293. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Political Action Options on Iran (S)

Some months ago, you approved several intelligence findings authorizing a significant covert action program toward Iran. During the February and March negotiations with Bani-Sadr, this program was conducted in a very low key to avoid disrupting the talks, although useful contacts were developed with a number of [less than 1 line not declassified] individuals which may prove valuable in the future. After the breakdown of the negotiations, all of our assets were devoted almost exclusively to the rescue operation. (S)

Over the past month, we have again examined our options, with the objective of becoming more active in political action. The draft memorandum at Tab A represents the consensus of State, CIA, Defense, the JCS and myself about the present situation and the options available to us. Basically, it outlines a strategy for the long haul, in which we would build an infrastructure of contacts [less than 1 line not declassified] in order to maximize our ability to influence the course of events. (S)

This strategy represents a more realistic reflection of current political realities and our actual capabilities. We are also aware of the danger that a premature direct confrontation with Khomeini, so long as he remains the symbol of the revolution, could give the Soviets and the radical left an opportunity to intervene. (S)

Unless you disagree with this general approach, we would propose using the paper at Tab B as guidance for the Agency in their discussions and contacts [less than 1 line not declassified].2 It has been reviewed and approved by all of the appropriate agencies. (S)

[2 lines not declassified] We believe the program outlined in the attached papers will provide the basis for a mutually consistent and effective political action effort.3 (S)

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Tab A

Memorandum for President Carter4


  • Political Action Options in Iran [portion marking not declassified]

1. Political Situation. Despite the confusion in Teheran and the occasional outbursts of minority unrest in the provinces, Khomeini’s hold on power is relatively secure at this point. There is no opposition leader ready to challenge him directly, and he remains capable of mobilizing mass support to confront his opponents. [portion marking not declassified]

2. If Khomeini were to die in the near term (next 3–6 months), however, there are few functioning institutions capable of holding the Islamic Republic together. An intense power struggle among his lieutenants would be virtually inevitable. There is no mechanism for this succession. [portion marking not declassified]

3. Over the longer term (beyond six months), there is some possibility that the Islamic Republic will be institutionalized and its leaders will be able to consolidate their positions. If the Islamic right can impose some order, the left may avoid a direct challenge. If the right falters, however, the left will probably move quickly to exploit the situation. The Iranian left is too weak at this point to seize power, but it is aggressively trying to prepare for a showdown with the clergy sometime in the future. Leftist leaders hope that the country will become disillusioned with the failures and excesses of the mullahs and look for an alternative. As chaos continues, the stronger the left is likely to become. [portion marking not declassified]

4. Political Action Options. It is presumed that the political action options we are seeking are to help prevent the left from filling a vacuum created by the failure of the Islamic Republic experiment. At this time, at least, it is not planned to use political action deliberately to undermine or attempt to overthrow the Khomeini regime. In attempting to build a political base from which to be able to influence the course of events in Iran, we have several options:

a. the so-called external option of dealing with expatriated Iranians living in Europe and the United States;

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b. the ethnic option of dealing with some or all of the Azerbayjanis, Kurds, Qashqai, Turkomen, Arabs, and Baluchis inside Iran;

c. the internal option of dealing with political figures inside Iran, both within and without the government.

While each option can be described independently, we must recognize that our activities in one area clearly affect those in another, and success in one area will likely breed success in others. In short, the options are interlocking and overlapping. [portion marking not declassified]

5. The Internal Option. Since political institutions, aside from the religious, have been destroyed or badly ripped asunder in the course of the past 20 months, there seems to be little cohesion to the anti-Khomeini political movement in motion, and indeed no such movement may be capable of surviving as long as Khomeini lives. [portion marking not declassified]

[14 paragraphs (88 lines) not declassified]

Tab B

Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff5


1. The Khomeini experiment in theocratic rule is likely to fail, not because of its “Islamic” nature but because the Iranian clergy will be unable to deal with the economic, political, social and strategic problems of Iran. Their shortcomings are becoming increasingly apparent, and dissatisfaction within the country is growing.

2. However, a large proportion of the Iranian population has been radicalized by the revolution, and Khomeini continues to stand as the ultimate symbol of the revolution. A premature direct attack on the revolution or against Khomeini personally will probably fail.

3. The greatest threat to the long-term independence and territorial integrity of Iran is not mullah rule, which is becoming increasingly discredited, but the emergence of a radical left regime and Soviet political or military domination under the guise of protecting the revolution.

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4. We are prepared to support Iranian political elements toward the achievement of the following objectives:

—To develop a coalition of moderate, nationalist elements inside and outside Iran which can provide a credible alternative to mullah rule, including religious elements who oppose Khomeini’s theocratic aspirations.

—To organize active resistance to Soviet penetration of Iran at all levels of Iranian society; and

—To counter the growth of communist and radical leftist forces in Iranian politics.

5. The most important contribution which can be made by those Iranians now living outside the country, who are deeply concerned about the future of Iran, is to use their influence, talents and contacts to build a coalition of forces within the country which offers the people of Iran a viable alternative between the two extremes of clerical dictatorship and pro-Soviet Marxism.

6. The eventual political and economic structure of Iran is something for Iranians to work out for themselves. We have no desire to impose specific solutions. However, we share an interest with the people of Iran that their nation be free, independent, united, and not under the domination of foreign powers or ideologies. We are prepared to assist patriotic Iranians to work toward that goal.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 16. Secret; Sensitive; Outside the System. Sent for action. In the upper right corner, Carter wrote: “Zbig, J.”
  2. Carter wrote “ok” in the left margin.
  3. In an undated memorandum to Turner, Brzezinski wrote that Carter had approved Tabs A and B as recommended at a June 5 SCC(I) meeting. (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 16)
  4. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]
  5. Secret; Sensitive.