77. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Iran


  • The Vice President
  • State

    • Secretary Cyrus Vance
    • Warren Christopher
    • Harold Saunders
    • Richard Cooper**
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • W. Graham Claytor
  • JCS

    • General David Jones
    • General John Pustay
  • CIA

    • Admiral Stansfield Turner
    • Frank Carlucci
  • Energy

    • John Sawhill**
  • Treasury

    • Secretary William Miller**
    • Richard Solomon**
    • Robert Mundheim**
  • Justice

    • John Harmon**
  • White House

    • Hamilton Jordan
    • Stuart Eizenstat**
    • Lloyd Cutler**
    • Jody Powell**
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • Colonel William Odom
    • Gary Sick

**Present for discussion of domestic issues only


[Page 193]

Domestic Issues:

1. Economic Sanctions. Secretary Miller reviewed the three options:2 (1) persuade our allies to take more stringent economic actions of their own; (2) persuade the British to intervene with their courts to stay a judgment; or (3) move to unfreeze the Iranian assets held abroad as gracefully as possible.

He felt that a letter to the heads of state would not be sufficient. It would be better to call them to Washington and invoke our defense alliance as persuasive leverage. Similarly, a public appeal to these states would be likely to backfire since there is little public support for stronger action. All of these countries foresee damage to their own interests if they act against Iran. Specifically, they are concerned about an oil cutoff (Japan gets 13% of its oil from Iran), disruption of their own investments in Iran (which are sizable for Germany especially), and instability of the banking system (a tender issue for the British). Our contacts to date reveal that they are opposed to any action. All agreed that an attempt, and failure, to get option 1 would be worse than not trying at all. The SCC recognized that the dollar was under severe pressure and that the failure of our allies to support us could unravel the situation not only to the detriment of the situation in Iran but also the strength of the dollar generally. It was agreed that Treasury would take another hard look at option 1 in a smaller group, including the possibility of the Export-Import Bank declaring Iran in default.3 (S)

Option 2 appeared feasible. Mr. Christopher suggested that option 2 should make clear that we intend to fight hard and with imagination to win the cases in British courts, even if the British refuse to intervene. Mr. Cutler strongly agreed and noted that British statements in the Security Council could be cited as evidence that blocking of assets was consistent with British public policy. The cases might be won if a stiff fight were put up. Even if they are lost, we can tie up the process for several months with appeals, which will keep the Iranian economic process in some turmoil, and that is to our advantage. We can strengthen our case by U.S. Government intervention in London. Mr. Aaron observed that we have the means to bring some real pressure on the British. All agreed that we should proceed immediately with option 2, as modified by Mr. Christopher.4 (S)

[Page 194]

Option 3 was not recommended at this time, since it would tend to signal a retreat and could remove pressure on Iran.5 (C)

2. The Shah. Secretary Vance briefed on the contacts presently under way with two countries to provide refuge for the Shah. It will be several more days before the Shah is physically up to a long trip, and Mr. Cutler felt that there was no better than a 50–50 chance that we would be able to find him a residence abroad within the next week or two. All agreed that we should avoid getting ourselves into a public posture of forcing the Shah to leave or an undignified scramble to find him a place to live. Nevertheless, the SCC believed that on balance the Shah’s departure would be more helpful than harmful to our chances of getting the hostages released.6 (S)

Political-Military Issues:

1. Kennedy Speech. All agreed that Kennedy’s comments attacking the Shah were factually exaggerated and very unhelpful.7 The President and the White House should not respond, but there were others who could make that point effectively. (C)

2. Referendum. The rather poor vote turnout thus far suggests growing opposition to Khomeini, particularly in the minority areas. We will have a better reading tomorrow.8 (C)

3. AWACS. Material is being moved into Cairo West and transferred to the isolated base in eastern Egypt. Secretary Vance continues to oppose deployment of the AWACS to Egypt.9

4. Libya. The SCC agreed that we should suspend relations with Libya. The American diplomatic staff would be reduced from 12 to 5, no consular duties would be performed, and our diplomats would work out of an Interests Section in another country’s embassy. Depending [Page 195] on the Libyan response, explanation and willingness to compensate, this can be reviewed later.10 (C)

5. Next Steps. The SCC tomorrow will consider a scenario for the diplomatic efforts over the next two or three weeks. It will also examine the longer range objectives and strategy of our relations with Iran. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 98, Meetings File, 12/1/79 SCC re Iran. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Carter wrote “Zbig, J,” in the upper right corner.
  2. See Document 74.
  3. Carter neither approved nor disapproved the item. In the right margin, he wrote: “This is too weak—I’m more concerned about not trying than of possible failure. We’re losing support now.”
  4. Carter approved the item with a checkmark and wrote in the right margin: “Prepare strongest possible move.”
  5. Carter underlined “not recommended” and approved the item with a checkmark.
  6. After this paragraph, Carter wrote in the right margin: “Check specifically: Ambassador→Head of State, with a broader range of countries. This should already have been done!”
  7. In a December 2 television interview with KRON-TV in San Francisco, Kennedy stated that the Shah “ran one of the most violent regimes in the history of mankind” and that he had stolen billions of dollars from Iran. (Television News Archives, December 3, 1979; Time Magazine, December 17, 1979) Kennedy also called for the Shah to leave the United States.
  8. In the left margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote: “This was not adequately mentioned in U.S. press. Again, Jody, State, etc. continue to do so.”
  9. In the left margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote: “Expedite.”
  10. Carter checked the disapprove option and wrote in the margin: “Call Libyan Chargé in—give Khadafi 24 hours to reply satisfactorily to a Presidential demand. Then suspend (not break) relations.” On December 2, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was attacked in what Vance called a “government-inspired demonstration.” At the bottom of a December 3 memorandum to Carter from Vance, Carter wrote: “Cy—a) prepare to declare Iranian diplomats PNG. They can have either a bank or very small financial staff handle student money. b) prepare to inform European allies this week that after UNSC vote we will call for them to embargo trade with Iran and then (or simultaneously) seek sanctions thru UN. We will inform them in advance of any military action (or if you prefer I can send a separate emissary). J.” (Carter Library, Plains File, Box 14)