291. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Iran


  • State

    • Edmund Muskie**
    • David Newsom*
    • Harold Saunders
    • Roberts Owen*
    • Robert Fritts*
  • Treasury

    • Robert Carswell*
  • OSD

    • W. Graham Claytor
    • Frank Kramer*
  • Justice

    • John Harmon*
  • JCS

    • John Pustay
  • DCI

    • Frank Carlucci
  • ICA

    • Charles Bray*
    • Robert T. Curran*
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Lloyd Cutler
    • Hedley Donovan
    • Jody Powell
  • NSC

    • Gary Sick

* Not present for final item.

** Present only for last two items.


1. Travel to Iran. The Department of State proposed guidance for approval of certain categories of travel to Iran. It was agreed that this issue needed additional work before presenting it to the President. A working group of State, Justice, Treasury and Lloyd Cutler’s office will examine the issue.2 (U)

2. Iranian Students.3 The Department of State summarized the present situation. As of December, 1979, there were approximately 66,000+ Iranian students in the U.S. of which 56,000+ were registered. The 10,000+ who were not registered are in violation of the law; they are being pursued and will be deported. Of those registered, 6,700 were found to be out-of-status and deportation proceedings have been initiated. Approximately 300 have departed to date. Approximately 42,000 students are in status and in good standing, with visas entitling them to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their studies. They are not a problem. However, there are about 7,000 Iranian students who were granted visas with a specific departure date simply because that was the type of visa being granted at the time. These students now face deportation as their visas expire, terminating their course of study in the middle of a degree program or even in the midst of exams. These students are no different politically or otherwise than the 42,000 who can remain, but they are caught in a technicality. We have been receiving numerous calls from university presidents around the country [Page 796] asking that these students be granted the right to complete their courses of study. They stress that these students are in many cases non-political or friendly to the U.S., and they represent a new generation of Iranian leadership. It is not in our interest to alienate these individuals simply because of a technicality. (U)

Justice/INS pointed out that these students could have applied for alteration of their status prior to the President’s announcement. Normally, the specific time provision was assigned because of projected periods of study. INS would prefer simply to enforce the President’s initial decision and grant no extensions. Jody Powell observed that this goes to the nature of the policy decision itself: are our interests served by having more Iranians in this country? Do we want them to get out or not? (C)

Dr. Brzezinski said he was inclined to be lenient in this case, which he thought would serve the national interest. Mr. Cutler agreed that these students should receive equal treatment. It was not necessary to grant extensions on a near-permanent basis. Rather, he would favor an option which would grant extensions for such students to complete only their current course of study or degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD. etc.), at which point they would be required to leave. Those individuals who have already been accepted to graduate schools, law schools, medical schools and the like would be permitted to continue with those studies.4 Those students in this country on scholarships or international exchange (“J” visas) would be accorded the same treatment. Dr. Brzezinski, State, Justice/INS, Treasury, and Defense all agreed that such an approach would be equitable, and the SCC unanimously recommended it to the President. INS agreed that it could administer such a program. (C)


Insist that the 7,000 students depart as their present visas expire.

3. ICJ Decision. Secretary-General Waldheim has not circulated the ICJ decision as a Security Council document as yet, since he is waiting for the official text of the decision to be forwarded to him by the Court. Reportedly, the ICJ has sent the text, but it has not been received.6 We will press this to insure that the ICJ decision is circulated in the immediate future. That is the first necessary step. The second step is consultations with the new President of the SC and other SC members. Don [Page 797] McHenry has begun that process in New York and will continue. The third step is to propose a resolution. All agreed that State should prepare a resolution comprising those elements of the ICJ decision which were agreed unanimously by the Court.7 Since the timing of such a resolution should be sensitive to events in Tehran and elsewhere, the resolution would not be submitted to the SC until it had been further reviewed by the SCC and the President. All agreed that this matter would be reviewed by the SCC next Tuesday, with the idea of submitting a resolution next week. (C)



4. Tehran Conference. Developments concerning the Ramsey Clark delegation and the Iranian release of a purported message from General Huyser to General Haig were briefly reviewed.9 (JCS says the text of the message is probably accurate. It is unclear how the Iranians could have obtained a copy, although it is possible Huyser was working through the Iranian generals at some point.) All agreed that we should hold to our present posture of no comment on the Huyser message. The Attorney General supports prosecution of the Americans in the delegation on civil charges, rather than criminal charges, which would [Page 798] involve a fine rather than jail terms. The Justice Representative noted that “It is difficult to be a martyr over money.”10 (S)

5. Congressional Letter. Dr. Brzezinski read to the group a letter which is circulating on the Hill11 as a possible message from Members of Congress to the new Iranian Majlis. It was recognized that the Congress could do whatever it wished on this issue, but all agreed that the Congressional Liaison staffs should coordinate with the Congressional leadership to insure that any letter would be consistent with U.S. policy and coordinated with our own efforts. (C)

(At that point the meeting was reduced to principals and key participants.)

6. Possible Trials of Hostages. Dr. Brzezinski recalled that in an NSC meeting at Camp David last November,12 the President had authorized sending a warning or ultimatum to Iran about possible trials of the hostages. That message stated that any public trial of U.S. persons would result in interruption of Iranian commerce; any harm to any of the American hostages would result in direct retaliatory actions by the U.S.13 Subsequently, on December 7, the President had indicated as much publicly, and had used the phrase “interruption of commerce.” The private message had been drafted by Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Vance and was transmitted to Bani-Sadr via the Swiss. That was in the final days of Bani-Sadr’s term as Foreign Minister, and we have no confirmation of what was done with the message or who in Iran may have learned of it. This past Sunday, the President had again referred to U.S. action in the event of trials.14 (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said it was necessary to distinguish between a show trial which would publicly humiliate our people and a “farce” in which the Iranians claim a secret trial had been held and then expel our people. He thought we could live with the latter. Secretary Muskie said we could not know in advance what might be done. What we need is a way to justify our public posture so as not to strengthen the hand of the hardliners and militants. Many are coming to believe that [Page 799] a trial of some form may be the only way for the Iranian authorities to get out of their own dilemma. Essentially this is a political question. He recommended that any warning be delivered as quietly as possible, recognizing that it is difficult to sustain a private position in an election year when opponents might wish to use events against you. He had raised the general problem with Senator Byrd and the Democratic leadership this morning, and they had advised playing it as low key as possible. (S)

Mr. Cutler observed that the ICJ decision prohibits trials or calling the hostages as witnesses. It also bars the U.S. from taking any unilateral action. We might wish to take a position, in light of the ICJ ruling, that we would pursue the matter through the Security Council, at least in the first instance. Jody Powell noted that the political situation here was affected not only by the outcome of trials but also the process. Some processes available to Iran, e.g. a trial of “U.S. crimes” in which hostages are cited but not called, could be consistent with the ICJ decision and we could probably stomach them politically. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said we need to differentiate between deterring certain actions by the Iranians and reacting to events. In the first instance, we may wish to signal to the Iranians certain types of procedures which we would protest but would be able to accept as a way out. But we should also make clear our intention to react to public humiliation of the hostages. (S)

Secretary Muskie said he was inclined to emphasize the ICJ ruling and resort to the SC. The President’s Sunday statement was probably sufficient to recall the seriousness of our warning. The hardliners now appear to be in control; if we start with provocations or threats, we may only feed the hardliners, while focusing on the ICJ will leave them in some uncertainty about the November 23 message and force them to respond to the ICJ ruling rather than direct threats. We would be giving the hardliners less to attack, but our position would still be there. The choice of intermediary would be extremely important in delivering such a delicate message. The Syrian, Daoudy, on the UN Commission is one choice. Another is the Swiss. Mr. Saunders noted that the most delicate part is to give them enough room to grope their way out without starting a process we do not want to happen. The European ambassadors may be useful in putting some kind of protection around the hostages. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski agreed it was a terribly dangerous business, with Iran still in a semi-revolutionary state and the possibility of a trial process getting completely out of hand. He suggested that State draft a message—or series of messages as appropriate—which would be [Page 800] available to the President on Thursday afternoon15 and which could be raised at the breakfast on Friday. This was an issue which required careful and direct Presidential attention. All agreed that the object of the message(s) would be to make a quiet point, not to stress the November 23 threat, to draw attention to the ICJ decision as an approach, and to suggest subtly that there are some possibilities we could live with. Secretary Muskie agreed, noting that we do not wish to reverse the November 23 position but simply to leave it in the background. He also noted that he needed to have a public position he could take in his appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. We should also brief Congress on our position, since they are going to have to take a lot of political heat on the issue. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Box 10. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Carter wrote “Zbig, C” in the upper right corner.
  2. Subsequent to the meeting, the Department of State prepared a “Scorecard of U.S. Passports to Iran,” June 4, and, in consultation with the Department of Justice and Cutler, also prepared an action memorandum on travel to Iran, June 9. (Carter Library, Records of the White House Office of Counsel to the President, Lloyd Cutler’s Files, Box 13) On June 11, Muskie sent Cutler a proposed memorandum to the President, which suggested that the Department approve travel requests on a case-by-case basis and that the Treasury make voluntary its requirement for notification of travel by journalists. (Ibid.)
  3. The discussion was based on a June 2 memorandum from Saunders, Owen, and Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Barbara Watson to Newsom, and its attached paper, “Inter-Agency Assessment: Iranian Students in the United States.” (Ibid.)
  4. In the left margin, Carter wrote: “But be very strict in identifying such students. J.”
  5. Carter checked this option and initialed in the right margin.
  6. The United States sent the text of the ICJ judgment (see footnote 2, Document 286) to the United Nations in a June 9 letter. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1980, p. 311)
  7. McHenry circulated a resolution, a copy of which is attached to a June 16 memorandum from Sick to Brzezinski. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 65, Outside the System File, Iran Non-Meetings Hostage Crisis 4/80–11/80)
  8. Carter checked this option and initialed in the right margin.
  9. A delegation of 10 U.S. citizens attended an international conference in Iran, “Crimes of America,” June 2–5. They attended in violation of the U.S. Government’s ban on travel to Iran, facing 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The members of the delegation were Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General; George Wald, 1967 Nobel Prize winner; Mary Anderson, American Friends Service Committee; Kay Camp, President, Womens International League for Peace and Freedom; Rev. John Walsh, chaplain, Princeton University; Rev. Charles Kimball, student, Harvard Divinity School; Rev. Paul Washington, Episcopal minister; Leonard Weinglass, lawyer; Lennox Hinds, professor, Rutgers University; and John Derrase, journalist. (“U.S. group ignore ban, go to Iran,” Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1980, p. 2) Lang summarized the conference proceedings in a June 6 message to the Department of State, attached to the June 7 Iran Update. Lang also submitted the conference’s “Presentation of Work” in a June 6 cable to the Department of State, attached to the June 10 Iran Update. (Both in Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 33, Iran Update 6/80) According to the Washington Post, the purported telegram from Huyser to Haig, January 22, 1979, released by the Iranian Defense Ministry, was interpreted by the Iranian Government as proof that Huyser had been sent to Iran to mobilize a military coup. (Stuart Auerbach, “Iran Says U.S. General Plotted Coup,” Washington Post, June 3, 1980, p. A1) The telegram in question is recapitulated in telegram 33229, January 22, 1979, from Huyser to Brown and Jones, which is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, vol. X, 1977–1980, Iran: Revolution, January 1977–November 1979.
  10. Carter wrote “I agree” in the right margin after this sentence.
  11. Printed as Document 309.
  12. See Document 51.
  13. See Document 52.
  14. On Sunday June 1, Carter appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” In response to a reporter’s question as to whether Carter would tolerate the hostages being put on trial, Carter said: “The third week in November [1979]—I think it was the 20th—we issued a statement that still prevails, in effect, prescribing what actions our nation would reserve as options if the hostages are tried or abused in any way. Those actions would be very severe against Iran. We have not closed any option for our nation to exercise. But for me to spell it in detail what we would do, I think, would be inappropriate.” (Department of State Bulletin, July 1980, pp. 1–2) For the November 20 statement, see Document 41.
  15. June 5.