216. Telegram From the Embassy in Panama to the Department of State1

2622. Senior Watch Officer, please arrange for following message to be sent to Camp David via SitRoom Eyes Only for the President and Secretary Vance. Subj: Conversation With the Shah and Empress.

1. For the President and Secretary Vance from Cutler, Jordan and Raphel.

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2. Cutler and Raphel met alone with Shah and Empress for 1½ hours evening March 21 on Contadora. Cutler described in detail the three options available to the Shah—operation in Panama, United States or Egypt. Cutler emphasized the very real and serious difficulties if operation were performed in either the States or Egypt and noted that many of these difficulties could be ameliorated if operation took place, under medically acceptable conditions, in Panama.

3. In response, the Shah was adamant in his refusal to have operation in Panama. He exhibited no flexibility, referred in highly negative terms to experience of last week-end,2 and gave every indication his decision in this regard was firm. When we suggested that it may be possible to check again with DeBakey on this issue, the Shah responded that he had already spoken with the doctor, his strong recommendation was to have the operation elsewhere, and there was no need to check again.

4. The Shah was obviously undecided between the Egypt and US options. He noted that in strictly medical terms, it made sense to have the operation performed in Houston. In quote mental terms close quote, however, he would prefer to go to Egypt where he knew Sadat would welcome him. While discussing the Egypt option, the Shah tended to downplay any immediate threat to Sadat due to the Shah’s presence. He noted that as long as Sadat were in power, there would be no danger of demonstrations or a hostile press, and Sadat would not have invited him if it were threatening to the Egyptian President.

5. The Shah added that whether he went to Cairo or the States, the stay would only be temporary until he had fully recovered from the operation. He made a point of contending that he believed he had some permanent options of places that would accept him for residence. When pressed, he mentioned Canada as a possibility, or quote some island somewhere close quote.

6. The Shah noted that before our visit, he had tentatively planned to depart Sunday for Cairo with the operation scheduled for Wednesday.3 He had agreed with Torrijos that when he left, whether for the States or Cairo, the departure would be public, amicable and friendly.

7. The meeting closed with the Shah noting that he wanted to think about his decision overnight, and we agreed it would be best to spend the night considering the various options. The Shah asked our view of what he should do—go to the States or Cairo. He asked if we could check with the President to see if we would want to make a specific recommendation to him as to which of the two places we would prefer.

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8. When discussing the US option, we noted that we would expect him to renounce his throne if he were admitted to the States for the operation. The Shah did not seem to be very concerned with the prospect. His response was that before the operation he could always announce he was renouncing his claim to the throne in favor of his son. In contrast, the Empress felt very strongly that he should not renounce the throne. She said that such an action would be a major disservice to his family and the people of Iran.

9. As incidental information, we understand that Princess Ashraf called the Shah just before our visit to note she had received the President’s letter,4 and that she strongly recommended that the Shah go to Houston for the operation then travel to Egypt after he had recovered. We have also heard that the evening TV news in the States carried a report that it was rumored that the Shah would go to Egypt for his operation.

10. We believe it would be useful if we talked via secure line before the President speaks with Sadat. Consequently, if it is convenient, we will plan to call Camp David at 0830 in the morning your time. It would be helpful to have your views on whether we should, as the Shah suggests, give him our recommendation on whether he should go to the States or Egypt. Also, if you have any thoughts on the question of renouncing the throne, it would be helpful. Specifically, would it be sufficient for the Shah to renounce in favor of his son, or would we want him to only renounce the throne without mention of the Crown Prince.

11. We believe the Shah is truly ambivalent about what to do and if we gave him a specific recommendation, it could easily steer him in that direction. If we do not make a specific recommendation it would be a close call as to what he would do. We believe the Empress is leaning toward Egypt, whereas the Shah’s specific medical concerns may make him lean slightly toward Houston.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 12. Secret; Flash; Nodis.
  2. See Document 215.
  3. March 23 and 26.
  4. Princess Ashraf’s March 21 letter to Carter is in Carter Library, Plains File, Box 23, Iran 6/75–12/79. In his reply that same day, Carter wrote: “Our preference now is that he receive treatment under Dr. DeBakey’s care either at Gorgas, the U.S. hospital in Panama, or in Houston, Texas.” (Ibid.)