146. Telegram 5535 From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State 1 2

For Under Secretary Johnson and Asst Secy Sisco from MacArthur


  • Shah Presses USG for Shrike Missiles
For past several months Shah has been pressing us with increasing firmness on his need to acquire what he refers to as an electronic counter measures (ECM) capability. In discussing this question with me, [less than 1 line not declassifed] and Gen Twitchell, Shah has tended to lump together what are essentially three separate but related aspects (see below) of over-all problem which I believe in his mind is question how to cope with all aspects of enemy capability which incorporate electronic feature in one or another form.
We have suggested to Shah that the question can be addressed more constructively if we agree to divide it into three parts: (1) pure ECM, (2) communications, and (3) weapons systems. Our corollary purpose in doing this has been to enable both him and us to measure progress which has been made in one or another of [garble] areas and to define extent to which our present responses and programs are adequate or inadequate in terms of hs assessment of his requirements. in first area we have made substantial concrete progress. In second, we have had encouraging indication that modification of ARMISH/MAAG application of [Page 2] our national disclosise policy (Dept’s A–35, July 7, 1971) will enable us to be far more constructive than in past.
However, I am much concerned about third area—weapons systems—for it is in this area that our response has been least forthcoming and it seems evident that Shah finds our position equivocal and therefore irritating. In 141400Z of 14 June 71 Chief, ARMISH/MAAG outlined state of play, which, in essence was that Shah wished to acquire Shrike missile from US. Chief, ARMISH/MAAG requested response from Washington covering availability of Shrike, details as to cost and other factors involved in procurement of it by Iranians and, if response on availability were negative, “a rationale for refusal which we can present to the Iranians.” CINCSTRIKE replied in 092104Z of 9 July. This telegram simply raises obvious questions of Iran’s need for system—in terms of our intelligence assessments—and our ability under existing restrictions to sell it to Iran. It leaves both of these questions unanswered although it does suggest that present circumstances as we assess them may not warrant acquisition of a system of this nature, and expresses belief that “certain cogent factors involved in Iran’s acquisition of this weapon system should be illustrated.”
On August 7 this Embassy re-raised question (Tehran 43321) requesting a date on which US position would become known and reasons for delay in decision which could be given to GOI. It also expressed view that “CJ would be most unfortunate if delays in USG decision—which unexplained could be taken for USG reluctance—were to precipitate GOI decision to go third-country route which might prove more expensive and less effective and also complicate IIAF armaments and training.” On 10 August Washington replied (Joint State/Defense Message 645375) that question of over-all SAM defense for IIAF was under active study by Joint Staff and that estimated completion of this study would permit USG to respond to GOI request by mid-September.
Shah raised this question again with General Twitchell on August 14 and again during Twitchell’s farewell audience on September 23. Court Minister Alam has, on Shah’s instructions, [Page 3] also raised it twice with me in last two weeks. I stalled with Alam and Gen Twitchell’s response had necessarily to be limited to observation that question being studied in Washington in light of our experiences in Viet Nam which provide a broad base to examine area of anti-SAM systems.
As I have pointed out in past, is entirely unrealistic for us to suppose that in absence of an ironclad guarantee to come to his assistance militarily, we can hope to impose our intelligence estimates of Shah’s requirements on Shah when his own estimates differ markedly from them. He regards himself, quite naturally, as responsible for security of his country and people and as person best able to assess his requirements. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that he will seek to fulfill them by whatever means he can find. He has means to do this and there are many who are only too anxious to sell to Iranians systems of indifferent capability which Iranians will be obliged to buy in absence of a forthcoming response from us. We cannot, in sum, control either Shah’s thinking or actions which he takes as result of it. We have, of course, sought to influence his thinking in direction of the practical in terms of availability of Iranian personnel to man and maintain various equipment which he has and he wants to acquire, and in many instances our influence has had some definite impact. However, Shah is getting restless on this matter and unless we can be forthcoming our influence is going to be eroded: Shah’s irritation will be inflamed at expense of our over-all excellent relations that serve our national interests so well: and he will turn elsewhere.
We have at present time a situation which is similar in many respects to that which obtained in 1970. The issue at that time was whether, on policy grounds, we should permit Shah to buy additional F–4 and C–130 aircraft. I outlined my thinking at that time in a telegram to you (Tehran 3144, July 22, 1970) in which I concluded by saying that continued equivocation on our part was erosive of our position here and that “if there is any question of our refusing to let Iran purchase these additional aircraft we owe it to the Shah to tell him so and why. However, if we do so, he would take such action on our part as personal affront and a lack of confidence in him and as clear indication that decision has been taken at highest level in USG not rpt not to cooperate with Iran in meeting what he considers its essential security requirements. As I have pointed out, this will inevitably lead to a definite estrangement with Shah and Iran.”
Our problem today is not precisely as it was then since we do not presently have added complication of an assurance at highest level of our government that Shrike system is available, whereas in 1970 such an assurance had been made with respect to aircraft which he wanted. Present situation has nonetheless same basic elements of danger to US-Oran relations as F–4 and C–130 problem in 1970 and is one which concerns me greatly and which I feel we must come to grips with at once.
When I accompanied Shah to Lake Van Sept 27 for opening of Iran-Turkey rail link, he said he wished to see me in [Page 5] next week or ten days before I depart on home leave October 21 as there were “some matters he must discuss” with me. I understand one of them is Shrike, on which he has an even more definite fix as result of reports that Israelis fired twelve Shrikes against Egyptain positions in recent flare-up along Canal.
While we of course recognize that after study Shrike may not prove to be best answer to Shah’s anti-SAM requirement, he has nonetheless focussed on Shrike and we simply must be in position to be forthcoming with him in discussing Shrike as well as other alternatives as to how Iran might best meet SAM threat. Since we have apparently already supplied Shrike to Israel, I know I need not add that refusal to let Iran purchase this system on our part would completely tear it with Shah.
In light of foregoing and in view of Shah’s increasing irritation and suspicions on this subject, I would appreciate being authorized to inform him in my forthcoming audience and in any case not later than Oct 18 that we are prepared to sit down with him in immediate future to go over results of our study and if in the light thereof he desires to purchase Shrike, the US is prepared to make it available to Iran.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 12–5 IRAN. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Ambassador MacArthur alerted the Department that the Shah was requesting with increasing urgency an electronic counter measures capability, particularly Shrike missiles.