101. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Decision on the Negotiating Strategy for Iran

Because of the movement of events, we need in the next 24 hours to pull together (1) the substance of a precise US negotiating position and (2) the choice of negotiating tracks.

Events are moving ahead as a number of our negotiating tracks have suddenly come alive again:

Farhang is meeting here in Washington over the weekend with a number of his American “advisors” to talk about the international tribunal and, presumably, how it leads to the release of the hostages. He sees Waldheim at 3:00 p.m. on Monday.2

Henry Precht has asked to have a talk with Farhang, with no response yet.

—We are talking with Richard Falk and Roger Fisher, who are both talking with either Farhang or Rouhani.

—Congressman Findley is considering what to do about a proposal from the PLO that he lead a delegation of private Americans to visit the hostages and talk with Iranians about grievances. This proposal seems to be a result of the Iranian offer to allow a humanitarian visit to the hostages and a variant of the idea discussed when Hansen was in Iran to create a forum in which the real representatives of the American people could hear Iranian grievances.

—Now that we seem to be getting a new proposal from the PLO representative in Tehran, we can still go back through our channel in Beirut.

—Swiss Ambassador Lang has a channel to Ghotbzadeh. Ghotbzadeh’s complaint about the condition of Iranian students in the US is pending, and we could send a response along with other proposal through Ambassador Lang.

[Page 272]

Hashemi in London is in touch with his contact in Qom and says they are having “encouraging” meetings. We have the opportunity to put any scenario we devise through that channel as well.

The key substantive issue now that the Shah’s return to Iran has been removed from the negotiating agenda is the relative timing of a hearing for Iranian grievances and the release of the hostages. This was one of the issues on which the Waldheim/Salamatian negotiations foundered. Now the Iranians are trying to put together a forum for their hearings and seem to be thinking of releasing a number of hostages before long but at the same time seem to be thinking about holding a few of them to appear before their international tribunal.

Our basic position has been negative on the tribunal on grounds that it would prolong Iran’s illegal action in holding hostages and delay their release. We repeatedly stated that once all hostages are released Iran can have a hearing in any reasonable forum. The problem now is that our position may not be sufficiently nuanced to allow for the possibility of a scenario in which some preliminary steps toward a tribunal could be connected with the release of the hostages.

Specifically, the questions arise as to whether we should encourage or discourage private Americans from responding to invitations to participate in the tribunal and whether we should discourage something like a Findley visit to Tehran which might lead to the release of some of the hostages.

We obviously want to bargain hard for the release of the hostages before a tribunal begins. A proposal such as the one included in our longer memo yesterday3 may have to include willingness to have some group—whether a UN group or a group such as that proposed for Findley—engage in some kind of hearing on Iranian grievances.

The next issue is whether we are prepared to let such a group go without assurance that it will be able to bring hostages back home with it. A third issue is whether to allow any group to go if it can only bring a small number of the hostages home with it.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Miscellaneous Documents. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent through Newsom.
  2. December 17.
  3. Not found.