28. Minutes of a Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • NSSM 238


  • Chairman

    • Brent Scowcroft
  • State

    • Charles W. Robinson
    • Roy Atherton
    • Richard Ericson
  • Defense

    • William Clements
    • Leslie A. Janka
  • JCS

    • Lt. Gen. William Y. Smith
  • CIA

    • George Bush
    • David Blee
  • Treasury

    • George Dixon
    • John M. Niehuss
  • ACDA

    • Dr. Fred C. Ikle
    • Richard H. Wilcox
  • NSC Staff

    • Robert Oakley
    • Michael Hornblow

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m.

General Scowcroft: We are faced with a dilemma. It is inconceivable to me that the U.S. Government is unable to develop a policy toward the Persian Gulf. We have had a NSSM Study. It has its good aspects but we have been unable to bring it to a resolution. The Executive Summary which has been prepared is only a pale reflection of the [Page 137]NSSM. It contains no options. In addition parts of this Study and the NSSM 223 study have been bandied about the Hill so that Congress expects us to come up with something. It is a sad reflection that after a year we have been able to produce nothing. This is the reason for the meeting. My idea is that we should do what we can to get something to leave, a core of responsible policy options and analysis to our successors.

Mr. Robinson: I agree but also believe that after one year something important has been accomplished. The Report is a remarkable achievement. But is it applicable now? Do we have the basis now for saying that this is the way to go? We have some minor textual emendations to add to the summary. Basically we think this a worthwhile effort to present the new Administration. But it would be inappropriate to make key policy decisions now. The decisions taken at Doha have fundamental implications with regard to our strategy and tactical position. This is a good report. I think we should submit it to the new Administration. So they can use it as a basis for deciding on policies.

General Scowcroft: We ostensibly do studies for a purpose, that purpose is to make policy. Right now this paper is not in any condition to be useful.

Mr. Robinson: It has no options.

General Scowcroft: Yes, it is different from other NSSM studies that we have done since it has no options. Even if we make no decisions, there should be options.

Mr. Robinson: Our suggested textual emendations will make it stronger, they contain some policy choices.

General Scowcroft: Bill, what do you think?

Mr. Clements: I think the Report is reasonable, although it is not as strong in some places as I would like. Probably we could never get agreement on a really strong report. I am inclined to go ahead and make these decisions based upon our knowledge. This is such an important region. Why procrastinate? If we don’t make decisions the new people might want to restudy the whole thing over again and lose another year. They would want to restudy it because of its importance. It is like putting old shoes on your feet. The region is important today and will remain so for the next 5–10 years. This is a careful study. It could be turned into a decision document to go to the President. Then the new people would have a policy which they are free to change. Now there is no policy. We are in limbo. We should do something.

Mr. Robinson: A decision now would mean that you have a policy with no possibility of implementing it.

Mr. Clements: There are varying degrees. In some cases we can make clear decisions, in others we can waffle, in others we can simply pass it along.

[Page 138]

General Scowcroft: The way the Study is now it would be useless to the next Administration.

Dr. Ikle: In ten days would it be possible for the Working Group to put together a good working sheet?

General Scowcroft: It could be done in a week.

Mr. Dixon: Even if it were done now, the new Administration would want to restudy it.

Mr. Clements: Yes, but in the interim there would be a policy. There are important things happening in the region.

Mr. Robinson: What you are now speaking about is impossible. The Transition Team would say that you are wasting your time. Making decisions are one thing. Implementing them is something else.

Mr. Clements: There are certain decisions which State has had pending for a long time which have been awaiting the completion of this Study. If these decisions are made in conformance with the Executive Summary we would at least be on record as to what we think ought to be done. Decisions will be needed in the next six months and these forthcoming decisions should not be made without this guidance. If we just do nothing we would be derelict in our duty. If they don’t like it they can change it.

Mr. Robinson: There are only two weeks to go. Lets be realistic. There would be no way to implement the decisions.

Mr. Clements: It is inevitable that decisions will start being made that could fit within the matrix of the Study. We should go ahead and see if these decisions could fit within the matrix. Our Ambassadors are often on a daily basis conferring with such leaders as the Saudi King and the Shah on these very questions.

Mr. Dixon: It is likely that these decisions will be made on an ad hoc basis.

Lt. Gen. Smith: The new people will use any information they have.

General Scowcroft: They won’t be able to restudy the world. They will use whichever vehicle they have at hand.

Dr. Ikle: We could use the present policy guidelines and sketch out alternatives.

Mr. Clements: What State wants to do is for us to walk out and leave this in abeyance so that the key decision can be made by them unilaterally on an ad hoc basis. The decisions would be made in a closet. This is wrong.

Mr. Robinson: I won’t argue with you, but is there any viable alternative?

Mr. Atherton: We do have a policy now which we have explained to Congressional Committees. We certainly have a framework for making future decisions.

[Page 139]

Mr. Robinson: The real question is whether our making decisions here will have any significant influence on the new people.

General Scowcroft: I see two stages. First, can we get the paper in shape so that it can serve as a basis for making decisions? Second, should we recommend to the President that he make these decisions? We have nothing now.

Mr. Dixon: I don’t know if we can get something together in time. We believe there is a need to complete the Energy study first and put the two together so that all the issues can be considered at once.

Mr. Robinson: Our view is that there is no need for us to finish the NSSM 237 study before finishing this.

Lt. Gen. Smith: Our people have more comments to make on the 238 Study and the Executive Summary.

General Scowcroft: There were some 106 options in the Study. That is why there had to be an Executive Summary.

Lt. Gen. Smith: We should work on both with the major emphasis being on the summary.

Mr. Robinson: Is it practicable to do this?—to put forward credible options with only two weeks left?

General Scowcroft: Yes.

Mr. Clements: We can do it.

General Scowcroft: We may not agree on which options are preferable but it should not be hard to agree on what the options are.

Dr. Ikle: Maybe it would be better to refrain from choosing any options.

Mr. Robinson: My associates say that this would take an extraordinary effort.

Mr. Ericson: We could put together an interagency team and have them work in a hothouse atmosphere.

Mr. Robinson: In two weeks?

General Scowcroft: The analysis is not bad. We just need to further fit it together into a reasonable series of policy options.

Mr. Robinson: We have some suggested changes which might be useful.

Mr. Clements: A small group in a high-pressure atmosphere might do it.

General Scowcroft: Is there any objection to the Study Group taking a crack at it?

Mr. Clements: No.

Mr. Atherton: The original instrument for the study was the Pol Mil Interagency Group chaired by PM. They could be the group.

[Page 140]

Mr. Oakley: Okay, but I would suggest that somebody really tough be in charge so that you don’t end up with another 106 policy options.

Mr. Robinson: We need to identify the key issues.

Mr. Clements: A good many of these can be left for the new people. We don’t need to cover the whole waterfront.

Mr. Atherton: There is a need for an inventory of the practical decisions which are pending.

Mr. Oakley: The analysis covers it. There is nothing pending which is not covered in the analysis.

Mr. Janka: There would be no problem generating something. I would like to see the “facilities part” expanded so that issues like Mystic Star are better covered. Unless some decision is taken soon, we will lose Kagnew but have nothing to replace it.

Mr. Robinson: If we take no action at this meeting that in itself is a decision.

Mr. Clements: Right.

Mr. Janka: We could divide the issues two ways, by time and importance. Perhaps there are 6 issues with 2 or 3 choices on each. Mystic Star is one issue. Do we move it to Tehran or not?

Mr. Robinson: Our position on Tehran is that we need to look at the total US-Iran relationship so that this question can be placed in a proper perspective. We need to look at the other alternatives. Going into Tehran could create serious problems in terms of saturation. What kind of a quid would the Shah want? It opens a Pandora’s Box.

Mr. Clements: I agree.

Lt. Gen. Smith: That’s all the more reason to describe in this paper the basic framework. The same thing applies to COMIDEASTFOR. We need a decision on that.

Mr. Robinson: We have no decision on that. It is one of the issues we have to address.

Mr. Atherton: The Foreign Minister turned us down flat.

Mr. Clements: Our suggestion was that Porter go see Fahd about this. I thought State had agreed to do that but still Porter has not done anything. We want Fahd to tell the Bahraini Foreign Minister to go jump in the lake.

Mr. Atherton: Fahd might tell us to go jump in the lake, instead.

Mr. Clements: If nothing changes, we will have to start drawing down COMIDEASTFOR in February.

Lt. Gen. Smith: If we do not act that is a decision by default.

Mr. Clements: The record may show that if there is no decision that State forced us out of Bahrain.

[Page 141]

General Scowcroft: (To Robinson, Atherton, and Oakley) You three put your heads together and see what we can come up with. The other issue is do we want to establish an interagency organization to manage security assistance? In this connection the NSSM 223 study recommended the broader framework of the Arms Export Control Board. There are major issues involved and something needs to be done to regularize the process. The major differences involve the level of the organization. A key and rather unique element is the Secretary of State’s statutory responsibilities in this area. There are two basic proposals. Either have it at the Deputy Secretary level such as the SRG chaired by the Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance—the other proposal would move it one step down with the same Chairman but a panel composed of Assistant Secretaries which would then report to the Secretary of State. The problem with the higher level is the anamoly of having this group report to the Secretary of State who would then have to come back to the President and then back to the NSC. Thus I am attracted to the idea of an interagency group at the Assistant Secretary level which would coordinate day-to-day work. This Group would then report through the Under Secretary for Security Assistance to the Secretary of State then if there were any problems they would come back to the NSC at the SRG level.

Mr. Robinson: Here, as opposed to the previous discussion, we are talking about mechanisms. I am confident that the new administration will establish its own mechanisms and that any decision made here will be aborted January 20.

Mr. Clements: I agree.

General Scowcroft: On the other hand I am not sure that they will be moving that promptly.

Dr. Ikle: It would be gauche to establish a new mechanism now.

Mr. Robinson: (to Scowcroft) Your analysis was good but any decision made now would be counter-productive.

General Scowcroft: I don’t necessarily disagree.

Mr. Clements: I know that this is being considered by the transition teams.

General Scowcroft: Is that the general consensus that we not try to agree on a mechanism now? Fred, are you happy with that?

Dr. Ikle: Definitely.

General Scowcroft: Fred, you have a memo in to the President recommending creation of a Board—what do you want to do about it?

Dr. Ikle: That was written at an earlier time and has been overtaken, I’ll withdraw it.

General Scowcroft: We are agreed on that then. Are there any other items? Thank you gentlemen.

The meeting ended at 3:49 p.m.

  1. Summary: The SRG met to consider NSSM 238.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 307, National Security Council, Senior Review Group, November 1976–January 1977. Secret. NSSM 238 is published as Document 25. NSSM 223, “Review of U.S. Policy on Arms Transfers, May 19, 1975, is published as Document 53 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973–1976. NSSM 237, “U.S. International Energy Policy,” is published as Document 93 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVII, Energy Crisis, 1974–1980.