105. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Iran: Our Strategy for the Next Phase

I enclose the SCC minutes for today.2

You will see from them that the question arose whether we are retaining sufficient momentum. My own gut feeling, supported by Jody and Harold, is that we are locking ourselves into a litigational pattern which may make it more difficult for us to bring the issue to a head and which may also cause us gradually to lose domestic support. We could ultimately find ourselves in a position in which we may need to escalate and yet the public may not be prepared to support us.

This is related to a more perplexing question: What does it take to jolt Khomeini into recognition of the fact that the release of the hostages is necessary? By moving step by step we are “inoculating” the Iranians against the consequences of their actions, without really frightening them. There is no doubt in my mind that your very forceful message that was sent after the Camp David NSC had the desired effect.3 Since then, however, the Iranians may have concluded that we are so committed to a negotiated solution that they can stall the process indefinitely.

Finally, to obtain international support, we may also need to remind the international community that the only tangible alternative to international solidarity is unilateral U.S. action. [less than 1 line not declassified] we may have trouble in the UN getting support for Chapter VII. We are more likely to obtain such support if our friends become convinced that the only alternative to tangible international support is unilateral U.S. action which may indirectly affect them as well.

Since next week may see a number of key people going away on their holidays, I would recommend that you hold a strategy meeting, (a formal NSC) to review and approve our strategy for the next two or three weeks.4 The previous meetings in which you personally took [Page 285] charge were critical to continued momentum and to keeping the initiative in our hands.

(A singular example of what happens when your leadership is not directly asserted is the U.S.-U.K. communiqué. You might remember that I tried to get the British to support us tangibly while you were in the Cabinet Room.5 This was then left to Cy and Carrington to negotiate. Page 2 of the enclosed U.S.-U.K. communiqué indicates what was omitted.6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 18, SCC Meeting #232 held 12/18/79. Top Secret. At the top of the first page of the memorandum, Carter wrote: “Zbig—What is the UNSC count as determined by our UN delegation?”
  2. See Document 104.
  3. See Document 52.
  4. See footnote 1, Document 104.
  5. See Document 103.
  6. Not attached. A December 14 memorandum from James Rentschler of the National Security Council Staff to Aaron contained a draft paragraph on Iran for use in a jointly approved press statement to be released after Thatcher’s visit. It stated in part that Carter and Thatcher “agreed that they would use every means at their disposal” to obtain the release of the hostages and “agreed on the need to apply economic measures” that would isolate Iran and would direct their respective financial institutions to take appropriate action. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 64, Outside the System File, Iran Non-Meetings Hostage Crisis 11–12/79) For Carter and Thatcher’s post-meeting comments, see footnote 3, Document 103. For the final press statement, see footnote 8, Document 104.