290. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1

Message to Lang

In recent conversations beginning in Paris,2 Bourguet and Villalon have been very close-mouthed about their plans. Bourguet is now in Tehran working with Ghotbzadeh, but Villalon—through whom we communicate—says only that they will tell us in due course what has been worked out. We have said vigorously each time (a) that they cannot confront us with a plan approved by the Iranians which we cannot accept and, particularly, (b) that any plan which includes trying some of the hostages would risk the most serious reaction in the U.S. We want to tell Lang what is going on and ask him to try to find out what is being discussed in Tehran to get us into the circuit.

Villalon says cryptically that four competing plans for dealing with the hostages are being readied for submission to the Majlis:

1. The Bani-Sadr Plan. As we understand this from Italian, British, and German reports—not from Villalon—this approach involves three principal elements. First, an appeal by Khomeini to the Parliament Members to release the hostages. In one version, this appeal is a public Khomeini statement; in another version, it is made through private messages delivered by Ahmad Khomeini. The second element is the release of the hostages by the Parliament to unspecified third country leaders. Whether these are leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement, Islamic states, or others has not been spelled out. The third element involves an understanding that the United States would agree to unfreeze the assets, facilitate the recovery of the Shah’s assets, and make a commitment not to retaliate or press claims against Iran.

2. A plan being devised by Ghotbzadeh’s groupGhotbzadeh, Moinfar, Tabatabai, Chamran, Habibi, two of Ghotbzadeh’s staffers, and Bourguet working with them. This group opposes Bani-Sadr’s idea [Page 793] of releasing the hostages to the Non-Aligned Movement headed by Castro because they feel this would play into the hands of the communist interests. Villalon also says Ghotbzadeh wants the U.N. Commission to complete its work while Bani-Sadr wants it to fail. Villalon will only say that the Ghotbzadeh plan takes into account three elements: (1) Bani-Sadr’s ideas; (b) the past scenarios agreed with the U.S.; (c) the Islamic concept of forgiveness or pardon, pardon being one of the Imam’s prerogatives. There also seems to be an idea—which Capucci was pressing—of approaching Arab governments such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and perhaps Syria to generate approaches to Iran on behalf of Islamic countries to create a situation in which Parliament would merely endorse the Imam’s decision which itself would be folded into an Islamic consensus. A disturbing element mentioned by others than Villalon is the idea of releasing the hostages in 3 or 4 stages—the unofficial hostages, Laingen and colleagues, 42–43 from the hostages, then 7–8 suspected of being spies. We have repeatedly argued against any breakdown which would leave a small group behind to be tried. Villalon said Friday this plan will be submitted to the Imam for approval before we are informed of its details.

3. A Beheshti plan on which we have no reports but which we fear may include trials.

4. A plan devised by the militants which would be given to sympathizers in the Parliament. Again, we have no details, but assume they would repeat demands for the Shah and/or his wealth and for trials.

One reason Villalon gives for their uncommunicativeness is their view that the U.S. is speaking with different voices. For instance:

—In arguing against any scenario that would lead to trials, we have simply said that if there were trials of any of the hostages we could not rule out military action. (The President told the families on December 7 and was quoted in the New York Times that we would interrupt Iran’s commerce if there were trials.3 As you know, this was also conveyed in other ways.)

—German Ambassador Ritzel is being reported by Villalon as saying in Tehran that Secretary Muskie told him the U.S. will adhere to peaceful means to resolve the crisis under all circumstances.

If the Bourguet-Villalon approach does in fact include a trial-pardon element, they may resent our persistent argument against trials and feel we are speaking for ourselves.

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Finally, we urged Lang privately to concentrate on learning what Bani-Sadr needs in managing the decision. With Bourguet and Villalon we have argued for trying to build a consensus that would include both Bani-Sadr and Beheshti. Given the rivalry between Ghotbzadeh with whom they are working, and Bani-Sadr, this may also bother them.


Bourguet plans to leave Tehran this weekend and may want to come to Washington—to see Ham Jordan and me—next week. The circumstances described above and the prospect of a Bourguet visit lead to one recommendation and one question:

I recommend that you approve the attached message to Lang explaining the situation and seeking his assessment.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 2. Secret; Nodis. In the upper right corner of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote: “Revised telegram as sent to Swiss.” In the original draft of the telegram to Lang, attached to an undated briefing memorandum to Muskie, Christopher, and Newsom entitled “Iran Update: May 31, 1980”, Saunders said he needed to know if Jordan was expected to be included in any further talks with Bourguet. This query was omitted from the final version, also attached. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 33, Iran Update 5/80)
  2. See footnote 7, Document 287.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 90. Although no official record of Carter’s meeting with the families at the Department of State was found, some relatives spoke with reporters after the meeting and related Carter’s remarks. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Carter Says He Plans a Trade Ban Against Iran if Hostages Are Tried,” New York Times, December 8, 1979, p. 1)
  4. Christopher neither approved nor disapproved the recommendation, but the prepared message to Lang is attached to the undated briefing memorandum from Saunders to Muskie, Christopher, and Newsom (see footnote 1, above), indicating that it was sent.