79. Paper Prepared by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders)1


The small group chaired by David Aaron has considered essentially two strategies toward the evolution of the internal Iranian political leadership.

Before one gets to either one, there is a debate over (1) whether we decide now that we can not live with Khomeini and should set as our objective his downfall or (2) whether we should assume that we cannot have much effect on this symbol of the revolution and concentrate on bolstering constructive forces which might emerge when it becomes apparent that Khomeini himself is incapable of running a country and has to be eased aside from decisions on managing Iran’s affairs.

In our meetings, two different approaches have been laid out:

1. One is referred to as the “southern strategy.” This approach involves providing support for certain expatriates like Bakhtiar and Gen. Djam, who might work with ethnic minorities in Iran and eventually try to set up a rival Iranian Government in one of those minority areas. The objective would not be the disintegration of Iran, because its integrity remains the best defense against the USSR. The objective [Page 199] would ultimately be to rally so much opposition to Khomeini that new leadership could move into Tehran and take over. Clearly, this process would be difficult, if not impossible, to control, and the results might be quite different from our plans.

2. The other approach is to begin putting lines out to moderate leadership in Tehran and in the religious community with an eye to developing relationships which will put us in a favorable position when responsible elements decide to take more and more of the decision-making out of Khomeini’s hands.

We need not view these approaches in either/or terms. We could set in motion the second option, holding in reserve consideration of the first. Both options present us with the same problem we have faced all along: There are no groups with sufficient strength and popular appeal to pose a serious threat to Khomeini. Those that we can deal with are fragmented and fearful. Thus, we will have to move with great caution and not expect early results.

[1 paragraph (5 lines) not declassified]

If one were to bridge this longer-term program—if one is decided on—and the present situation, the point would be that efforts in the present situation to demonstrate that Khomeini’s government is not able to manage Iran’s economic problems as long as Iran remains isolated from the rest of the world and in confrontation with us.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 32, Iran Update 12/15/79–12/31/79. Secret. Attached to a December 3 memorandum from Saunders to Vance.