107. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Iran


  • The President
  • State

    • Secretary Vance
  • Defense

    • Secretary Brown
  • CIA

    • Admiral Turner
  • JCS

    • General Jones
  • The White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Hamilton Jordan
    • Jody Powell


Secretary Vance reported on discussions with Secretary General Waldheim and the new Iranian delegate Mansour Farhang.

The notion is being floated that there will be no trial, but that the hostages will have to appear before a “grand jury.” Thought is also being given to a six-person UN delegation going to Tehran. Waldheim is not prepared to send the group unless the hostages would be released.2 Waldheim would also like more time than Thursday for the U.S. to move on sanctions.3 We expect at present the U.S., U.K., France, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, and Gabon to support us.

The UN ambassadors would prefer for Salim to go to Tehran. The President said that we would probably get nine votes in that case and we must not let a Soviet veto stand in the way. Sanctions must be [Page 288] substantive. If that doesn’t work, we can always close the harbors. The Secretary of State then outlined the scenario whereby we will wait until Friday4 before going for sanctions, and if Salim goes to Tehran we would wait for next week.

The President noted that other countries are more likely to go along with us if they see the entire enterprise as a UN effort and not as a U.S. effort.

Admiral Turner pointed out that Iran is Khomeini and that we are in for a protracted process. What alternatives do we have once the present plans have been exhausted? The Secretary of State said we could go for partial sanctions, then make them stronger, then blockade.

The Secretary of Defense noted that a series of military steps have been developed if the process spins out for a longer period of time. We will need to replace the Kitty Hawk with the Nimitz. We could fly some B–52s over the carrier group; we could fly the aircraft from the carriers up the Straits of Hormuz or the Gulf; we could overfly Iran with an SR–71; we could deploy a marine amphibian unit; we could deploy F–111s into Egypt; we could also take some direct steps such as electrical disruption or blockade.

Brzezinski noted that in the initial phase we mixed peaceful steps with military actions. This gave us credibility. Now the impression exists that military action is out. We need to keep the military option and diplomacy in tandem. But what military actions would suffice later on? We may need sufficient force to push Khomeini out of power in order to get a solution. The Secretary of State noted that steady action may be more effective than flashy action. In response the Secretary of Defense cited our Vietnamese experience as “inoculating” the other side. Jordan noted the possibility of waning public support.

The President said that we have to bring the issue to a head. It involves not the U.S. vs. Iran but the world community vs. Iran. Accordingly, we should

—let Waldheim 5 know today that we will seek sanctions;

—announce that action on Friday and make a strong presentation of our case to the effect that we are seeking to carry out the mandate of the Security Council, and maybe the Secretary of State himself should make the presentation;

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—ask for specific sanctions probably by Wednesday of next week;6

—force the issue to a head.7

In the meantime, it is OK for Salim to go as soon as he can.

There was some further discussion of disruption of shipping to Iran (foreign ships in Iranian ports have dropped from about 50 in November to 30 now); about the need to gradually build up our forces, and about not letting the military option become dormant.

The Secretary of Defense then asked for approval to replace the Kitty Hawk with the Nimitz; for E–3 flights over the Straits; and to explore the possibility of their landing in Saudi Arabia. This was approved.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 98, Meetings File, 12/19/79 NSC and SCC (Cancelled) re Iran. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House. At the top of the page, Carter wrote: “ok as amended. J.”
  2. According to telegram 6237 from USUN, December 19, Farhang also told Waldheim the grand jury would replace a trial and asked that he have a few days to get a response from the Iranian Government on the idea of a UN delegation. McHenry noted his own opposition to a UN delegation. (Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Iran NODIS Cables Dec 1979)
  3. Thursday, December 20. According to telegram 6236 from USUN, December 19, Waldheim was “taken aback” at the U.S. decision to proceed with securing Security Council agreement to sanctions against Iran. He wanted to give Iran time to respond, and stated that “if Washington wants to take the responsibility for proceeding without waiting, he would have to decline continuing his own efforts.” McHenry told Waldheim that he was unimpressed with Farhang’s position. (Ibid.)
  4. December 21.
  5. After “Waldheim,” Carter inserted: “and the members of the Security Council (heads of government).”
  6. December 26. Carter moved the last part of the previous point into this one and deleted “maybe.” After his changes, the third point reads: “—ask for specific sanctions probably by Wednesday of next week and the Secretary of state himself should make the presentation.”
  7. Carter changed this point to read: “—subsequently force the issue to a vote.”