78. Memorandum From Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Mid-Range and Longer-Range Strategy

A checklist and possible structure for your meeting on Tuesday.2

A mid-range negotiating strategy is not incompatible with a longer-range strategy aimed at replacement of Khomeini or other strategies which seek a fundamental change in the political situation. The key decision to be made is whether or not we will place all our eggs in the negotiating basket and let ourselves be carried along by events or whether we will consider negotiations as one arm of a more activist strategy aimed at transforming the situation.

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Next Several Weeks: Negotiations

—Security Council Resolution

—World Court meets December 10

—Syria, Arafat, papal envoy, and perhaps other mediation efforts now in train. Several personal missions (lawyers, doctors) going on.

—Secretary General may become more actively engaged in direct negotiations once the Security Council has acted.

—Chapter Seven economic sanctions could be sought as a follow-up to the Security Council action. This might be one way to bring our allies into the sanctions.

Ghotbzadeh has suggested a Carter statement.3 Although his ideas are not acceptable, we might drop some acceptable language on his themes into speeches, statements and the like which could then be put together into a “package” and presented to Ghotbzadeh. This is essentially what we did with the first PLO effort. (This is Hal Saunders’ idea as a next step on the negotiating track—please protect.)

—Shah may leave, thus changing the situation further.

—The espionage campaign is bound to increase, and the students may go to trials—over the objections of Ghotbzadeh and others. This will force us to ratchet up our overt opposition. If we react with limited military action, that will derail or divert the diplomatic track.

—I heard today that the constitutional referendum will be put before some kind of Islamic Council on December 10. That may turn out to be an important date, but we have little information thus far.

The objective of the negotiating strategy should be to build as much pressure as possible on Khomeini and his cohorts as we can. They perceive the economic steps we have taken as quite significant, and any shortages of goods, unemployment, credit breakdowns, and simple economic foulups will probably be attributed to our efforts. That is just [Page 197] what we want. If we can convince them that they are in a net with no way out, pressure will build rapidly to change the situation.

However, the negotiating strategy is unlikely to be successful in itself. They can potentially live with economic chaos for a prolonged period of time. Khomeini’s support is the “rabble” which has been disadvantaged historically and which can survive at a level which the intelligentsia would find intolerable. If he can keep them minimally fed and full of glorious dreams, they will stay with him. He is their man.

Change is not likely to be evolutionary. Pressures are building for a new explosion which will come from dissaffected elements: the army, a disillusioned faction around Khomeini, a loose tribal coalition, a new strongman . . . perhaps all of the above. It could also come from the left, which is gaining strength but still far short of the kind of support needed for a direct challenge. Our objective should be to encourage forces which we see as desirable alternatives to Khomeini and help them to be ready to step in when the explosion occurs.

We cannot directly change the course of events, but we can nudge them in the direction we want them to go. Our nudges are likely to be ineffective, however, unless we are acting in an agreed policy context with clear objectives and a degree of commitment which will lend consistency and purpose to our efforts. Otherwise, we are going to find ourselves in the same position as last year when different sides of the policy house were speaking with different voices and fighting their battles in the press. We are edging toward that situation.

An Activist Policy

I outlined my ideas on this yesterday4 and will not repeat them here beyond a schematic:

Policy Decision: We cannot work with Khomeini. A gradualist approach is futile in a revolutionary situation and only encourages the left.

Covert Action. Must be a major effort. We need to build (or rebuild) a cadre of imaginative, effective talent.

Coalition Building. Potential allies are everywhere. Our support, even if private and qualified, will speed them to do their own thing.

Military. Our presence in the region is vital and effective. We must know when and how we will be prepared to use it in order to [Page 198] respond promptly to events. Non-violent shows of force, limited military actions, and rescue operations give us options to up the ante or seize the initiative when conditions are ripe.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 35, Subject File, Iran [Cables & Memos] 11–12/79. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. December 4.
  3. Richard Cottam met with Bazargan and Ghotbzadeh on December 1. Ghotbzadeh suggested an eight-point statement for Carter, designed to give Ghotbzadeh “ammunition” for dealing with Khomeini. He would not, however, guarantee that the statement would lead to the release of the hostages. The eight points were: (1) U.S. recognition that the Shah’s entry into the United States had angered Iranians; (2) clarification that the United States had intended to admit the Shah for reasons of medical treatment; (3) reiteration of U.S. respect for Iranian sovereignty; (4) restatement that the United States would not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs with specific mention of the Mossadegh years; (5) reestablishment of cordial relations but with reduced U.S. Embassy staff in Tehran; (6) U.S. recognition of the Iranian right to recover property in accordance with U.S. legal procedures; (7) U.S. welcome of Iranian representatives to explain their position to the U.S. public; and (8) the absence of U.S. opposition to an international tribunal established to examine the Shah’s regime. (Memorandum from Sick to Brzezinski, December 2; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East File, Box 31, Subject File, Iran 12/1/79–12/7/79)
  4. In a December 2 memorandum to Brezezinski, Sick provided an assessment of the internal power situation within Iran. He argued that Iran faced a potential civil war that “offers almost no latitude for classic diplomacy” which was particularly “useless in trying to move Khomeini and the students.” He thought Khomeini’s position was also deteriorating. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 73, Presidential Advisory File, Middle East Box 6 11/79–2/80)
  5. In his December 2 memorandum, Sick argued that “a direct military strike against Iran will work against us.” He suggested a show of force such as sonic booms over Qom in the middle of the night, and escalating military actions starting with mining Bandar Abbas. He urged that the United States not give up on a rescue operation as it is “the most effective and most readily accepted military action we could take.” (Ibid.)