158. Memorandum From Robert Blackwill of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Iran, Afghanistan and the Allies (S)

At a moment when the need for American leadership and Allied solidarity has seldom been more manifest, we are in danger of convincing the Europeans and the Japanese that in these dangerous times our Kamikaze instinct is more refined than our strategic acuity:

—We threaten to take military action against Iran when we have no evidence it would help free the hostages, and when it would do much to get the Soviets off the Afghanistan hook with the Moslems. (Can you imagine the Security Council and General Assembly debates after we dropped the mines?)

—We continue to press for Allied sanctions against Iran as if we believed that after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan an even more destabilized situation in Iran would be in our interests and not in Moscow’s.

—We minimize to European dismay the effects of an Iranian oil boycott of Europe on our Allies and on the world economy.

—In short, we give every sign that the 50 hostages are more important to us (and to the President’s reelection prospects) than effective resistance to Soviet imperialism in Southwest Asia and beyond. (S)

The effect of this in Europe has been to breed cynicism and to revive doubts at the highest level about the capacity of the Carter Administration to protect Western interests and to meet the Soviet challenge. In my judgment, Warren Christopher’s obvious inability to respond to these concerns in Europe last week was an embarrassment to him and to the Administration. Schmidt tells the Spanish the U.S. does not understand the Middle East. Thatcher snaps at Christopher [Page 417] and Carrington tells the Turks sanctions against Iran will not work. As a piece in the German press said on Friday, “even though he publicly calls him his friend, Schmidt’s doubt in the leadership qualities of the most powerful man in the Western world have increased rather than declined. On this point, Schmidt sees eye to eye with French President Giscard d’Estaing.” (S)

Much of this on the Europeans’ part is sharply self serving. They are dependent on Iranian oil. Schmidt does want to protect FRG relations with the East. Giscard does want to maintain an independent stance and France’s special relationship with Moscow. Thatcher does think she understands the Soviets far better than Jimmy Carter, and the Tory banking community in Britain is opposed to sanctions against Iran. Nonetheless, our inherently conflicting objectives—to weaken Iran and to strengthen regional opposition to the Soviets—give the Europeans the perfect excuse to dismiss our entreaties for coordinated action against the Soviets. (S)

What to do. First, we should not publicly rule out the use of force against Iran because that threat may have some utility in the Revolutionary Council. But we should send the most private Cabinet Line messages to Thatcher, Schmidt and Giscard telling them that we have drawn the proper strategic conclusions about the relationship between the hostages and Afghanistan, and that as long as our people in Tehran are not harmed, we will not use military force against Iran because we recognize that this would gravely undermine Western efforts to make the Soviets pay for the invasion of Afghanistan. And, although we cannot suddenly reverse ourselves on Allied sanctions against Iran, we should certainly not get into a fight with the Europeans over this, a fight which would lessen the likelihood we can get them to address the strategic implications of Afghanistan. (S)

My Sunday paper has just hit the porch and I read John Goshko’s story2 that we are privately softening our position on Iran because of Afghanistan. Perhaps somebody should tell Warren Christopher and the Allies. In my judgment, the President’s comment on Meet the Press yesterday that Afghanistan and Iran are interrelated3 was not specific [Page 418] enough to meet Allied concerns since he also said we would press ahead with sanctions and wanted the Allies to do the same. Would you like me to do a draft message trying to sort this out to Thatcher, Schmidt and Giscard?4 (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 27, Iran 12/79–3/80. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for action.
  2. John Goshko, “Stance on Iran Softening in Face of Soviet Threat,” New York Times, January 20, 1980, p. A1.
  3. During his January 20 appearance on Meet the Press, Carter stated: “There has been, obviously, a new element introduced into the Iranian hostage crisis in recent weeks with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. My belief is that many of the responsible officials in Iran now see that this major threat to Iran’s security and the peace of Iran is becoming paramount, and that there will be an additional effort on their part to secure the release of the hostages and remove the isolation of Iran from the rest of the civilized world.” He went on to say that Iran should begin to strengthen itself “against the possible threat by the Soviets now addressed toward them in Afghanistan.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book I, p. 113)
  4. There is no indication that Brzezinski approved sending the message.