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


  • The Next Approach to the Iranians—Message to Ambassador Lang

Attached is the message to Ambassador Lang revised after our discussion last night.2 It is designed to reflect an overall effort to shock the Iranians into movement.

[Page 286]

As I said then, we now have two options on the diplomatic front in attempting to advance efforts for the release of our people in Tehran. These assume continuing separate efforts on Chapter VII and military preparations.

—The first option is to let the Iranians continue to grapple with the problem of finding a mechanism for gaining a hearing of their grievances and eventually expelling our people.

—The second option, recognizing that the Iranians may not be able to develop a concrete approach, is to make a specific suggestion to them on how the gap between their position and ours might be bridged.

The argument for the first option is that the Iranians themselves do not know what they want and are not ready to consider serious specific proposals. Any U.S. effort to put forward a compromise would risk our looking as if we are weak or dissipate our effort.

The argument for the second approach is that the Iranians are trying to devise a solution which includes parading Americans at a tribunal, while our interest is to focus their thinking on a solution which would get our people out first while simultaneously giving them some assurance that their grievances can be heard.

If we are trying to develop the second option, we would need a mechanism that brings together in the same exercise assurance of the immediate release of our people and a beginning of establishing the forum for airing Iran’s grievances. The precise mechanism could be a delegation under UN auspices or a delegation which would prepare for eventual Congressional hearings. Whatever the sponsorship, the key point is that the delegation would go to Iran to prepare for later hearings on the understanding that it would return to New York or Washington with all of the hostages and continue preparations for hearing Iran’s grievances.

Attached is a draft message to Ambassador Lang incorporating the approach in the second option above, as we discussed it.

If this message to Lang were approved, a decision could then be made whether to share this idea with Waldheim and whether to communicate it to the PLO.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Swiss Channel. Secret; Eyes Only. Copies were sent to Christopher and Newsom. According to Saunders, the briefing memorandum was prepared for the December 19 SCC meeting, which was subsequently cancelled. (Saunders, “Diplomacy and Pressure, November 1979–May 1980,” American Hostages in Iran, p. 108)
  2. Attached but not printed. The message more fully explains the mechanism for implementing option two as described in this memorandum. The message bears no indication that it was approved.