210. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Iran/Afghanistan


  • State

    • Warren Christopher
    • Harold Saunders
  • OSD

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • W. Graham Claytor, Jr.
  • JCS

    • General David Jones
    • Lt. General John Pustay
  • Justice

    • John Shenefield*
  • CIA

    • Frank Carlucci
  • Treasury

    • Robert Carswell*
    • Robert Mundheim*
  • White House

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
    • Hedley Donovan
    • Joseph Onek
  • NSC

    • Gary Sick
    • Marshall Brement

*Present only for Items 1–3

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1. Iran: Seizure of Assets. Justice reviewed briefly an options paper2 concerning steps we would have to take to seize Iranian assets. One initial step we could take with no additional legislation and without the creation of a large legal mechanism would be a census of claims. The President could direct the Department of Treasury to conduct a census of private claims presently asserted against Iran, to identify the nature and amounts of claims. The SCC thought this would be a good step to take since it could be a useful and necessary prior step for seizing the assets or dismantling the freeze we have imposed. The signal could be played either way. However, this action by itself would probably not be effective in pressuring Iran, and the timing should be left open until we have decided on an overall approach. (C)

Approve in principle a census of private claims, with timing of implementation left open for the moment.3


Justice believes that it would not be desirable to take custody of Iranian-owned assets or to introduce new legislation authorizing seizure of Iranian assets. This would create a massive legal mechanism in the United States and would have very limited results. Moreover, the requirement of new legislation would involve Congressional hearings on Iran policy. State and other SCC members agreed that seizure of assets would have little practical value beyond the present freeze, and it did not appear worth the effort at this time. (C)

Agree that assets should not be seized at this time.4


2. Iranian Exports. Treasury circulated a paper5 proposing that companies be required to contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control before making any exports to Iran, either to get a license or to get a written interpretation that a license is not required. This is simply a clarification of the regulations already in effect which would tighten up our control on all exports, direct or indirect, to Iran. The SCC approved this measure [Page 552]but asked that it also be held pending completion of a full package of new steps.6 (C)

3. Iran: Diplomatic Relations. The Department of State provided six options for possible changes we could make in our diplomatic relations with Iran, ranging from a reduction of personnel through closure of the Embassy and Consulates and expulsion of all Iranian diplomats.7 State argued that we should stop short of severing formal diplomatic relations because of the problems this would create when we wish to reestablish relations at some point in the future. The SCC agreed, and recommended the following:

—Effectively cut Iranian representation in this country by half, halving the number of Iranian diplomats in Washington and closing two of the four Consulates.

—The New York Consulate will be closed, since its functions can be taken over by the Iranian UN Mission, and a second Consulate will be chosen after State reviews the comparative effects.

—The movements of Iranian diplomats will be restricted to cities where they are assigned.

—Publication and distribution of Iranian propaganda materials through the Embassy and Consulates will be prohibited.

—Constitutional provisions probably do not permit us to forbid public or media appearances by Iranian representatives in this country. However, we will monitor such appearances, and in those cases where we find the performance to be obnoxious or harmful, we will be prepared to declare that representative persona non grata. (C)

The Department of State and Justice will review the legal and diplomatic implications of these moves prior to implementation. (U)

Approve in principle the restrictive steps outlined above.

As amended.8

The SCC also discussed briefly the recurring story that 112 of the Iranian diplomats previously cut from the roster have not been located. Justice noted that the addresses were many years old. Some may have left much earlier, and others may simply have faded into the population. It was agreed that greater efforts should be made to insure at a minimum that those individuals who have been cut are not in fact continuing to work in the Embassy or Consulates. Justice agreed to follow up. (C)

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4. Iran: Report to the Security Council. Mr. Christopher briefed the SCC on the options of raising the Iranian question once again at the UN Security Council. Waldheim will talk to Bani-Sadr later this week, and we expect a speech by Khomeini on March 20. In the meantime, there does not appear to be anything to be gained by going to the UN. The most we could expect would be to get another resolution along the lines of the previous resolutions, and another Soviet veto. It is also possible that the resolutions would get watered down or that we would lose some votes on a second attempt. The SCC unanimously recommended against a formal UNSC resolution at this time. (C)


Go back to the UNSC.

5. Iran: Other Sanctions. Dr. Brzezinski expressed concern that we are being diddled along indefinitely by the Iranians. The Iranians obviously want to keep alive the illusion that the UN Commission will produce results, but in the meantime, we are beginning to look increasingly impotent. The polls indicate that the U.S. public is increasingly considering the Administration’s policy a failure.10 We are universally praised by the international community for our restraint and patience; however, he wondered what really lies behind that praise. Dr. Brzezinski suspected that we are increasingly perceived as ineffective and indecisive. The convening of the new Parliament, which will probably not occur until May, will probably make the situation worse, not better. He wondered if the situation was not turning into farce. He proposed that we keep the UN Commission alive, but that we deliver a private, credible ultimatum to the Iranians and to the allies that if the situation has not been resolved peaceably and with dignity by April 15 we will take unilateral actions which will be highly disruptive to Iranian society. We would not specify precisely what we would do. This would break the present impasse in which the Iranians have every incentive to do nothing. Mr. Aaron agreed, but added that we need to take some action which will make our threat credible, since it is doubtful that the Iranians would believe us today. He suggested that we begin interrogating merchant shipping enroute to and from Iranian ports in conjunction with a private warning. (S)

Mr. Christopher said that this was a good point but he did not agree. If we issue a warning, we must be able to carry it out.11 He did [Page 554]not see this situation as unprecedented. In the case of the Pueblo,12 we had waited far longer than this, and the risks associated with escalation at that time were less than they are today in the Gulf region. Perhaps the Pueblo affair was not one of the high points of American diplomacy, but we have to consider the problem we have today with the Islamic nations and their possible reaction to a blockade or similar use of military force. Secretary Brown noted the dangers of a Soviet reaction or of pushing the Iranians closer to the Soviets by our acts. Mr. Carlucci noted that our evidence indicates that the Soviets are making gains inside Iran through the Tudeh Party. He observed that our problem remained what it had been all along: how to influence Khomeini. He felt that Khomeini would not respond to this kind of pressure.13 (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said he did not believe that this situation was comparable to the Pueblo incident which had involved a U.S. Navy ship on an admitted spy mission. He was not convinced that the Islamic countries would necessarily respond negatively. He felt that our continued lack of action was losing us prestige and respect. He recognized the validity of the possible Soviet reaction, citing Gromyko’s speech this morning14 in which he had identified himself with the Iranians. Mr. Aaron disputed the CIA evaluation of Khomeini. At every point, Khomeini had taken extreme steps to assure his own personal security, and the Iranians had backed down quickly in the face of our warning on November 20.15 Khomeini wanted more than anything else to insure the success of the Islamic Revolution and he was not anxious to become a martyr. Secretary Brown cited a psychiatrist friend who observed that a man with a martyr complex seldom lives to become 79 years old. (S)

The SCC agreed that it was necessary to consider seriously the option of a warning and possible intermediate escalatory steps. This would be discussed again at the SCC meeting on Thursday.16 (S)

[Omitted here is material on Afghanistan.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Box 10. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Carter initialed “C” in the upper right corner.
  2. This March 12 paper, requested at the March 11 SCC meeting (see Document 204), is summarized in and attached to a memorandum from Saunders, Hinton, and William (Tony) Lake to Vance, March 17. (Department of State, Records of David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Subject Files, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, Iran Claims/Assets Litigations)
  3. Carter approved this option with a checkmark and initialed in the margin.
  4. Carter approved this option with a checkmark and initialed in the margin.
  5. Not found.
  6. Carter approved the item with a checkmark.
  7. See footnote 9, Document 204.
  8. Carter did not check either option but wrote in the margin: “Worse than nothing. We should be prepared to expel them all.”
  9. Carter checked this option and initialed in the margin.
  10. Carter underlined the phrase “the Administration’s policy a failure” and wrote in the margin: “The polls are accurate.”
  11. Carter underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin: “I agree.”
  12. The U.S. Navy intelligence ship U.S.S. Pueblo and its crew were captured by North Korea in January 1968. After months of negotiations, the ship and crewmen were released in December 1968. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXIX, Part 1, Korea.
  13. Carter wrote in the margin: “Consider: Imposing sanctions, seize assets, expel diplomats, escalate condemnatory rhetoric & be prepared to move on any or all.”
  14. At a dinner for visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Frigyes Puja in Moscow, Gromyko accused the United States of following a global policy of expansion and aggression and praised Iran for defending its national interests against U.S. threats and blackmail. (“Soviets rip U.S. ‘deceit’,” Chicago Tribune, March 18, 1980, p. 2)
  15. Presumably a reference to statements by both White House and Department of State officials on November 20 and 21 that asserted that Iran would be held accountable if the hostages were harmed and raised the possibility of military action. (Josh M. Goshko and Edward Walsh, “Washington: Toughening Stance, U.S. Raps Khomeini For Stirring Turmoil,” Washington Post, November 22, 1979, p. A1)
  16. March 20. See Document 214.