—
MacArthur: —when you can. But it isn’t clear at this time.
Nixon: I think you should report to State, obviously, that we discussed the matter. That I said that I—that I had told the Shah that I was going to come, that I do intend to, but right now the—the fall looks uncertain. I just can’t make a commitment. But that I have it under consideration.
Nixon: How’s that?
MacArthur: That’s fine.
MacArthur: That’s perfect.
Nixon: But you tell the Shah that the, the deal is, that the decision has been made but the timing is the problem.
Nixon: Fair enough?
MacArthur: Yeah, that’s fine. That’ll do.
Nixon: And then on this—what about this? Does he need more money? No, I’m sorry. I don’t mean more money. Does he need—what he’s saying, he says “Look, we’re— if we can have more arms,” in effect, as I understood it, then they can play, fill that—the role out there, you know, in the whole darn Gulf area. Well, now maybe he’s thinking too big considering—
MacArthur: Well, he may be thinking a bit big. But I can’t say that—what we’re trying to do is to get him to program. To get him—you know, instead of just sort of saying, “I need this, I need that, I need the other thing.” Because if you say, “you don’t need this thing,” it’s through the roof.
MacArthur: But what we haven’t said is, to develop your Five-Year Plan, you need to have the basic material, which is first, what are the items that you want? Cost. Costs. The infrastructure that’s needed to support them. And then very important, the personnel that you have and will need to marry them and cost the whole thing. And then this serves the basis for identifying priorities and developing a five-year program. This is what we’re working on with him. And I’ve talked to Henry Kearns, at EX-IM here, they’ve got—they need some credit. Henry’s handling it extremely well, I think. And I think it’s going to be a mix of some gap-private money-guaran—with the government guarantee as underwriting. So that it does represent [unclear, a credited?] outflow from EX-IM. That’s what we’re working on now. About 140 million for the, for this next fiscal year.
Nixon: Well I can, in all your conversations, actually I feel very strongly about saying it, that you and I have talked about this. That I want to help in every way we can, and we naturally do have problems, and there are many demands and all that. But that he comes very high on our thoughts and in our lists, and that means a lot to him too.
MacArthur: It means a lot to him.
Nixon: And, incidentally, it’s true.
MacArthur: I know it’s true.
Nixon: Whenever they send anything in here that I can sign, I do. He should know that. We’ve had to overrule State a couple of times on the damn things. But—cause—they—you know, they have to. They’ve got to represent everybody. But I like him, I like him, and I like the country. And some of those other bastards out there I don’t like, right?
MacArthur: Right. And, Mr. President, between Japan, and NATO, and Europe, it’s the only building block we’ve got that is strong, that is sound, that is aggressive, and that above all regards us as just about as its firmest friend. Elsewhere we’re trying to shore up weaknesses and it’s a problem.
Nixon: Like trying to build up India.
MacArthur: Pakistan, India, this sort of business.
Nixon: Did you notice your friend Mrs. Gandhi is going to come over?
Haig: Yes, sir. I’m looking forward to it.
Nixon: And Pakistan [unclear, has any number of?] problems.
MacArthur: Oh, there —it’s a terrible situation.
Nixon: And then you go down, you look at the rest. Of course, Thailand, they’re just wobbling as they always, always—. You can’t really imagine, Al, that they fear that Vietnam should go down the tube. Now that’s the [unclear] Yesterday, one of the senators, Senator Byrd of West Virginia, a really good guy, asks me a question, he says, “Well, one of the questions that was raised in our caucus, Mr. President, was that we, the, the fact that we’re pulling down in Vietnam,” but he said, “Well what is your—what is your view with regard to reducing our forces in Thailand, and eventually removing our presence there?” I said, “All right, now, Bob, let me tell you what.” I said, “Thailand is a very different cup of tea from Vietnam. See, you know, we’ve got a treaty with Thailand.” And I said, “In the event the North Vietnamese start romping around in Thailand, they’re going to call that treaty up. And the United States has never broken a treaty. Now in the event that we pull out of Thailand we’ll damn well invite them—”
Nixon: “To come into Thailand.” And I said, “Now what are you going to do? What do you want us to do? Do you want us to lose—” I mean, in Vietnam where we have no treaty, and where basically all we’re doing is, frankly, trying to see through a commitment that began, and we think for a good reason, and now we’re going to see it through in the right way. If, even there, it would shake credibility for America in the world, goddamnit the first time that the United States doesn’t stand by a treaty? You’ve been to Japan, what the Japanese think if we let the Thais go down the drain? Huh? Don’t you agree?
MacArthur: Oh, yes I do.
Nixon: We can’t do it.
MacArthur: No, no, you can’t.
Nixon: And—so these—but these guys don’t think of that. They think—well. I said, “Now we’ve reduced already 9,000 in Thailand. And I don’t think reducing any more is a very good idea.” The Thais would go like—Wouldn’t they?
Haig: Oh, yeah. They’re wavering right now, sir.
Haig: They’re quivering now.
Nixon: Well, the point is that we, getting back to your point, it is true, I guess you’re right, Iran is the only thing there. The Philippines is a can of worms, as you know.
Nixon: Taiwan, [chuckle] strangely enough, is a pretty strong little place, but it lives in sufferance. Malaysia and Singapore are at each other’s throats with Lee Kwan Yew, the Socialist, being probably the ablest leader. The Indonesians are beginning to come back but they’re twenty years away.
MacArthur: Burma’s in a mess.
Nixon: Burma’s always in a mess. Always will be. And you know the Burmese, they just chew that weed. That Black Tea.
MacArthur: And a strong Iran, sir, in terms of the oil—a conviction which I share 200% is that we must not see a basic balance between East and West altered radically. A strong Iran-
MacArthur: You know, the Soviets have been able, by—through their polarization of this Arab-Israel conflict, they have been able to gain increasing influence in these places, there’s no question about it. But a strong Iran helps counterbalance that.
Nixon: But they’re just one friend there. And it—Iran is not of either world, really, in a sense, I guess. But the point is, that by God if we can go with them, and we can have them strong, and they’re in the center of it, and a friend of the United States, I couldn’t agree more—it’s something. ‘Cause you look around there, it just happens that, who else do we have except for Europe? The Southern Mediterranean—it’s all gone. Hassan will be here, he’s a nice fellow, but Morocco, Christ, they can’t last. Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, the, the Sudan, naturally the UAR, all the little miserable countries around—Jordan, and Lebanon, and the rest. They’re like—they go down like ten pins, just like that. That some of them would like to be our friends, but central to every one of those countries, even as far off as Morocco, is the fact that the United States is aligned with Israel, and because we’re aligned with Israel, we are their enemy.
MacArthur: That’s right.
Nixon: That’s what it is. Now this doesn’t mean that we let Israel go down the drain, because that would play into the Soviet hands, too. But it does mean that right now we’re in a hell of a difficult spot, because, because our Israeli tie makes us unpalatable to everybody in the Arab world, doesn’t it?
MacArthur: It does. In varying degrees.
Nixon: Yeah, some are like—
MacArthur: But the Shah—
Nixon: Not with the Shah.
MacArthur: Not, not totally.
Nixon: He’s awfully good on that subject.
MacArthur: That he is.
Nixon: So he and I look at it [unclear].
MacArthur: And he—the thing is that if Saudi Arabia, which is terribly important—
MacArthur: And is rather fragile, if it gets in trouble, the Shah is prepared—he’s offered to come to their assistance, and when the southern enemies hit [King] Faisal in December of ′69, Faisal turned first to the Shah for some recoilless rifles, and some ack-ack stuff, and other things. And we encouraged this, because if they, if they can work together, we think there’s a reasonable chance.
MacArthur: Of holding the Arabs out of the Gulf.
Nixon: Do you think the, the Saudis can, can, can hold? Or… Faisal, of course, is, as I recall, is a very intelligent man.
Nixon: But, but I understand that at the lower levels of his armed forces, that many of the people that our military trained over here are a bunch of vipers in the bed.
MacArthur: He doesn’t trust them entirely, no. And he has them deployed on short or limited POL and ammo rations away from the city. He’s got his Bedouin White National Guard around [the city]. But what he needs is—he started late in his revolution, if he had started back when the Shah had made his great social revolution, and sir, it is a complete revolution.
Nixon: Oh, I understand.
MacArthur: Land reform, education, health, workers’ housing.
Nixon: And it’s really working? And it’s working?
MacArthur: And it’s working and, of course, it’s totally disarmed the Communists—the Tudeh Party.
Nixon: Yeah, and how about the young people? Are they—
MacArthur: The young people—
Nixon: With the Shah?
MacArthur: About ten percent are activists, who as they get more education—
Nixon: Well, that’s less than we have here.
MacArthur: They want—yes [laughter]
Haig: It’s about fifty percent of ours.
MacArthur: They want a greater voice—
MacArthur: In the thing. But the Shah is wise enough to know that when you take a people that are from feudalism, and you drag them out of the womb of feudalism like a midwife driving a child out of the mother’s womb, you let loose great elemental forces. And this is what he’s done. Now he runs a fairly taut ship, but to channel these energies and forces into—
Nixon: He always tries to keep one step ahead of them, huh?
MacArthur: He does. He said to me the other day before the oil talks, he said—he was talking about how they need more revenue—he said, “Mr. Ambassador,” he said, “I need more hospitals. I need more health services in my villages. I need more workers’ housing. I need more schools for my people.” He said, “I must do these things.”
MacArthur: He’s got a profound, he’s developed a profound social conscience. What, what is terrific, because
MacArthur: Basically there is great stability there. They are moving ahead with a G—with a—well, economic growth.
Nixon: What are they—how are they growing except in oil, may I ask? Because they—
MacArthur: Oh, they’re diversifying all over.
Nixon: Are they manufacturing?
MacArthur: They are manufacturing. They now produce cars, tractors…
Nixon: Are they getting better agricultural productivity and so forth?
Nixon: There is a—they don’t grow things much there, do they? Or—yes they do.
MacArthur: Well, they—the main productivity they do.
MacArthur: Dates and things of that kind for export. But, but the things they have to do are wheat. And they have set up—John Deere is putting a tractor factory in the South. The Romanians put one in the North, which isn’t functioning and Ford told me that they are interested in taking that out and putting a better job in. But you know, they produce Scott’s tissues. They—It’s—across the board investment’s pouring in from Western Europe because if you want to invest in that kind of a country it’s the only stable one that believes in the free-enterprise system and that encourages it. The Shah said to me, “I can’t ask people to invest unless they can get a fair return on their money, and for the—and unless they think that their investment is secure. And when the radical Arabs ask him to join at, in his oil negotiations and insist on forcing the investors to 25% of the profits, the Shah said “No. What, what the companies do with their profits is their business, just like what I do with the oil money is our business. If you want more investment, create the climate where investment wants to come” and he’s doing this. They’re getting more and more export-oriented. He hopes to set up an industrial business that will serve Saudi Arabia, the, the Gulf area on the other side, and the region around it. And they give high priority to projects-industrial projects—plants—that will have a—20–25% will be export-oriented rather than just domestic endeavors.
Nixon: I just wish there were a few more leaders around the world with his foresight.
MacArthur: Well he’s a great—
Nixon: And his ability, his ability to run, basically, let’s face it a virtual dictatorship in a benign way
Nixon: Because, look, when you talk about having a democracy of our type in that part of the world, Good God, it wouldn’t work. Would it?
MacArthur: No, sir. They
Nixon: They don’t know what it’s called.
MacArthur: They don’t even know—they don’t know what it is. You know what happened in the Congo? Belgium gave them a constitution, wonderful buildings, all the nice trappings, but these people had never practiced it at all.
Nixon: Sure. And Mobutu was a dictator.
MacArthur: And went into—
MacArthur: [unclear] It totally disintegrated. You remember, sir, in 1960 it became a part of [unclear]
MacArthur: You have to put years—
Nixon: Let’s look at Lat—let’s look at Africa generally. And this country, at least has got some degree of civilization in its history. But those Africans, you know, are only about 50–75 years from out of the trees, some of them. But did you know that of all of Africa, of all those new countries, there is not one country that has a so-called parliamentary democracy that meets even the standards that we would half-way insist on for Vietnam.
MacArthur: I know that.
Nixon: Every one of them. Liberia. Ours [unclear]—Tubman’s a dictator.
Nixon: You know that.
MacArthur: I know that.
Nixon: And it’s got to be that way. They aren’t ready. You know this. You’ve got to remember it took the British a hell of a long time of blood, strife, chopping off the heads of kings and nobles and the rest before they finally got to their system.
MacArthur: Yeah. From [the] Magna Carta.
Nixon: We have these problems.
Nixon: So, I—I’ve never quite as—looked down my nose quite so much at the—. But we’re having the Brazilian up here, you know for a State visit. Some of your colleagues’ll say, “Oh, geez, that’s terrible. I mean we ought to [unclear] all this constitutional democracy and such.” What the hell does in Latin America? Colombia? Sure they trade parties each four years. Now, [chuckle] we wouldn’t—is that a system? Mexico? It’s a one-party system. Venezuela? Maybe. And the rest [is] chaos. Except for you’ve got Brazil. Brazil, a relative ability of stability—a relative stability. Argentina, that’s a tragedy. A tragedy because, goddamnit, it should be the best, next to Brazil. The problem is that son-of-a-bitch Peron left a residue of, oh I don’t know. That’s—But I—but you see, I think, I—there just isn’t any question, we’ve just got to be not tolerant, not tolerant of violation of principles that we feel and believe in very deeply. Not supporting the idea that there ought to be a dictatorship to replace a democracy, or some sort of thing. Not saying a dictatorship of the left is wrong, [brass band music playing] a dictatorship of the right is right. But, having in mind one solemn fact, that people in the world are in different stages of development and they are different, and that each needs a system that fits its own. Japan, for example, sure they have elections and all that sort of thing, but you know damn well that a business oligarchy runs Japan.
MacArthur: I know, Mr. President.
Nixon: Right. You were there. Huh?
MacArthur: No, no.
Nixon: And, and it’s the way it has to be.
MacArthur: And the Constitution and procedures we gave them is in the process of becoming Japanized, anyway. I mean, because it was in keeping with our historical evolution but not with theirs.
Nixon: That’s right.
MacArthur: They are very unusual people. Well, Mr. President, you’re looking wonderfully well with all the burdens you’ve got to bear.
Nixon: Got to, got to survive…
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Iran.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 475–23. Secret. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation published here specifically for this volume↩
- Discussing a presidential visit to Iran, Nixon and MacArthur analyzed that country’s role in the Gulf, and its significance as an ally.↩