241. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

328359. Subject: Soviet Response to US Demarche on Iran. Ref: (A) State 320173; (B) State.2

1. S-entire text.

2. Soviet Charge Vasev called on Marshall Shulman December 20 to deliver the following non-paper on Iran. Vasev said the paper contained the Soviet Government’s response to demarches made by Acting Secretary Christopher on December 11 and DAS Barry on December 10.

3. Begin quote:

We decisively reject the efforts of the American side to place in doubt the clear and unambiguous position of the Soviet Union with respect to the American-Iranian conflict, and in particular on the question of American diplomatic personnel in Tehran. Allegations that the policy of the Soviet Union is deliberately vague and ambiguous are unfounded and unacceptable.

Although we see no sense in polemicizing on the subject of coverage of the American-Iranian conflict in the Soviet press, we consider, however, that it is necessary to point out that (Soviet press commentary) has been characterized by restraint and by an objective presentation of the materials—which cannot be said about the American media—and in any case cannot serve as a basis for distorting our declared position—provided, of course, that certain particular goals are not being pursued in this connection.

At the very least it appears strange that we are receiving from the American side “recommendations” on how we should act. For example, it is proposed to participate in some kind of collective demarche as a policy of the diplomatic corps in Tehran. The Soviet side will itself choose what form of action is appropriate for it—whether collective or independent. The weight of the voice of the Soviet Union does not depend on the form in which a given action is undertaken. In any event, we are convinced that what is needed here is not a formal-official approach but a political one.

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Both publicly, including in the Security Council, and in a private manner, we have expressed our position of principle. This remains unchanged: expressing the hope that the conflict between the USA and Iran will be settled to the mutual satisfaction of both sides, we firmly declare that the USSR is in favor of the strict observance of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and considers that the violation of this Convention by anyone whatsoever constitutes an act contrary to international law.

In addition, we have approached the Iranian leadership on this account, expressing ourselves in favor of the release of the American diplomats and we have confidentially informed the American side about our demarche—that is, by our initiative we have in reality cooperated with the United States. There is reason to suppose that the advice we expressed did not go unnoticed in Tehran. It is, however, unclear to us whether the American side properly appreciates our constructive step.

We repeat: our position in this whole issue is clear and unambiguous. Any assertions to the contrary serve no useful purpose and can hardly correspond to the interests of the American side itself.

End quote.

4. In the conversation that followed, Shulman began by saying we welcomed the Soviet position on release of the hostages and regarded it as most important. He then made the following comments on points raised in the Soviet non-paper:

—Soviet media. Shulman said Soviet media continue to contain equivocal language which lends support to Iran’s position and weakens the effect of Soviet support for the US on the hostage issue. Given the important stake which both countries have in preserving the principle of diplomatic inviolability, Shulman said we would expect the Soviet Government’s position not to appear ambiguous or be diluted by the Soviet press.

—Security Council. Shulman said the President has shown utmost restraint and had made clear our policy was to exhaust every peaceful means to resolve the crisis. He said we were now approaching a new stage in our efforts to find a peaceful solution and would soon approach the Security Council to see how the ruling of the International Court of Justice could be implemented. Shulman said he hoped the Soviet Government would recognize the importance of utilizing peaceful methods and would support our efforts.

—US opinion. Shulman said the current crisis had a major impact on US public attitudes. He said he feared the consequences if Soviet behavior in the Security Council made it appear that the USSR did not wholeheartedly support release of the hostages.

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5. In response Vasev made the following points:

—US policy. Vasev said restraint is the only policy which a great power could follow. Only “peaceful means” were possible and there should be no talk of “exhausting” them because this implied an ultimate resort to force which, he said, was unacceptable. If the Soviets were dealing with a similar problem, Vasev said they would rely on diplomatic moves, patience, and restraint. He said the US should not expect to just “snap its fingers” and that this crisis was “a good test of US maturity.”

—Security Council sanctions. Vasev said that “personally” he did not think our chances were good and implied that we could not expect Soviet support. He said he doubted whether we had “firm legal grounds” and, considering the general economic ramifications, whether we had the support of the West Europeans and the Japanese.

—“Other options.” Vasev said that talk of the US using “other means” to resolve the crisis had raised apprehension in the Soviet Union. He described the political situation in Iran as chaotic and said US threats only made matters worse. Claiming that Iran could survive a naval blockade for a year, Vasev said US military action would accomplish nothing and would be a calamity for US-Soviet relations. He said military action would kill SALT and “make the world a different place for years to come.”

6. Responding, Shulman pointed out that Vasev’s own characterization of the results of US military actions should convince him of the importance of supporting US efforts in the Security Council. He said that we would soon be making a detailed approach to the Soviets on sanctions and would continue to hope for a positive response.

7. Finally, Vasev said he wanted to raise a matter on his own initiative. After producing the text of a Jack Anderson TV commentary, Vasev challenged Anderson’s statement that Gromyko had assured the Iranian Ambassador that the Soviet Union would not remain neutral in the event of a US attack and had urged the Iranians to hold the hostages for a year. Noting that Anderson was quoting from “intelligence sources,” Vasev said he strongly objected if the US Government was responsible for such false accounts. Shulman said he was not aware of any such “intelligence reports” and assumed that Anderson’s information did not come from the US Government.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 4, MDS/Vasev, 12/20/79. Secret; Cherokee; Immediate; Nodis. Sent Immediate to USUN. Drafted by Perito; cleared by Barry and Tarnoff; approved by Shulman.
  2. The Department apprised Moscow of Christopher’s and Barry’s démarches in telegrams 320803 and 320173, respectively, both dated December 12. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840150–1871 and D790572–0193)