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


  • Formal U.S. Position on Iran

You may have the information at Tabs A and B,2 but if not you should be aware of it. At Tab A is a spread sheet prepared by State and discussed on January 4 with the President. It lays out the positions taken or recommended by the various real or would-be interlocutors [Page 361] with Iran.3 The key item is the fourth column which expanded the previous U.S. position to be more forthcoming. That position was approved by the President and was prepared in a paper at Tab B. The position paper was given to Waldheim on January 7 and has also been sent to Sadiq al-Mahdi in London for his possible use.

The present channels of contacts being pursued by State are the following:

1. Waldheim. He is authorized to use Tab B in whatever efforts he may wish to undertake.

2. Hashemi. He is reputed to be the intermediary for a Reza Pasimdideh who is said to be the son of Khomeini’s older brother. Hal Saunders recently met Hashemi in New York, and he has agreed to try to set up a meeting between Hal and Pasimdideh. Reportedly, Khomeini’s brother has sent the Ayatollah a note asking his blessing on this, and all concerned are waiting for the reply before going ahead.

3. Sadiq al-Mahdi. He recently visited Tehran. As a highly respected Moslem leader, he has the kind of credentials necessary to get attention there. After his trip, he met with Vance4 and Vance found him impressive. He has proposed the possible terms of a settlement as outlined in the last column of the spread sheet.5 He is now in London and will be returning to Tehran with the position paper in Tab B to see what he can do.

4. PLO. They are milling about. Arafat is eager to be the one who finally succeeds in freeing the hostages. He has been holding off going to Tehran until he is convinced he will succeed. So far no dice.

I have qualms about Tab B. It goes rather far in meeting some of the Iranians’ requirements, although there is nothing in it which would be more than embarrassing to us. If we were involved in a serious negotiating process, this would be a reasonable offer. However, we seem to be negotiating primarily with ourselves. People go to Tehran, listen to various officials who speak only for themselves, then come back and ask us to meet hypothetical demands with absolutely nothing [Page 362] coming from the other side. I am afraid we will find ourselves taking a starting position in any real negotiations that should have been our final position; we will then feel compelled to give away still more to demonstrate good faith.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 31, Subject File, Iran [Retained] 1/80. Secret. A stamped notation in the upper right corner of the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.” An unknown hand wrote “WOW!” above the stamp. Sick wrote at the bottom of the page: “(Hal Saunders provided this information in confidence).”
  2. Tab A is attached but not printed. Tab B is attached and printed as Document 137.
  3. The spreadsheet compares McBride’s position; Hashemi’s position; the U.S. position, as given to Waldheim; possible expansions of the U.S. position; and Sadiq al-Mahdi’s position. According to Saunders, Vance asked him to prepare this spreadsheet. (Saunders, “Diplomacy and Pressure,” American Hostages in Iran, p. 106) The discussion with Carter presumably occurred at the January 4 breakfast meeting; see footnote 3, Document 134.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 131.
  5. According to the spreadsheet at Tab A, al-Mahdi proposed that the United States defer sanctions unless the hostages were harmed, avoid extradition of the Shah, agree to an investigation into Iranian grievances against the Shah, approach the Shah to return his assets to Iran to be used for humanitarian purposes, and “turn over a new leaf” in its relationship with Iran.