211. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1

SUBJECT

  • NSC Meeting

If I understood your approval correctly, the NSC meeting today—in addition to deciding several specific policy issues—is meant to accomplish a larger purpose: to infuse a renewed sense of direction and discipline into our foreign policy. (C)

You must have sensed, as I have, that in recent weeks there has been a loss of momentum and increasing uncertainty in our foreign policy. In large measure this is due to the mixed signals which you criticized in your notes to Cy and me.2 I hope you will use the meeting again to establish in our foreign policy a more assertive tone and to insist on closer coordination. (S)

Insofar as the agenda itself is concerned, I would suggest that you use the meeting to accomplish the following:

1. Iran. Explore more systematically whether our negotiating strategy has a real chance of success and whether the time has not come for perhaps a more risky course, involving direct action;

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the hostage crisis.]

NSC ISSUES

The following key issues and alternative actions need to be considered to give shape to our current foreign policy effort. (U)

IRAN

Two fundamental policy questions need to be addressed:

1. Short Term. Should we continue to pursue the negotiating track with Bani-Sadr as our sole strategy, consciously minimizing any words or actions which might disrupt that effort; or should we turn up the pressure of words and actions to build a fire under both the Iranians and the Allies to increase the tempo of their efforts? (S)

2. Longer Term. Should we step up our efforts to encourage alternative leadership and pro-Western presence to counter a growing Soviet effort to build a leftist infrastructure? (S)

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The answer to the first question turns on the judgment of whether Bani-Sadr and his associates will be able to deliver more in the future than in the past, and whether he would be helped or hurt by increased U.S. pressure. Any increase in pressure will have to be unilateral action by the U.S. Our European Allies will refuse to go beyond the limited measures they have already adopted, on the grounds that this would only push the Iranians into the arms of the Soviets. Our own options are limited:

—We can take largely symbolic steps, e.g. imposing tighter restrictions on Iranian diplomats and imposing formal economic sanctions;

—We can move closer to a de facto state of war with Iran by breaking diplomatic relations and confiscating Iranian assets; and

—We can escalate direct pressure by a range of military actions, e.g. interrogating commercial shipping enroute to and from Iranian ports, overflights, interruption of power supplies by technical means, and blockade of imports and/or exports. (S)

The early results of the Friday elections3 suggest that Bani-Sadr is going to be sandwiched between an unruly pro-clerical Assembly on one side and by the clerical overseers and Khomeini on the other. Bani-Sadr is living on hope, and he will attempt to string out negotiations in the chance that something will turn up. Realistically, the odds appear very slim. Unless we take some firm measures which convince all parties that we will not stand still indefinitely, we can anticipate that the hostages will remain captive well into the summer. (S)

Limited military actions are likely to be most effective in persuading the Iranians and our friends that a political solution is urgently required. By dramatizing the risks of continued procrastination, it could strengthen the hand of those working for a solution. There are obviously risks involved in such a course. However, a carefully orchestrated program of increasing pressure is the only apparent alternative to simply leaving the hostages to the fate of internal Iranian politics for the foreseeable future. (S)

The longer-term issue of countering a leftist buildup in Iran is directly related to the hostage situation. Again, our options are limited, and the natural obstacles we could expect to face in a militant revolutionary environment are compounded by our concern for the welfare of the hostages. Nevertheless, this is a problem which cannot be ignored. We should begin immediately building our relationships with nationalist elements inside and outside Iran. This will not go unnoticed by the leadership in Iran. However, we are accused of doing this in any case, and the investment in human resources at this stage will be [Page 557]one of the primary levers we will have to influence events over the longer term. This is an area where we can cooperate effectively with the French, Germans, British and others who fear the rising tide of Soviet influence in the country. (S)

[Omitted here is material on Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, Western Europe, and Israel/Egypt Negotiations.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 2. Secret; Sensitive. Carter initialed “C” in upper right corner.
  2. Not found.
  3. The parliamentary elections took place on March 14.