313. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

[Page 1]


  • Message from Shah on Kurds

Dick Helms is the channel for the following message to you from the Shah on the basis of his talk with you in Tehran on the Kurdish situation:

The Shah believes you should talk personally with two Kurdish representatives of Mullah Mustafah Barzani who will be travelling to the US shortly. After you study their problem, the Shah ‘expects’ you to share with him your views on the discussion. Given current Iraqi policies, the Shah believes the Kurds should be protected from Communist influence and prevented from following the same policies as those of the Iraqi government. [Helms’ memo relaying this message is at Tab A.]

The two emissaries will be [text not declassified]

The issue in your seeing these fellows is the possibility that they will use their call on you to claim US support. Even if we were to decide to help them, I would assume we would want our hand to be hidden.

The balance is fairly fine on the question of whether we should support the Kurds.

The principal arguments for supporting them are:

  • —To permit or encourage them to remain a source of instability in Iraq, thwarting the Soviet effort to promote a national unity government as a sounder base for the Soviet position.
  • —The Iranians, Jordanians and the Israelis have intermittently over time supported the Kurds as a means of tying down Iraqi forces at home, and their security is our interest. In addition, there is now the prospect of active Iraqi meddling down the Gulf which domestic [Page 2] instability would help weaken.
  • —[text not declassified]
  • —[text not declassified]

The principal arguments against our supporting the Kurds are:

  • —We would be committing ourselves to a guerrilla effort, the greatest success of which could be a standoff with the government in Baghdad and preservation of Kurdish autonomy. If the battle turned against the Kurds, we would have neither the assets nor the interest to provide decisive support.
  • —The financial resources are really available in Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is one case where the US should consult with the regional countries which it is already supporting in a variety of ways and tell them straightforwardly that we feel this should be a regional effort rather than one for which we would provide direct support.
  • —One would have to consider the implications of supporting the Kurds in the context of the Moscow summit talks. Since the Soviets have made an effort recently to persuade the Kurds to join the Ba’ath Party in a national unity government in Baghdad, support for the Kurds would be a direct counter-Soviet move.

[text not declassified]

US policy for some time has been to avoid involvement in Kurdish affairs. The latest approaches were made to [text not declassified] and to [text not declassified] during the President’s visit to Tehran. The response was to reiterate the line that we are not involved. State’s practice has been to receive travelling Kurds at the desk level.

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CIA does not have a proposal for action now, so the issue is only whether you are to see the Kurdish emissaries as the Shah requests. This depends heavily, of course, on how committed you feel to the Shah on this particular point. My own feeling is that it would be better not to involve you personally at this stage since that comes so close to involving the President at least by implication. I think you could tell the Shah this straightforwardly and say that you will have me give them a full hearing and report. Meanwhile Helms will have talked with them too.

The Shah has asked for a reply before he leaves for Europe Monday.

A recent study of the Kurdish rebellion is at Tab B.


That the following reply be sent to the Shah: “I am concerned that my receiving the Kurdish emissaries could mislead them into excessive expectations of direct US support which, as you know, there has been no decision to provide. I will, however, ask my senior assistant on Middle East Affairs to give them a full hearing and report to me. I will send you my views after that.”
Approve ________
Other ____________
[SAVAK reports your having told the Shah that some support for the Kurds has already been provided through “Kurdish representatives in Washington.” CIA would like to set the record straight.] That CIA be authorized to say that reports of your saying that US support has already been provided are not correct.
Approve ________
Other _______
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Tab A
Memorandum From the Director of Central Intelligence (Helms) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)


  • The Shah’s 5 June 1972 Messages on the Kurdish Situation

On 5 June 1972 [text not declassifed] wished an immediate meeting. At the meeting [text not declassified] said that he had recently come from an audience with the Shah who had several messages he wished transmitted [text not declassified]

The Shah wished Mr. Helms to convey the following message to Dr. Kissinger: Referring to the Shah’s recent talk with Dr. Kissinger on the Kurdish situation, the Shah believes that Kurdish representatives of Mullah Mustafah Barzani who will be travelling to the United States should be received personally by Dr. Kissinger. The Shah believes that Dr. Kissinger should listen to what these representatives have to say and study their problem. Following his talks with them, the Shah “expects” Dr. Kissinger to share with the Shah his views regarding these discussions. Given the current policies of the Government of Iraq, he believes that the Kurds should be protected and prevented from following the same policies as those of the Government of Iraq. They should also be protected from Communist influence.

The Shah wished the following message to be passed to Mr. Helms: Please receive the Kurdish representatives, listen to them, study what they have to say and share with me your views on their presentation. [Page 5] The Shah’s third message was directed to [text not declassified] The Shah expects to receive an answer via [text not declassified] to the above messages prior to his 12 June departure or a European vacation. Asked for a precise interpretation of what answer the Shah expects in this time frame, [text not declassified] said that the Shah wishes to know whether or not Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Helms are willing to meet the Kurdish representatives and to convey their impressions to the Shah after those meetings. (Identities and timing of Kurds not yet known).

Ambassador Farland has been briefed on this information.
BACKGROUND. In the past few years, the Government of Iran has raised periodically the subject of United States support to Barzani. In November 1971, [text not declassified] raised [text not declassified] the possibility of United States aid to Barzani, relating the question to the developing national front government in Iraq. Based on guidance provided from Washington, [text not declassified] was told that United States policy was to refrain from intervention in Kurdish affairs. In March 1972 [text not declassified] proposed covert United States support to Barzani [text not declassified] Again the United States policy of nonintervention was confirmed. Later in March, Barzani sent a special representative, [text not declassified], to London and Washington to speak with prominent Iraqi exiles and with the British and United States governments. [text not declassified] During this trip, [text not declassified] also spoke with officials of the Department of State at the country desk level [text not declassified] In April 1972 Barzani sent another special representative,[text not declassified], to the United States to solicit official an private support for the Kurds. In May, [text not declassified] proposed that [text not declassified] meet with you or with Secretary of State Rogers during tie President’s visit to Iran. This proposal was turned down on the grounds of insufficient time. [text not declassified]
Richard Helms
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 138, Kissinger Office Files, Kissinger Country Files, Middle East, Kurdish Problem Vol. I, June ‘72–Oct. ‘73. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Kissinger wrote on the memorandum, “I thought we arranged.” An unsigned copy of Tab A was found in Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80B01086A, Box 1, Executive Registry Subject Files, I–13, Iran. Tab B is published as Document 310.
  2. Saunders sent Kissinger a message via DCI Helms that the Shah hoped Kissinger would meet with two Barzani representatives soon to arrive in Washington, and outlined the advantages and disadvantages of possible U.S. support for the Kurds.