130. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Iran


  • State

    • Secretary Cyrus Vance
    • Warren Christopher
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • W. Graham Claytor
  • JCS

    • Admiral Thomas Hayward
  • CIA

    • Frank Carlucci
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron (from 9:25 a.m.)
  • NSC

    • Colonel William Odom
    • Gary Sick


A restricted meeting of the SCC was called to discuss covert action with respect to Iran. Mr. Carlucci opened the meeting by circulating a paper entitled “Covert Action in Iran,” which is attached to these notes as Tab A.2 The SCC discussed the following elements of the paper:

1. Maintaining the territorial integrity of Iran versus stimulating opposition [less than 1 line not declassified]. The SCC recognized the danger of cooperating with and assisting regional separatist groups while aiming at preserving the territorial integrity of Iran. [1½ lines not declassified]. Dr. Brzezinski noted that the continued rule of Khomeini would in any event lead to the division of the country and a takeover by the left. We prefer a unified, anti-Soviet Iran; but a divided Iran is preferable to a unified, pro-Soviet Iran. All agreed with the formulation developed in the paper [2 lines not declassified] making clear that our objective is not separatism.3 (S)

2. All agreed with the paper that there is not a single leader identifiable at present and that we should continue to work with all potentially viable opposition groups. (S)

3. [7 lines not declassified] Secretary Vance wondered about the status of Shariatmadari—was he under house arrest in Qom? [5½ lines not declassified] Dr. Brzezinski wondered if we should encourage Shariatmadari to move. Secretary Vance said we want to have him safe. He would certainly be safer in Tabriz or in Najaf than in Qom. Ideally, Shariatmadari could announce a pilgrimage to Najaf; but thus far he has avoided such direct actions in opposition to Khomeini. Mr. Carlucci said [4½ lines not declassified]. SCC concurred.4 (S)

4. Impact on the hostage situation. Mr. Carlucci said that stimulating opposition groups served to distract Khomeini from the hostage issue. [Page 345] It was a close judgment call whether this helped or hurt the hostage situation. He tended to believe that it may make it worse. However, we should recognize that Khomeini is already convinced that we are supporting Bakhtiar and others—on the basis of information captured at the embassy, among other things. So our efforts in this regard do not really change his perspective of our role. Secretary Vance noted that we should tell Bakhtiar either to shut up or have his water cut off. [1½ lines not declassified] Dr. Brzezinski noted the tremendous impact of government support on emigre organizations—they place great importance even on limited shows of support. Mr. Carlucci agreed that it is a dilemma; however, we do want to achieve the psychological effect of stimulating their action through our support. Mr. Carlucci added that we will “not be dealing with boy scouts” in this operation. [5 lines not declassified] Secretary Brown noted that the magnitude of our efforts should be governed by what we really know about what we are trying to do. At the moment, we are only starting and do not have as much information as we would like. We must wait and see how it goes. Dr. Brzezinski asked if we were in touch with Iranian military leaders; do we have an inventory of the military leaders who remain from the previous regime? Secretary Vance said we would be in touch today with someone in New York who is reputedly in contact with Admiral Madani. Mr. Carlucci noted that [less than 1 line not declassified]. We do not have an inventory of present military leadership. Our information is scanty, but we are trying to build it up. Secretary Brown said he had directed contact with a group of Iranian naval officers who are in this country as a purchasing mission, but he was not aware of what had come of this. Mr. Christopher said we should be focusing on the labor organizations in the oil fields. Mr. Sick noted that Hassan Nazih, former head of the NIOC, was now out of the country, and we should have contact with him soon. He probably has the best understanding of the possibilities there. [5½ lines not declassified] Secretary Vance agreed that we need more information before moving to that stage.5 (TS)

The SCC then turned to the second CIA paper (Tab B)6 which addresses various options developed by the small subcommittee chaired by David Aaron. Mr. Carlucci noted that operations such as those discussed in this paper were of a different order of magnitude from the political action options discussed above and would require substantially more resources. Mr. Aaron noted that these had been identified as possible contingent actions for consideration. This was [Page 346] not an action proposal at this point, although we may wish to take some preliminary steps to develop such a capability. The following elements of the paper were discussed:

1. [less than 1 line not declassified] Secretary Brown wondered if this did not represent a second or third step to follow the political action program. He noted that we were starting from zero [7 lines not declassified] Secretary Vance said he wanted to register a major reservation about the desirability of such operations. He did not think it was feasible, and the American people’s reaction would be split. [2 lines not declassified] Dr. Brzezinski said that such action was certainly premature at this point. [12 lines not declassified] Mr. Aaron agreed that there was a question of the money and time needed to develop such a capability. [2 lines not declassified] Secretary Vance said he would not object to building up our stocks of military and other equipment which we can provide in support of covert action programs, [1 line not declassified]. Secretary Brown disagreed; we should start building it up and not deny ourselves the capability to act at some future stage. Dr. Brzezinski noted that the alternative to this kind of capability may be direct U.S. military involvement. We may need this option. The SCC agreed that the minutes should reflect a unanimous view that the first option in the paper was premature and that views were divided on [1½ lines not declassified]. The President would want to reflect on this question. (TS)

2. [less than 1 line not declassified]. Dr. Brzezinski noted that options 2 and 5 could be combined, i.e. that [less than 1 line not declassified] could be combined with a blockade for maximum effectiveness. Dr. Brzezinski urged that a plan be developed along these lines. A blockade would be the last U.S. option short of bloodshed, and this could help make it more effective. Secretary Vance wondered whether we are talking here about building up a capability or actually taking a decision to proceed with this option. Mr. Aaron said that his group had been tasked to develop options relating to possible military involvement. Option 2 in this paper was seen as a potential alternative to a direct U.S. military strike against Iranian targets. Although he agreed that 2 and 5 could be combined, [less than 1 line not declassified] could also be useful as a means of demonstrating loss of political control, even if there were no blockade. Mr. Carlucci said that we presently [1½ lines not declassified]. Our available assets are fully committed to the Delta operation.7 If we changed their mission and began working toward this objective, perhaps something could be put together within several weeks. [1½ lines not declassified] Developing such a capability [less than 1 line not declassified] would be a longer term proposition, and [ [Page 347] less than 1 line not declassified] which are only now beginning are the necessary first step in any event. Secretary Vance noted that there is no requirement to [less than 1 line not declassified] in order to proceed with this option. The SCC agreed that pursuing [less than 1 line not declassified] was the appropriate action for the moment.8 (TS)

3. Contacts with Iraq. All agreed that this was already being pursued. (S)

4. Seizure of oil fields. Mr. Aaron noted that the objective of this option was to examine [5½ lines not declassified]. The SCC noted that the examination revealed that such an effort would require direct action either by us or the Iraqis, and the prospect of Iraqi control of the oil fields was not significantly more attractive than Khomeini’s control. Secretary Vance suggested that this option be put on hold.9

5. Blockade. Dr. Brzezinski noted that this had been covered in the discussion of option 2 and that we should go ahead with planning.10 (S)

The SCC then took up a series of brief items:

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the hostage crisis.]

7. Strategy. Dr. Brzezinski noted that Iran will be the first topic on the agenda of the NSC meeting this afternoon. At that time, the President will want an update on our present status and the items discussed here this morning. However, the central question will be how we can continue to exert pressure on Iran after we get sanctions (or do not get sanctions) next week. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 107. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Carter wrote “Zbig, C” at the top of the page.
  2. Tab A, December 31, is attached but not printed. Sick summarized the paper in his memorandum to Brzezinski; see Document 129.
  3. Carter approved items 1 and 2 with checkmarks, then initialed in the right margin.
  4. Carter indicated neither his approval nor disapproval of this item. He wrote in the left margin: “I think Bakhtiar is politically dead. He’s the Shah’s man. A Beheshti or Shariatmadari is our probable best hope. On PR broadcasts we should point out that S. is in virtual house arrest.”
  5. In the left margin next to the last sentence of this paragraph, Carter wrote: “I agree.”
  6. Tab B, an untitled and undated paper, is attached but not printed. Annex A to this paper describes various tribal groups in Iran.
  7. A reference to the plans for a potential hostage rescue mission.
  8. Carter underlined the phrase “pursuing [less than 1 line not declassified]” and wrote “no more” in the left margin next to the Approve line, on which he placed a checkmark.
  9. Carter double underlined the word “hold” in the last sentence, then placed a checkmark on the Approve line.
  10. Carter indicated neither his approval nor disapproval of this item, but he initialed in the right margin.