56. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Security Framework for the Persian Gulf


  • State

    • David Newsom, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
    • Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern & South Asian Affairs
    • Reginald Bartholomew, Director, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • Robert Komer, Under Secretary for Policy Affairs
  • JCS

    • Lt. General John Pustay, Assistant to the Chairman
  • CIA

    • Director Stansfield Turner
    • Robert Ames, NIO for Near Eastern & South Asian Affairs
  • OMB

    • John White , Deputy Director
    • Harry Shaw
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • William E. Odom
    • Thomas Thornton
    • Henry Owen

Dr. Brzezinski opened the meeting by adding two items to the agenda: first, a recent report from Somalia; and second, post-settlement actions in Iran.

[Omitted here is material on Somalia and Afghanistan.]

Political and Economic Presence in the Persian Gulf

Dr. Brzezinski pointed out that the State paper2 recommends no actions for decision. He then asked if we are in fact out of phase in [Page 196] the area in that our military presence has outgrown our political and economic presence. Or are we to conclude from the State paper that the two presences are still in phase, requiring no actions at present? There was brief mention of Saudi desires to buy more arms, of Secretary Dayan’s visit to the area next week,3 and of how the Brzezinski/Christopher dialogue with the Saudis can be kept alive. Saunders suggested that every week or so we can send the Ambassadors a list of things they can press their governments to do.

CIA finds the State paper overly optimistic about the internal stability of most regimes in the region. Henry Owen added that the main determinants of our political and economic presence remain, first, progress on the Arab/Israeli talks, and second, U.S. energy policy. It was suggested that the British and French take more action in the region, but it was also noted that their present activities are growing, e.g. Giscard’s upcoming visit to the UAE.

It was agreed that next week State will recommend some actions we might take, such as instructions to our Ambassadors.

Sustaining a Military Presence in the Persian Gulf

Harold Brown asked that we defer discussion of (1) British and French deployment into the region and (2) enroute basing access to next week.

a. Our Naval Presence in the Persian Gulf. Harold Brown opened this topic with a brief discussion of our initiatives in sustaining a naval presence after the hostage problem in Iran is resolved. We will need three components: (1) ground forces (e.g. the MAU), (2) some air power, and (3) some surface combatants. He suggested several mixes but added that a MAU and a carrier battle group is the most feasible one although it strains our resources. He prefers, if possible, to substitute ground-based air for half of each year. He assumes, for all approaches, that a MAU will remain permanently in the Persian Gulf. It could be needed to secure an air-head or beach-head in a crisis. Doubts were expressed that our right to facilities would allow six months for a F–15 squadron in Oman. Bartholomew reported that he had mentioned “a few weeks” for forces ranging from a battalion to a brigade in size.

Dr. Brzezinski asked Harold Brown about timing, when he would want to begin one of these approaches. Brown answered that after the hostages are out of Iran he would recommend withdrawing one carrier battle group. Dr. Brzezinski wondered if this reduction would be appro[Page 197]priate. We need to think this through and answer the question “Is this enough for the strategic problem we confront?”

It was agreed that the discussion today is merely a preview for the President, not a basis for decision. Defense will provide a report, probably by next week, which will provide a basis for decision.

OMB added that given the CPI release today and the additional $16 billion in the budget above previous estimates we will be under enormous pressure to trim back spending. He offered these remarks because Harold Brown underscored that no matter what approach we take to our military presence in the Gulf, it will cost more money. Brown argued that these factors will affect “timing” more than the “substance” of our naval presence in the Persian Gulf. If we back off those commitments now, we will lose our credibility. Moreover, the Congress will force us to spend the money anyway. We cannot expand our commitments without increasing our resources to meet them.

b. A MAU Exercise in Egypt. State expressed doubt that a military exercise in Egypt is appropriate in the near future. Although Egypt may be anxious to accept such an exercise, they should not. Dr. Brzezinski asked if this means that Egypt might make the wrong decision in State’s view. Newsom replied that indeed Sadat might not decide correctly. He went on to insist that the MAU and the four ships make port calls individually in the region, not as a group.

Dr. Brzezinski asked if this would not send the wrong signal. Have we not sent the MAU into the region in order to accustom the countries in the region henceforth to view a MAU exercise as a normal deployment? Brown noted that there has been remarkable little outcry in the region about the MAU. He expected much more. Furthermore, he said that a decision about an exercise can be postponed until mid-March.

In discussing sites for an exercise other than Egypt, Harold Brown suggested Kenya. Dr. Brzezinski and David Aaron responded that Kenya is on the wrong continent to transmit the signal intended by a MAU exercise. Oman was considered before, and we should keep it under consideration.

It was agreed to defer recommending a decision to the President and not to recommend a negative decision. We will continue considering Egypt, Oman, and Kenya. A recommendation will be made to the President no later than mid-March.

c. B–52s based on Diego Garcia. Brown interpreted the State paper on the possible Soviet reaction to B–52s on Diego Garcia as one of “screams” but no serious effort to prevent us from putting them there. Turner disagreed. He believes the B–52s will provoke a greater Soviet reaction than State believes. Bartholomew added that the Indian Ocean Arms Talks revealed the deep Soviet concerns about strategic aircraft in the region. Dr. Brzezinski suggested that a promise not to deploy [Page 198] B–52s might be used as part of an Afghanistan neutralization package. Turner objected, pointing out the undesirability of giving up our strategic presence on the weakest air defense approach to the Soviet Union. Dr. Brzezinski countered that Soviet aviation based in Afghanistan permits a large Soviet air presence over the Strait of Hormuz, making a swap with the B–52s on Diego Garcia possibly a desirable one for us.

It was agreed to make a recommendation about a decision next week.

[Omitted here is material on Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 109, SCC 277, 2/22/80, Security Framework for the Persian Gulf. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. The minutes are not attached and were not found. Carter wrote “Zbig J” in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Odom sent Brzezinski an agenda for the meeting along with several papers prepared in the Department of State and CIA under a February 21 memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Under a February 21 memorandum to Brzezinski, Seitz sent five papers prepared in the Department of State for the February 22 SCC meeting. The papers cover a number of topics, including the “impact of the Iranian Revolution,” the “economic situation,” the “impact of US security role,” and “balancing factors,” which included the Middle East peace negotiations and called for the continued building of U.S. “cultural and informational programs in the Gulf countries.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800170–0547)
  3. Dayan visited Saudi Arabia March 1–4 primarily to discuss energy issues and Saudi oil production. He reported on his trip in the March 21 SCC meeting; see Document 210.