294. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • SCC Meeting on Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf


  • State

    • Secretary Cyrus Vance
    • Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • Ambassador Robert Komer
  • JCS

    • Chairman General David Jones
    • Lt. General John Pustay
  • CIA

    • Deputy Director Frank Carlucci
    • Robert Ames
    • [name not declassified]


    • Deputy Director John White
  • White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Hamilton Jordan
    • Jody Powell
    • Hedley Donovan
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • Colonel William E. Odom
    • Captain Gary Sick
    • Thomas Thornton
    • Fritz Ermarth

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Yemen.]


Dr. Brzezinski reported that [less than 1 line not declassified] now may be the time for a fundamental political change in South Yemen. [3½ lines not declassified] Dr. Brzezinski then emphasized that this would require a major political decision with very large political risks.

[Page 891]

Secretary Vance characterized this proposal as an “action of the greatest moment.” He argued that we must know much more about the “strength and cast of characters” in both YAR and PDRY, and particularly in the National Democratic Front. He proposed that [name not declassified] go to the region and report back with an analysis based on the best and fullest information available. Dr. Brzezinski suggested that such a trip might include [less than 1 line not declassified] and that its task should be (a) to assess the resources available, (b) to determine what it would take to alter the situation in Yemen.

When Secretary Brown mentioned that it might be an appropriate contingency response for a Soviet move into Iran, Dr. Brzezinski countered that there is also a danger that such an action might galvanize Islamic countries against the United States, a danger which must be taken into account before making a decision. Dr. Brzezinski agreed with Secretary Vance’s emphasis on the gravity of the decision and added that it is an extremely difficult one for a democratic government to take. Saudi Arabia is so vital to our interest, however, that we may be forced into it.

Further discussion about what we know of the National Democratic Front, Salih and other political forces, led [name not declassified] to underscore a problem if he is to undertake a fact-finding mission. [1½ lines not declassified] Yet it would be useless to sit down with [less than 1 line not declassified] and ask them for options without making any U.S. commitments. We have done this so frequently in the past that [less than 1 line not declassified] now demand that we put our chips on the table. They do not want to be asked to pose options. They will insist that the United States tell them the options. Dr. Brzezinski observed that if [less than 1 line not declassified] needed a “Presidential finding,” that could probably be secured.

In response to Secretary Vance’s further question about what we actually know, [1½ lines not declassified] that if [name not declassified] talks to them he will be asked for (a) some covert actions such as an opening of the National Front Office outside of North Yemen, (b) military aid [less than 1 line not declassified] (c) possible security guarantees for North Yemen.

Dr. Brzezinski asked that David Aaron, Robert Komer, and Hal Saunders develop the terms of reference for [name not declassified] trip and report them to the SCC for review.

The discussion turned to timing. Dr. Brzezinski repeated the dangers of a fiasco like the Suez in 1956 but pointed out again the enormous stake for the U.S. in the region. If the situation in North Yemen deteriorates rapidly now, the [name not declassified] mission and plan could not be executed rapidly enough to save the day. [name not declassified] argued that for the short-term danger, [less than 1 line not declassified]. [Page 892] Secretary Vance mentioned that [less than 1 line not declassified] in the near future. Others thought that [less than 1 line not declassified] at once to avoid delay. He should engage in a general discussion [less than 1 line not declassified] about contingencies but make no commitments.

Agreed actions:

—[1½ lines not declassified]

—[less than 1 line not declassified]

—The David Aaron group will work out the terms of reference for [less than 1 line not declassified] trip.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Yemen.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 107, SCC 254, 1/17/80, Southwest Asia, Persian Gulf & Yemen. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. The minutes are not attached and were not found. Carter wrote at the top of the first page: “Zbig—These are very serious matters. The discussions are necessary but any proposal for contentious action must be submitted to me first J.” Odom sent Brzezinski the Summary of Conclusions under a January 18 memorandum. A handwritten notation indicates it was sent to Carter at Camp David on January 18. At the January 14 SCC meeting (see Document 40), Brzezinski expressed his belief that the United States should “consider a joint action to bring about a fundamental political change in South Yemen.” A working group chaired by the NSC was then directed to “prepare a paper on the Yemen problem.” (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Historical Materials, Geographic File, Box 15, Southwest Asia/Persian Gulf-[1/80]) The NSC-chaired working group submitted its policy options to Aaron and Brzezinski on January 16. This paper is in the Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 37, [Serial] XX—Sensitive: [1/80–3/80]. For another extract of this Summary of Conclusions, see Document 42.