212. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Graham Claytor
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff David Jones
  • Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Hamilton Jordan
  • David Aaron

MINUTES

The President began by saying that he wanted to try to keep the meeting short and not go into great detail, but he wanted a general discussion about what is taking place in our foreign and defense policies. It was his sense that the last two weeks were the worst since he has been in office. We are confronted by several important issues which are not directly related but which are tied together in terms of the overall posture of the U.S. and the impression that our country is making at home and abroad. The President said that after a general review this afternoon, he wished to get together again, perhaps at Camp David this weekend, after our subordinates have had an opportunity to clarify the issues and define the options.

The President’s analysis of the current situation was as follows: at best we have a stagnant situation in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as [Page 558]in the Israeli/Egyptian peace talks. We have a deteriorating position, and perhaps worse, with our European Allies. Finally, our relationship with the Soviet Union is dormant and perhaps deteriorating as well.

On this latter point, the President said that he and President Brezhnev do not understand one another. The President said he does not know what Brezhnev’s next step is and what he is aiming to accomplish. Perhaps Brezhnev is in the same position. Both of us, he said, must assume the worst of each other.

On Iran, the President said we need to increase our pressure. Although the latest election returns are favoring Bani-Sadr, the American people are getting sick of the situation. Indeed, the President said, he was sick of it as well. He thought that we had been quiet to the detriment of all concerned. We have been holding off criticizing the Iranians and taking direct action in order to create the most favorable circumstances for a settlement, but we verge now upon accepting the status quo. He said we could not sit still until May without placing greater pressure on Iran to take action to release the hostages.

[Omitted here is material on Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and the U.S. Defense Posture.]

The President said that all of these issues are interrelated. He needed the top people in each of the agencies to get together to evaluate these problems and determine our options. The President said that he had to assert his own role and to improve at least the image of our performance in foreign policy. He thought that there are possibilities, ultimately in Iran, for success. He thought the naive European rush towards neutrality negotiations on Afghanistan needs to be dealt with. He said we need to increase public support for the Olympic boycott. He thought that Sadat’s and Begin’s visit will dramatize once again the importance of the Middle East peace talks and that this might offer a glimpse of hope.

[Omitted here is material on the Soviet grain embargo.]

As far as Iran is concerned, the Secretary of State said that there are a few steps, though not major, which can demonstrate that we are willing to tighten the screws without closing the door on negotiations. He said these had been discussed in the SCC this morning and that the President would get them shortly.

[Omitted here is material on Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and the U.S. Defense Posture.]

The President proposed that the group get together to discuss some of these issues on Saturday.2 Dr. Brzezinski said that we will go forward with these preparations.

[Page 559]

[Omitted here is material on the Middle East.]

Mr. Jordan inquired about Iran and the prospects for movement there. The Secretary of State responded that nothing is going to happen until we get further along in the election process. He thought the upcoming speech by Khomeini or Bani-Sadr, depending on who gives it, may prove something.3 Dr. Brzezinski added that if Khomeini is totally hostile in his speech, we ought to consider sending the kind of signal we did in November—that we will negotiate and we will do so in good faith, but that there is a deadline, beyond which the U.S. will take alternative actions if negotiations are not successful. Harold Brown added that we will, however, have to decide what we will do and that we will do it.

In this connection, the President noted a report by Cottam in his discussions with Gotzbadeh that the latter thinks the Islamic representatives being elected to the Iranian Parliament will want to end the hostage crisis.

The Secretary of State said we may see more in the speech, but there are some steps that we can take and are prepared to take that will not rip the relationship so badly that a peaceful solution is not possible. Dr. Brzezinski added that these steps are extremely modest and they are more for U.S. domestic consumption than they are to put real pressure on the Iranians.

[Omitted here is material on the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and the U.S. Defense Posture.]

The President then concluded the meeting by instructing the group to discuss the question of follow-up and preparation of the meeting at Camp David with Dr. Brzezinski.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Box 2, NSC Meeting #27 Held 3/18/80. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
  2. March 22. See Document 217.
  3. Speeches on March 21, the Persian New Year, by Khomeini (delivered by his son) and Bani-Sadr focused on the threat to Iran from the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Neither mentioned the American hostages. (Jonathan C. Randal, “Iran Warns of Threat by Soviets,” Washington Post, March 22, 1980, p. A1)