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


  • NSC Agenda, December 4, 1979

Subject to your approval, I would propose to introduce the following agenda at the meeting:

1. Collective economic sanctions;

2. Additional political measures;

3. Escalating military/economic pressure;

4. Longer term political strategy;

5. Public posture;

6. Middle Eastern security.

This is a rather full agenda, and yet all the items need to be covered—and only decisions by you are likely to generate the needed action. I will try below to summarize as concisely as possible the basic options so that the discussion can move expeditiously. (In the morning, I will try to guide the SCC through a preliminary run on the above topics.) However, before doing so, let me register one central and strategic issue with you: Is time working to our advantage or disadvantage?

I am concerned over two trends: (a) the transformation of the conflict from Iran vs. the international community into America vs. Islam; (b) the erosion of support for us among friends and non-friends.

Recent attacks on our embassies, as well as various Middle East press comments (encouraged probably by very subtle Soviet insinuations), point in the direction of transforming the conflict into a wider assault on “corrupt and impotent” America. This is a dangerous trend. It could make our friends in the region run for cover and our allies increasingly to cut their own deals.

Perhaps I am wrong, but the issue is worth examining because whatever answer you give should drive our strategy. (Right now it is being driven by a diplomatic timetable.) My concern since a year ago [Page 201] has been that a regional crisis is likely to develop as a result of the Shah’s fall. It could even become a global crisis. At our meeting yesterday2 the Vice President said that the emerging confrontation between Islam and the United States, accompanied by European backsliding, could transform overall international and economic relations in a drastic fashion—and I fear he is right. Accordingly, we need to look beyond the hostage issue in shaping our broad strategy.

Specific Issues:

1. Economic Sanctions


(a) To ask our allies to adopt financial sanctions of their own. This would require a very major effort, including perhaps convening an emergency Summit meeting of the Seven. Solomon feels that something like this may be necessary because, otherwise, our allies will cut their own deals while the dollar will continue to decline.

(b) To ask our allies—notably Great Britain—to intervene with their courts for a delay in judgment on the grounds that the financial steps taken by us involve a sovereign matter between governments. This will work best with the UK, and the SCC, in general, leans toward this option.

(c) To invoke Chapter 7 of the UN. This could follow a Security Council vote, though support is not certain.

(d) You should also consider sending a top level emissary to consult with our allies.

2. Additional Political Measures

Cy envisages proceeding with the Security Council toward a resolution, and in the World Court toward a judgment. You might ask him what additional steps he envisages beyond these two. You have previously urged an expulsion of Iranian diplomats from this country.3 Is the time right to take that action?

In addition, you should explicitly review the possibility of a dramatic personal appearance by yourself before the General Assembly. A powerful speech, with the tone and substance much like your last Press Conference,4 could have a dramatic impact. It would also lay the ground for more decisive action.

[Page 202]

More generally, is it possible to adopt the more extreme collective economic sanctions (option 1(a)) without threatening more in the political/military realm? Are our allies likely to support us in what is to them a drastic economic measure if our political steps seem essentially litigational? There is general agreement that only fear of some unpleasant consequences is likely to get our allies to help us with the more drastic economic steps.

3. Specific Military Preparation

Should AWACS proceed to Egypt? Should the rescue option be reactivated and even some preliminary deployment undertaken? Both steps could be useful signals of our seriousness. Finally, should F–111’s be sent to Egypt?

4. Escalating Military/Economic Pressure

If your conclusion is that time is not working in our favor, we could couple a request for collective financial sanctions by our allies with the threat—which we should only make if we are serious about it—to proceed with a direct blockade of our own. Alternatively, we could begin to apply such a blockade ourselves (by mining), and simply ask for allied support for that step, rather than insist on an allied initiative in the economic area.

It is self-evident that any such step by the U.S. will raise the risks to the hostages. It will have to be accompanied by a credible threat to escalate military sanctions and by a prior decision to implement such escalatory steps if the Iranian response to mining is physical harm to any hostage.

I would urge you to consider such action only if you were prepared to reach the following two judgments:

(a) That time is not working in our favor, and that

(b) Khomeini needs to be brought down expeditiously.

This leads me immediately into discussion of the next point.

5. Longer Term Political Strategy

At least a portion of the government has operated for almost a year on the assumption that the U.S. could work with Khomeini. I believe that recent events have demonstrated that this was, throughout, a dangerous fallacy. We have to recognize that Khomeini is a dedicated enemy of the United States, for he sees the U.S. as a greater danger than even Marxism. To him, America is the embodiment of an anti-religious and corrupt West, which is all the more dangerous because its influence has been so pervasively felt in the changing Iranian lifestyles. He is determined to eradicate that influence at all costs and he hopes to do so by creating a far-reaching rift between the U.S. and Islam.

[Page 203]

We will present specific options to you at the meeting after review by the SCC. [7 lines not declassified] We need to shape a coalition to defeat Khomeini; and we should orchestrate a propaganda campaign to help achieve that end.

To reinforce this strategy, we would have to maintain as many economic pressures on Iran as we can generate, both directly and indirectly. Once the existing fervor dies down, economic dislocations will make more modernistically minded Iranians think about the lunacy into which Khomeini has plunged them.

I have tried to raise the subject repeatedly in SCC meetings, but almost everyone shies away from reaching any firm conclusion on the subject. [4½ lines not declassified]

[1 paragraph (3 lines) not declassified]

6. Public Posture

The conflict is not with Islam. I have raised this matter at SCC meetings on more than one occasion, and I explicitly spoke to it at the Jewish Labor Committee convention. More important, and with far greater effect, you commented on it very eloquently in your last Press Conference, but the point needs to be made over and over again. It might be useful for you to reiterate that point and instruct all U.S. spokesmen to keep repeating it at every opportunity.

7. Middle Eastern Security

[Omitted here is information on Saudi Arabia, Oman, Somalia, and Egypt.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 57, NSC 023 Iran 12/4/79. Top Secret; Sensitive. Carter initialed “C” in the upper right corner of the memorandum. Saunders prepared a discussion strategy for Vance to use at the NSC meeting based on Brzezinski’s suggestions. (December 3; Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Briefing Book: The Shah December 1979, Vol. IV)
  2. No record of a December 2 meeting has been found.
  3. See footnote 10, Document 77.
  4. See footnote 9, Document 67.