133. Memorandum From Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Iran

I spent Sunday afternoon2 in New York for a four-hour meeting with my Iranian contact. One part of the discussion involved various operational matters which I have already dealt with through Frank Carlucci’s shop. Specifically, [name not declassified] is to meet with Bani Ahmad in Paris tomorrow morning. This will be our first direct operational contact with the Shariatmadari organization, and if it is successful it can lead us to a series of contacts with people who are engaged in more than talk. I am particularly hopeful that [name not declassified] will soon establish contact with Hassan Nazih. Nazih is apparently considering returning to Iran in the near future. Moghadem Maragei, the other key Azerbaijani leader, is now reported to be in Kurdestan in hiding, after his office was ransacked by Khomeini followers.

Most of the time was spent in an exchange of views on the general political situation and a discussion of the ideas he is putting together on a possible long-range strategy. The essence of his concept is as follows:

—It is pointless to try to pretend that Khomeini never happened. Rather, it is essential to accept the positive accomplishments he has made (given dignity and sense of purpose to lower classes; reversed trend toward materialism; injected sense of moral values; given sense of purpose to Shia Islam; reduced expectations of Iranian society) and build on those while rejecting the many negative aspects.

—We should do nothing to interfere with Khomeini’s self-discrediting actions. We must avoid making him into a martyr at all costs.

—Among the various groupings that now exist, there is no likely leader who can replace Khomeini. In fact, to search for a single leader is an error. Shariatmadari carries his own “Islamic” baggage which would be troublesome in a post-Khomeini Iran. A military dictatorship, in a replay of 1953,3 will only set the stage for another round of repres [Page 354] sion, revenge, and collapse. Bakhtiar is hopeless. At the present time, the great weakness of opposition politics is that each one of them sees himself as the future President/Prime Minister and all of their actions are related to that vision. Hence, no cooperation.

—The alternative is to articulate a set of broader principles on which all these groups can agree—at least in part. The objective is to define the shape of the Iran of the future in terms which Khomeini cannot reject out of hand but which are recognized as very different from a narrow Seventh Century Islamic state which Khomeini represents.

—He believes that such a set of principles could be built around the concepts of national sovereignty, rule by law as provided under the 1906 Constitution, and a willingness to face problems directly rather than sweeping them under the rug. The objective should be a political system which is responsive to the people, a social system which lets national groups and religious minorities live “more comfortably” within the society, and an economic system which promotes more equitable distribution of national wealth and its products. He believes that the concept of a constitutional monarchy should not be discounted, although that certainly does not mean the return of the Shah. He notes that the Iranian people throughout their history have killed 126 kings, but they always come back to the need for the institution. They are now doing to Khomeini what they did to the Shah.

—As a first step, he would discuss privately with key opposition leaders some of these ideas and see whether they could be persuaded to accept some or all of them as their own. Ideally, he would like to have these same general ideas appear as spontaneously as possible from a number of different political sources.

—Later, after the basic ideas have been introduced, he is putting together a list of about 200 Iranians inside and outside the country who could jointly sponsor a new political movement based on these principles. If the moment can be captured, he believes that this will propel the political situation in a new direction and outflank the left in two ways: (1) by providing an alternative to a leftist-dominated program; and (2) by coopting many of the leftists’ most appealing arguments.

—This new political movement could provide a rallying point for the various opposition groups in which they could express their particular concepts within the context of a political system, rather than referring everything to specific individuals.

He is confident that he can identify 200 individuals from various interest groups who will be absolutely clean. I encouraged him to proceed with constructing such a list and to try his hand at a political manifesto which would summarize the basic principles he wishes to [Page 355] promote. I suggested that he take the Iranian New Year (Now Ruz) on March 21 as a hypothetical starting point for such a movement and work backwards to see what steps would be required operationally to set such a process in motion. I suggested that Now Ruz would not be a bad name for such a political movement. He thought that was a good idea.

This man is not an idle dreamer. He is a hardheaded, even ruthless, pragmatist. But what he is developing in a careful and systematic way is nothing less than a new structure of Iranian politics. In its breadth of vision, it is far more attractive than the traditional games being played by Bakhtiar, Oveissi and company.

The bottom line, of course, is whether or not he can deliver. He has demonstrated convincingly that he has excellent connections with the various key opposition groups. He has personally provided us with the best contacts we have with Madani and Shariatmadari. I suspect that his list of 200 key individuals will be imaginative and useful.

It is increasingly clear that he sees himself as the key element in preparing such a program, selling it to the various opposition groups, and organizing the new movement. In order to do so, he will have to come out of his closet of security and involve himself directly with the various political groups and leaders. He says that he has no ambition for political office and that he intends never to return to Iran. I take that with a large grain of salt. Even if he believes it now, the appeal to someone as dynamic as he is would become almost irresistible if such a movement caught fire.

If and when he comes out of the closet and begins serious organizational efforts, he will increasingly come to rely on us for security and direct support. At this point, I see no reason not to encourage him to develop his ideas. The kind of list he proposes would in itself be invaluable for us. But he is a shrewd bargainer, and we must expect to start hearing more explicitly what the price will be for us. That moment may not be far away.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 30, Iran 1/1/80–1/10/80. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the upper right corner of the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.”
  2. January 6.
  3. A reference to the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was replaced by Fazlollah Zahedi.