87. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Maynes) to Secretary of State Vance1

Iran: Future UN Strategy

With the adoption by the Security Council of its resolution,2 we have achieved four things:

—Both through the resolution and the accompanying statements by a cross-section of the international community we have established that Iran is totally isolated internationally.

Waldheim has a strong mandate; from his statement to the Council it is clear that he intends interpreting his mandate broadly and is open to innovative ideas. He is awaiting an initial response from Iran.

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—Some members of Iran’s leadership find it possible to interpret the resolution in a positive light.

—The Non-Aligned clearly are on record with Iran’s leadership that they cannot argue publicly in favor of Iran’s revolution as long as Iran continues to hold hostages.

Looking ahead over the next few weeks, I suggest that we work along a two-track strategy:

1. We should allow Waldheim, the Non-Aligned and other interlocutors to continue to apply pressure on Iran’s leadership. We should say nothing which would diminish the credibility of Waldheim’s diplomacy. In this regard, we should do everything we can to prevent press leaks about plans to “punish Iran.” Instead, our public visible effort should be directed at encouraging, reinforcing and cooperating with Waldheim’s diplomacy. It is only if we are seen to be pursuing honestly this track that we can have some hope of succeeding on the second track.

2. We would develop the second track leading to an effort at sanctions gradually. Thus, we would not jump immediately to Article 41 sanctions as some statements from the White House suggest. Rather we would first wait until the Iranians have rejected the current resolution (which we must hope they will not do). We would next move to have the Security Council formally declare a threat to the peace under Article 39.3 We would then await another Iranian response before proceeding to Article 41. In all of these steps we must recognize that only actual direct threats to the lives of the hostages are likely to induce the Council to consider seriously the grim prospect of sanctions against a country as important as Iran. For this reason, even when we invoke Article 41, I would argue against full sanctions. We should start with items which are serious for Iran but not dangerous for others. A cut off in air traffic is an example. In preparation for this we should quietly begin to plan on steps leading towards implementation of our policy, initially letting our friends know what we have in mind and seeking support in principle for invoking Chapter VII. While the fact that we are holding such discussions with other governments will become known, that in and [Page 232] of itself would probably stimulate others to work harder to assure the success of the track one approach. We could respond publicly to any rumors that we obviously are reviewing all contingencies in an effort to ensure the availability to us of all the remedies contained in the UN Charter.

In your discussions with our Allies during the trip, I recommend that you review with them this two-track approach, and seek the following in addition:

—Support for the two-track approach.

—Agreement in principle that Chapter VII and sanctions will have to be invoked if Iran does not release the hostages in a reasonable period of time or if it formally rejects the decision of the International Court of Justice.

—Agreement to join us (preferably in New York) to engage in contingency planning on sanctions and their application. We would be willing to provide a working paper.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, UN and Security Council. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Maynes and Helman. Concurred in by Saunders. A handwritten notation at the top of the memorandum reads: “DDN—Urgent.”
  2. On December 4, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 457. The resolution called upon Iran to release the hostages, called upon the United States and Iran to resolve peacefully all remaining issues, urged both to use “utmost restraint in the prevailing situation,” and requested the Secretary-General to “lend his good offices for the immediate implementation” of this resolution. (Department of State Bulletin, January 1980, p. 51) Waldheim informed the Security Council that he had talked with Ghotbzadeh and “sent a personal message” to Khomeini urging release of the hostages and offering to go to Iran. (Telegram 6335 from USUN, December 22; Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Iran NODIS Cables Dec 1979) Waldheim’s letter to Khomeini is in telegram 6298 from USUN, December 20. (Ibid.)
  3. Article 39 in Chapter VII of the UN Charter states that after determining the existence of a threat to international peace, the Security Council would ask member states to implement measures as noted in Articles 41 and 42, as appropriate. Under Article 41 such measures included “complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.” Article 42 states that should the Security Council find Article 41 to be inadequate, “it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces” of member states. (“Imposition of Chapter VII Sanctions on Iran: Substantive and Procedural Aspects,” undated; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 18, SCC Meeting #231 held 12/17/79.