44. Telegram From the Embassy in Bangladesh to the Department of State and the Mission to the United Nations1

8657. Subject: Security Council Action on Iran: Bangladesh Position. Ref: A) State 333641;2 B) USUN 06395.3

1. (C–Entire text)

2. Summary: Bangladesh has concluded that economic sanctions on the hostage issue even under our two stage approach would have unfavorable results and it hopes the US will review its position. President Zia and Foreign Minister Shamsul Haq fear sanctions might cause destabilization in the region at the time of the events in Afghanistan, would undercut the moderates in Iran who are moving in the direction of release, would risk pushing Iran to the left, and might give the Soviets opportunities to take advantage of the situation by, for example, meeting Iran’s economic needs. President Zia is concerned that should Bangladesh support sanctions, opposition political parties might whip up emotions after Bangladesh had persevered through “traumatic events” and established democratic government. Bangladesh has been strongly influenced by the positions of the Arab League, Pakistan, Kuwait, India and the UAE. Foreign Minister Haq has written again to Ghotbzadeh appealing for release of the hostages. He has also proposed a meeting of the Islamic Foreign Ministers to find a peaceful solution to the hostage issue. Both President Zia and Foreign Minister Haq say they would “travel anywhere” to help find a solution. I told the President that I was sure President Carter would be very disap [Page 120] pointed at his decision and that I could not predict the reaction of the American people who were greatly roused and would watch the SC proceedings carefully. I said that further delay beyond the two stage approach was not an acceptable option and that we preferred concerted UN action. Bangladesh hopes that if we proceed with our approach to sanctions, its position may nevertheless be helpful and that we will understand their reasons for not supporting us. They seem fully aware of the seriousness of their decision, which Zia made after over four hours of deliberations today. They are obviously worried over our reaction and hope for our understanding. The Foreign Minister has sent a letter to Secretary Vance explaining their position.4 President Carter’s message (State 333770)5 arrived after my meeting with Zia and after this message was drafted. I will deliver it immediately. End summary.

3. President Zia elected to see me on the evening of December 29 when he was informed that I had a message for him from President Carter on Afghanistan,6 but he spent most of a two hour meeting explaining his position on Iran. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shamsul Haq and Foreign Secretary Kibria. He explained that he had met for four and a half hours that morning to examine all aspects of the sanctions issue. Then he beckoned to Haq to set forth their position, which he did with Zia intervening from time to time in such a way to indicate clearly that their decision was his. It was clear from the pains they took with their presentation and their careful reaction to my rather grim response that they were fully aware of the possible consequences of an unfavorable US reaction to their decision not to support sanctions.

4. Haq began by sympathetically expressing appreciation for US concerns about the hostages and US desires to function within the UN. He also commented that he believed the US request for sanctions following Iranian failure to react to the SC resolution,7 the SYG’s efforts, and the World Court’s decision8 was “consistent with international principles”.

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5. But, Haq said, after extensive deliberation, they had concluded that economic sanctions would have “unfavorable results” and they hoped that the US would review its position and not press for sanctions. Sanctions, Haq said, might be destabilizing in the entire region; this, he explained, was supported by events in Afghanistan. The President recalled his comments to me earlier in the week about the Soviet threat to the region and his questions regarding how our tactics in Iran might affect Soviet efforts to take advantage of the situation.9 Haq explained that more and more leaders in Iran were veering toward release of the hostages. A delay of a week or ten days, after which sanctions would be inevitable, was not long enough to take advantage of the moderates, whose position would be undermined. Sanctions would also be ineffective. Haq and Zia both said they did not wish to push Iran to the left, commenting that the students were pro-Soviet. Then the Foreign Minister, with the President annotating his remarks, explained that there were certain domestic realities they had to consider. Bangladesh had gone through “traumatic experiences” but had managed the transition to democracy. Their population is Islamic and opposition parties “might whip up emotions”. Kibria added that they had some thousand Bangladeshis in Iran also to consider. Zia added the “hard facts” that the Soviets would take advantage of an embargo and meet Iranian needs. Finally, Haq said that they had taken into account the views of other nations, attaching particular attention to a statement by the Arab League, which they hoped we would see as helpful, and mentioning positions of Pakistan, Kuwait, India, and the UAE.

6. Saying that he had sent a message to Secretary Vance explaining the Bangladesh position,10 Haq then reviewed actions which Bangladesh had taken or was prepared to take to be helpful. He said that he had sent a message to Ghotbzadeh, stating that this was the right moment for Iran to act in response to the international community by releasing the hostages in a manner consistent with Islamic principles and human values. Haq said he had also written to the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister and the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference proposing a meeting of Islamic Foreign Ministers to find a peaceful and satisfactory solution to the problem. Finally first Haq and then Zia said that both the President and the Foreign Minister would “travel anywhere” if the parties to the dispute believed it would be conducive to a solution.

7. The Foreign Minister concluded with his appeal for the US to reconsider its position. But, he said, in their view the US has a majority [Page 122] in the Security Council and even if it goes ahead with sanctions, the Bangladeshi position should be helpful. Haq concluded by saying that he hoped their position would not be seen as unfriendly. Zia said that whatever happened they will support international law.

8. My reply made the meeting more somber. I said I was personally very disappointed and I knew that the President would be as well (Zia said that President Carter had tried to call but the hour had been too late).11 I described again the intensity of feeling in the US on the hostage issue (Zia said they had their own confirming reports from their representatives and private Bangladeshis in the US). I said that the American people would be watching closely the Security Council deliberations and I could not predict what their reaction might be. I explained that there were also certain realities in the US and that waiting indefinitely was not a feasible alternative for the US. I cited the President’s statement that the US would act as it considered appropriate but preferred concerted international action.12 I argued that the moderates would be strengthened through the psychological effect of a decision in favor of sanctions. I said that if we were to have influence with which to meet the Soviet threat to Iran, we must have a solution to the hostage issue and the Iranians should be made to understand that. Finally, I said that we had definitely decided to proceed on a two stage process toward sanctions.

9. Zia was visibly worried about my response and he and Haq made additional efforts to assure me of Bangladesh’s friendship and to ask for US understanding. I said I would report their views as carefully and as sympathetically as possible but I could not predict the reaction of the American people.

10. I believe Zia has carefully considered the sanctions issue and understands the possible consequences for US-Bangladesh relations of his decision. On Islamic issues he has never been willing to depart from the positions of the moderate Arabs and on sanctions he makes no exception.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800002–0003. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Exdis.
  2. Telegram 333641 to multiple posts, December 29, instructed posts to “immediately inform highest appropriate level of host government” of the need for the United Nations to “take urgent steps to ensure that its decisions are respected” on the U.S. hostages in Iran. Given the preference of several Security Council members for a two-stage process, however, the United States was “therefore agreeable to adoption by the Council of a resolution which would bind Iran to respect the Council’s decision and which [would?] decide that if Iran did not comply by an early date (to be specified in the resolution), the Security Council would immediately apply sanctions under Articles 39 and 41 of the UN Charter.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800001–0559)
  3. Telegram 6395 from USUN, December 29, reported that McHenry agreed to propose to the Security Council a two-stage resolution against Iran. The first stage would demand the hostages’ release, and the second stage would impose economic sanctions. McHenry called for a vote no later than December 31. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800019–0770, D800001–0651) For Vance’s statement before the Security Council introducing the resolution, see the Department of State Bulletin, February 1980, pp. 67–68. The U.S.-proposed draft was adopted by the Security Council as Resolution 461 on December 31. Bangladesh abstained in the vote. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 311–312)
  4. Not found.
  5. Telegram 333770 to Dacca and USUN, December 29, transmitted a message from Carter to Zia, which urged Zia to support the U.S. draft resolution. Carter concluded: “Our nation hopes and expects that members of the Security Council will face squarely and courageously their international obligations for the maintenance of international peace and security. The American people and the Congress will find it difficult to understand if we do not have Bangladesh’s support on the issue.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840171–1348, N800001–0093)
  6. See footnote 11, Document 43.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 43.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 43.
  9. Schneider met with Zia on December 24. (Telegram 8570 from Dacca, December 24; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840171–1357)
  10. See footnote 9, Document 43.
  11. See footnote 2, Document 43.
  12. In remarks to reporters on December 28, Carter stated: “The United States reserves the right to protect our citizens and our vital interests in whatever way we consider appropriate in keeping with principles of international law and the Charter of the Untied Nations. But our clear preference is now, and has been from the beginning of this crisis, for a quick and a peaceful solution of this problem through concerted international action.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, p. 2287)