217. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • State

    • Secretary Cyrus Vance
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
  • JCS

    • General David Jones
  • The White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Mr. David Aaron
    • Mr. Jody Powell
  • CIA

    • Admiral Stansfield Turner

MINUTES

The President began by saying that he wished to bring the group up-to-date on the Shah and his spleen. The President had talked with Sadat2 and been in contact with the Iranian negotiators. Our objective is to keep the Shah in Panama but the President did not believe we could do so. Sadat is willing to let the Shah come to Egypt, and felt very strongly about wanting to make that offer. Sadat insisted that it would not bother him politically. Dr. Brzezinski noted that that eliminates the second option (coming to Houston for his operation).

The President said he thought the Shah was willing to leave on Sunday3 and reported that Sadat is preparing to send an airplane to Panama for that purpose. The Secretary of State said that he had consulted with key Members of Congress and they all prefer the Egyptian option to the Houston option. Howard Baker, in particular, said he would help in any way that he could.

The President then said he would like to proceed with the briefing on the rescue operation. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff then [Page 574]proceeded to give his briefing.4 The following questions and answers arose in the course of the briefing.

The President asked whether the seizure of the airfield at Nain5 was supposed to take place without the knowledge of the people in the town 10 kilometers away. The Chairman replied yes, that was the key problem and uncertainty associated with that part of the operation. He pointed out, however, that it would be a weekend and that in monitoring the activities around the airfield, it appeared that there was very little interaction between the town and the base on the weekend.

The Secretary of State asked what we know about the alleged mining of the Embassy. The Chairman replied that we have no evidence that any mining or booby-trapping has taken place. He said that in addition to talking to those who had been inside the Embassy, they have also debriefed the few hostages who have been released. None of them indicate that any such mining actually has occurred.

The Secretary of State asked what is the distance to the stadium from the Embassy. The chairman replied that it is about 100 yards. He explained that the street would be sealed off at both ends and the C–130 gunships would provide cover.

The Vice President asked whether the helicopters would be left behind. The Chairman indicated that they would be.

The Secretary of State asked how confident we were of the location of the hostages; whether they rotate them in different locations. The Chairman said that we are not sure and that uncertainty over the location of the hostages within the compound is a major factor. We believe that all of the hostages are still in the compound but we could not be certain. However, our best estimate is that the hostages are located in the buildings indicated in the briefing but the rescuers might have to go into all the buildings to search for the hostages.

Dr. Brzezinski commented that we will have to kill quite a few Iranians in this process and that there is a possibility that some Ameri[Page 575]cans will be left behind. Thus, we need some threat to deter reprisals against whatever Americans might be left behind.

The Chairman commented that if we can get to the wall with surprise and if the Americans are in the compound, he had high confidence that we could get them all. However, some of them may be dead. Thus, while there was a possibility that some Americans could be left behind, it was more likely that Americans would be killed than left behind.

The Secretary of State asked how much time was required for the rescue operation. The Chairman replied that inside the compound we were aiming to complete the operation in 45 minutes, however, we were allowing up to an hour and a half.

Secretary Brown asked where is the nearest Iranian military installation and how well we could hold them off for this period of time. The Chairman replied that a few blocks away there is an installation with Revolutionary Guards. It is our estimate that they could mobilize a few hundred personnel in about an hour. To handle this, we would be placing our main reliance on the C–130 gunships. These aircraft provide tremendous firepower and this gives our team confidence that they can defend themselves. The C–130 gunships are very accurate, able to fire within 40 feet of our own personnel, they have up to 105mm cannons aboard and have incendiary ordnance called “mishmash” which will cause diversion and enormous confusion. The Chairman explained that we would, however, try to minimize the damage to the Iranians and would not fire into crowds unless it were absolutely necessary.

The Vice President asked what would happen if the Iranian Air Force is tipped off and they attack our C–130s.

The Chairman replied that there would be a gunship covering the Mehrabad airport, which is the main problem and where there are two F–4s kept on alert. The gunship would circle the field and keep Iranian aircraft on the ground. They would be able to break up the taxiway or shoot the aircraft before they took off.

Dr. Brzezinski commented that the rescue in Tehran is in fact the easiest phase of the operation. There were two more risky aspects to the operation. The first is getting the Delta team into town and hiding the helicopters. The second is the operation at Nain: sealing off the base for 26 hours without any word getting out that Americans are conducting a military operation. He was particularly concerned that in the assault on Nain, someone might get away, go into town and pass the word that they had been attacked by Americans.

The Chairman commented that his confidence level is someplace between that of Dr. Brzezinski and his team. The team is highly confi[Page 576]dent that they can conduct the operation. The Chairman said he was not highly confident but he was not as pessimistic as Dr. Brzezinski. We were, however, depending heavily on the inefficiency of the Iranians and upon the very relaxed atmosphere which we have found at the compound. The weakest part is getting into Tehran without tipping off the Iranians.

Secretary Brown commented that this was the reason Mr. Aaron had raised the question of whether the Soviets might be able to tip off the Iranians by monitoring the aircraft flights involved in the operation.

The Secretary of State said the biggest question is the danger to the hostages, the possibility that they would be killed in the course of the operation. The President commented that he was concerned about the Iranians somehow getting a tip off in advance. Dr. Brzezinski commented that there was no way to know if the Iranians might be tipped off.

The Vice President asked again about the possibility of dynamite booby traps in the Embassy. The President noted that the kidnappers had given as a reason for delay in letting the UN Commission into the Embassy the time needed to disassemble the booby traps. The Chairman said that we have no information that there are such booby traps apart from what the kidnappers say. The DCI commented that from a military standpoint, the first person over the wall might set off a booby trap and be killed but the second would get in.

The Chairman concluded by saying that he felt better about the viability of each of the parts of the rescue operation than he did about the whole system as an entirety. Making the parts fit together on time gave him the greatest concern.

Secretary Brown said that we have to look at the alternatives when weighing the risks of this operation. We have examined the question of a blockade and of mining. Both have very serious risks, including: possible retaliation against the hostages, achieving impact on the Islamic world, driving the Iranians into the arms of the Soviets, and creating severe difficulties for our Allies. Moreover, it is not clear that those actions would put pressure on those who need to be pressured to release the hostages. In sum, if we are concerned about getting the hostages out, the rescue operation is at a comparable level of risk and cost to the other military actions that have been proposed.

The President asked what he needed to decide in order to prepare for a rescue operation.

The Chairman replied he needed: 1) to send in two people to survey the Foreign Ministry, 2) to send in the Otter aircraft to explore the [Page 577]feasibility of the alternative rendezvous site6 and 3) some early flow of support material to Wadi Kena. The latter would reduce the time required for initial activity. The Chairman added that we ought to realize that in five or six days we did not have to make a go decision but we would want to take a next step which is moving the airplanes actually involved in the operation. This is assuming of course that we want to go about April 4, which is the point at which the night becomes so short that we have to contemplate a three-day operation.

The President asked to be told again what the two men would do. It was explained that two military personnel, [less than 1 line not declassified] would go in by regular airline to reconnoiter the Foreign Ministry. They would find out about the security arrangements to see if they can get in easily, where they might drive their vehicles, check out where the helicopter might land and so forth. They would be in Tehran for three days and then come out.

The President asked why the people who are already in there cannot do this. The DCI said that the men inside do not have the tactical expertise to perform this mission.

The President asked if there was any objection to the two men going in and to the Otter operation. The Vice President asked what were the risks of the Otter operation. [1½ lines not declassified] Three men would go in to test the ground, drill core samples and so forth to make sure that the area would be suitable for the landing of C–130s. If we have problems, the three men will have documents indicating that they are on their way to Afghanistan. Even if they are found, it will be difficult to associate them with the situation in the compound. The greatest danger would come from the Otter not being able to restart once it had landed.

The Secretary of State said he had no objection to sending in the two military personnel but he felt very strongly that we should not proceed with the rescue operation at this point. The President said that he did not want to undertake a rescue operation unless there was no choice. He said he would rather wait a month and a half to get the hostages out than undertake an operation in which the hostages might be killed.

The Chairman pointed out that one problem was the fact that the nights were getting shorter which meant past early April it would in [Page 578]all likelihood be necessary to conduct the operation over three days. Mr. Aaron asked what was the sequence of events in a three-day scenario.

The Chairman explained that the movement of the helicopters into Tehran would take an additional day. Otherwise, the sequence would be the same. He said that they were looking at imaginative ways that we might still stick to a two-day scenario.

The Chairman also explained that he was not recommending that the rescue operation be undertaken on April 4. He was only saying that there is substantially lower risk than there was previously because we had practiced it and had developed what he thought was a good program. However, it was still very risky and as the days go by, it becomes more difficult because the nights are growing shorter.

The President asked whether there is any place on the beaches where we might refuel the helicopters. The Chairman said they had looked at these alternatives, including the possibility of putting an LPH all the way up into the Gulf. It still was not close enough to get the helicopters to Tehran in one jump. However, he said if we can find out a way to hide good fuel, then we might simplify the operation significantly. The problem, however, is how to get the Delta team in if we do not marry them up with the helicopters along with the fuel. They had looked at the possibility of infiltrating the Delta team and then supplying their weapons along with the helicopters. The Chairman said that this greatly simplified the operation but it did not appear to be very practical.

Mr. Powell said that if we will only do a rescue if we thought our hostages were going to be killed, how long would it take us to act. Secretary Brown said five to six days.

The President said it was his guess that the hostage-takers do not intend to kill our people. He also thought that they would be released over the next few weeks or perhaps even a couple of months. He said we do have some pressure points that we can apply to the Iranians. He said he would hate to embark on an action which would in all likelihood kill a large number of Muslims. He said there would be a reaction all over the Muslim world, even in Saudi Arabia. He said some hostages would in all likelihood be killed and of course there was always the possibility of a catastrophe. He said that at this point he saw no pressure to endanger their lives in this fashion. He said that as far as world opinion was concerned, there also was no great pressure to act. He said there was some chortling over the United States’ embarrassment even among our Allies but this was not a sufficient basis to embark upon such a risky course of action.

Secretary Vance added that we would have to undertake this operation without telling our Allies and their people in turn might be the focus of Iranian retaliation.

[Page 579]

The Vice President said that he was not against sending in two officers but he had questions about the Otter. He wondered whether it was really so crucial at this point. The DCI said that it was a low-risk operation but there was the danger that the plane will not take off. If that were the case, we could then go in later and pick them up and move them out, [less than 1 line not declassified]. Thus, he was not so concerned that his people would be immediately apprehended unless of course a truck carrying the wrong people came along.

Dr. Brzezinski asked if they would be armed. Admiral Turner said yes. The President asked how far it was from Tehran to this location. Admiral Turner replied 200 kilometers. The President said that’s a long way [less than 1 line not declassified] to have to drive to pick them up. The Chairman said that whoever comes down from Tehran should come beforehand in order to position themselves in case we have some problems.

[1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

The President explained that this proposal had been under consideration for some time and asked whether it would not be desirable to go forward with it. There was general agreement to do so. Admiral Turner said he would start immediately and added that the mission could be turned off right up to the last minute. It was agreed that he would check with the White House prior to takeoff.

The President said he did not want anyone to leave the meeting with the impression that there should be momentum proceeding towards a rescue. He said he did not intend to mount a rescue operation unless he was convinced there was a risk of loss of life of the hostages and that that risk was imminent. As for our diplomatic strategy, the President wanted to escalate pressure on the Iranians and get our Allies to join us. The President said he had received a letter from Prime Minister Thatcher saying that the British will stay with us.7 Therefore, he wanted to proceed to consider expelling the diplomats, breaking relations, undertaking legal sanctions and any other options. He said he thought that breaking relations would leave a gap which might be difficult to close later but it is something we should consider.

The Secretary of State said there are some steps which are not very effective, but which would give an impression of some movement. First of all, there is the idea of compiling a compendium of the claims against Iran preparatory to legal action against the frozen assets. Secondly, we could expel the diplomats. He thought this would only have an effect in the U.S. It would make us feel better. It had little or no [Page 580]downside risk but it would not do much to get the hostages out. Finally, there was the implementation of sanctions on a formal basis. That is as far, the Secretary said, as he is prepared to go. The President asked for Dr. Brzezinski’s advice.

Dr. Brzezinski said that he favored going forward on the overt level with these actions because it was important to restore some momentum. But he also thought it was important to discuss the pluses and minuses of privately giving the Iranians a deadline. We should consider the following dates in determining such a deadline: the gathering of the constituent assembly and the Islamabad meeting.8 Taken together, this suggested that May 1 would be an appropriate date, after which we would tell them we would consider additional severe steps. He said he was concerned that if the deadline passes and we take these steps, we will get a worsening of the atmosphere but not get the hostages. Nor would we find our Allies doing very much to help us. Nonetheless, he thought it was important to think beyond the month of April in dealing with the hostage situation.

Secretary Vance said that he thought we could pursue vigorously the recommendation of the EC Nine Ambassadors in Tehran to break relations.9

The President saw justification of what Dr. Brzezinski was suggesting. He thought we should consult with our major Allies to encourage them to break diplomatic relations if we are not successful in securing the release of the hostages by a certain date. We should also explain to them that if we are not successful, we are prepared to go to other options, including the interruption of trade. The Allies must be aware that if they do not help us in a non-military way, then we will be left only with military options. In considering the military options, the President said he was much more attuned to the mining option than to a blockade because the latter would involve other countries in the Gulf including Iraq.

The President concluded that this approach would have a good effect on Schmidt.

[Page 581]

The Secretary of State said the suggestion of possible use of military actions will help encourage our Allies to take the step of threatening a break in relations and actually following through, but he thought military actions are not a good idea because of the effect on the hostages and upon the solidarity of the Allies as well as the Islamic world reaction. He also thought that a mining or interruption of trade would drive the Iranians into the arms of the Soviets.

The President asked the Secretary whether he wanted the hostages out next December or to mine the harbors. The Secretary said he would rather find another way, one that did not threaten hurting the hostages or US interests.

The Secretary of Defense said we ought to be sure what we are going to do once the deadline passes. We have several options: a blockade, mining and interdiction of their power supplies. The Secretary said that if we cannot convince ourselves we are going to do any of these things, we ought to be careful about threatening to our Allies that we would do them. Otherwise, we will look foolish and our credibility will be undermined.

The Secretary of Defense said that in looking at our options, he concluded that mining is better than a blockade. There is a risk that the Soviets would sweep the mines and then we would have to do the mining again and the result is that we might find ourselves in a confrontation with the Soviets. In any event, we would drive the Iranians toward the Soviet Union. The question we have to ask in considering mining is: Why are we doing it? Presumably to get the hostages out. But he was not at all sure this would result in getting the hostages out. From this standpoint, he thought a rescue is better than mining or a blockade. He allowed that it would kill hostages and Iranians but it was aimed at the kidnappers and not at the Iranian Government with which we would hope in the long run to have some kind of relationship. Mining, on the other hand, was aimed at the Iranian Government, which already wants the hostages out.

The President reminded the group that we had stated previously that the option of interrupting trade was open to us. Dr. Brzezinski said that we had conveyed that privately to the Iranians. Mr. Powell added, however, that this was the implication of what he had said publicly. Secretary Vance added that it had been conveyed to the Iranians through the Swiss. He explained, however, that he was not saying that we should not keep the option open. He was just saying that the more he looked at it, the worse it looked.

The President then asked but how are we going to get the EC Nine to follow through on the recommendation of its ambassadors? The Secretary said he had no difficulty in saying that if they do not stick with us on the Iranian crisis, we will do what is necessary and they [Page 582]may find themselves in a much more difficult situation. Secretary Brown added but we wouldn’t really mean it.

The President said the Allies have not done anything on Iran and he wanted to force them to break relations. They could then tell the Iranians that if the hostages are not released, they will cut their relations with Iran. He thought this would have a very important impact on the Iranians. Secretary Brown reiterated his doubts about going forward with a bluff.

Dr. Brzezinski said any action should take into account three audiences. First, our own domestic situation. The President interrupted to say that we do not have a problem yet on that score. Dr. Brzezinski said the second group were the Allies, who have to believe that we will act if they do not. The third group are the Iranians and there are three different categories in Iran: the Marxist radicals, who do not want to solve the problem; Khomeini, who is in the middle but against the United States; and Bani Sadr, who wants to solve the problem but is now unwilling to take any big risks to his own personal power and prestige to do so.

Therefore, Dr. Brzezinski concluded that we need enough pressure on the latter category of Iranians that they will take these risks. Our choices lie between creating real turmoil in the country or undertaking a rescue operation.

The Secretary of State reiterated that he was willing to use the threat of a blockade but he would not do it.

The President said that suits him fine, but he wants Schmidt to think that we will impose a blockade.

The President said he was not in favor of a deadline but he wants the Allies to take stronger action. He wants them to tell the Iranians that they will break relations and impose sanctions. We notified the Allies earlier that we were going to undertake sanctions10 but then we backed off. The Allies asked us to back off. Indeed, the Muslim countries asked us to suspend our action under the UN Security Council Resolution. Now Schmidt goes around saying he was ready to impose sanctions. The President thought that we would have to threaten the Allies in order to get them back to the earlier position. He would reserve the right to decide whether we actually go ahead with any mining or blockade.

The DCI said that it was the Agency’s analysis that we cannot get the hostages out by negotiation. Bani Sadr is the only one who wants the hostages released and his power is waning. Indeed, he thought [Page 583]there was a fourth power center that had to be considered: the new Iranian Parliament. Once they get into office, the price will keep going up, as it has already.

The DCI added that if we want the Allies to go along with our actions, we must let them see that we have a plan for the future of Iran overall, not just for the hostages. They already think that we are giving too much weight to the hostages and not enough to Iran’s strategic position. However, the longer the hostage issue goes along, the more there is a threat of a leftist takeover in the country. We must demonstrate to the Allies and to the Iranians that we are prepared to take action and that we want to end the hostage crisis because it is one of the principal vehicles whereby the left will come to power in Iran.

The DCI said that he agreed with Secretary Brown that our choices were either mining, interrogation of vessels, or a rescue. He concluded by saying that the humanitarian interest we have in the hostages is declining because of the increasing risks to our overall interests in the region.

The Secretary of State disagreed with the DCI’s analysis of the prospects of a negotiated solution. He said the odds are not good, but we need more patience on the negotiating track. He said we do not know what the consequences of using force will be, so we have to pursue negotiations.

The Chairman said that if Admiral Turner was correct, then the rescue was the best way to go and far preferable to a blockade. However, he emphasized that he would not create any momentum towards a rescue in his preparations. The Chairman expressed concern about the impact on the Allies if our threats to act prove to be empty. However, he thought they might be willing to help on Iran because they do not want to take stronger action against the Soviets on Afghanistan. He then turned to the military options short of mining which were available to us. One was the interrogation of ships. That would look like a prelude to a blockade. Second, we could put an SR–71 flight over Tehran. Third, we could have carrier aircraft patrol the Persian Gulf. The trouble is that all of these steps soon become empty gestures. As for mining versus a blockade (which he preferred to call a quarantine since a blockade was an act of war), he felt that mining was better. But he added that we could not mine Khorramshahr, which is a port which is shared with the Iraqis and that port could expand to take up much of the slack. The Iranians could also shift to the Bandar-e-shahtur. Therefore, he was not at all certain that mining would work. [1 line not declassified]

[1 paragraph (6 lines) not declassified]

The President said the only way we got our Allies on board the Olympics is to give them time. They are now feeling pressure from [Page 584]the statements of Dr. Brzezinski and Bob Komer. They are also feeling pressure because they are not doing enough and their public opinion supports us on the Olympics. The President suggested two dates to trigger allied action: two weeks after the Majlis first meets or after the World Court ruling.

The President suggested that Allies, such as the FRG, could say that the United States has been patient and they (the Allies) have been patient; they want to be friends with Iran, and they want to help deter the Soviets. But if after a couple of weeks beyond the dates the President had indicated, the Iranians are still unprepared to release the hostages, they would simply have to break diplomatic relations and impose sanctions. The President said that if the Allies could be persuaded to take that position, he thought it would help quite a bit. He thought that this action would be sufficient to get the hostages released. Dr. Brzezinski asked why he thought that. The President replied because he thought a break in relations with all the Western countries and Japan would be extremely damaging, both politically and economically. It would affect Bani Sadr, Khomeini and Beheshti. Indeed, the President said he did not see any other real threat as tangible and as effective as that.

Dr. Brzezinski said to get the Allies to do this will be quite difficult. They will see in breaking relations a threat of a retaliatory oil cutoff. Therefore, we will have to be damn convincing that we will take action which could have the same result.

Admiral Turner said that he was skeptical that a break in relations would impact on Khomeini or the Iranian Parliament. It would impact on Bani Sadr, but he does not have the power to release the hostages. Admiral Turner said that he thought that Khomeini had reneged on the earlier scenario because he saw the secular authority of Bani Sadr gaining too much power.

The President was then handed a message which he reported as indicating that Bruce Laingen’s wife had said that the hostage families were meeting on the possibility that the Shah might be returned to the United States for medical treatment. They opposed that.11 Mr. Powell reported that the families do not want the Shah back in the country.

[Page 585]

Returning to the subject of Iran, the President said that a major immediate goal should be to get the Allies to commit themselves to breaking relations by a certain time. There may be other dates than the ones that he had suggested, but he did not see how we could get the Allies to commit themselves to such a course except by threatening other options that would have a severe adverse impact on them. We did not have to agree at this point on those options in order to go ahead on this track. Personally, the President said he was not so adverse to mining as some of the members of the [National] Security Council but that was a future decision.

The Vice President said that we were not under pressure politically to take drastic actions. In time our position will slip but it is not severe. There was no support in the country for any other course of action so we have political room to maneuver. We ought to use this time to push the Allies. The best way to do that would be to suggest that the alternative courses would be much more painful to them. The Vice President’s personal view was that all the other options were excessive at this point. He felt the appropriate target date was after the Parliament had met.

Secretary Vance raised the issue of our own sanctions. The Vice President suggested that we should formalize them. The Secretary agreed. The President said that we should outline for the Allies a series of steps that would include the possibility of more serious measures. Then we might take the first step in order to persuade them of our seriousness.

The Secretary of State said he thought we ought to tell the Allies that we are taking the step of breaking relations and imposing economic sanctions, and we are putting them on notice that we will be pressing them to do the same. The President asked: Why not press them now? The Secretary replied that we would probably get a mixed bag in response. The President said that even if we know they would not do it, he had the feeling that it would be good to press them. They agreed in the UN to break relations and to impose sanctions. The Secretary of State replied that some of them backed off when the UN Resolution was vetoed,12 saying they did not have a legal basis for imposing sanctions. The Secretary wondered whether we wanted to fight them on that issue. The Secretary of Defense observed that our Allies were saying that they cannot do sanctions without Soviet permission.

The Secretary of State asked nonetheless, do we want to get into that kind of fight?

[Page 586]

The Vice President asked when the Iranian Parliament would be in place. The Secretary of State replied May.

The President said that we should send a message to our other partners about moving to break relations. It should make clear that we want them to invoke sanctions and, if two weeks after the Iranian Parliament meets the hostages are not released, we would like them to proceed. We should also tell them that we will go ahead with our own sanctions and that if these peaceful options fail we reserve the right to interrupt commerce to Iran. Therefore we would like our Allies to join us in threatening a break in relations so that these other options prove unnecessary.

The President said that even if Helmut Schmidt rejects this approach he wants Schmidt to know that we have asked for his support. At the same time, the President said he did not wish to impose a deadline nor schedule military operations.

The Vice President asked when we would expel the diplomats. The President replied right away. The Secretary of State said that we should tell them first but we could do it as soon as next Thursday.13 Dr. Brzezinski asked whether we were breaking relations or simply expelling the diplomats. The Secretary replied that we were expelling the diplomats. An actual break in relations would follow the meeting of the Iranian Parliament and the failure to secure the release of the hostages.

Dr. Brzezinski summarized the foregoing discussion as follows: we will ask our Allies to break relations on a coordinated basis following two weeks after the convening of the Iranian Parliament if the hostages had not been released; this message to the Allies would be accompanied by a statement that if this does not work, we reserve the right to interrupt commerce to Iran.

General Jones said that he could brief our Allies on our military options. Harold Brown cautioned that we should be certain not to give an impression which later would look like a bluff. The President asked that a message along the lines outlined by Dr. Brzezinski be coordinated for his review.

As for the possible briefing of the Allies, General Jones indicated that he could do this in May. Dr. Brzezinski endorsed the idea saying that it could reinforce our diplomatic message if it did not appear to be credible. The President also thought it would be useful to let General Jones provide his briefing before the Allies decide.

[Page 587]

The Secretary of State reported that the National Council of Churches was organizing a world-wide appeal for Easter release of the hostages. Moreover, they are also trying to organize services for the hostages.

Admiral Turner suggested that we push hard on the concept of more visits to the hostages. The Secretary of State endorsed the idea. Admiral Turner further suggested that we promote the idea of each of the hostages calling their families to verify that they were all right. The President thought that also was a good idea.

[Omitted here is discussion on Afghanistan, the Middle East, relations with the Soviet Union, SALT II, and Diego Garcia.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 57. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Carter talked to Sadat that morning from 8:41 to 8:47 a.m. No other record of the conversation has been found. (Carter Library, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. March 23.
  4. Presumably Jones briefed from available material including an undated paper, “Concept of Operations,” and a March 11 untitled survey of conditions at the Embassy. (Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff Records, RG 218–07–0002, Records of J–3 DDSO, Box 7, Iranian Hostage Crisis 1979–1984, I 102–103 Rice Bowl Concept of Operations, and Box 2, B 184–188 Executive Info Package) Also available was a March 11 “Military Options Matrix” that included the rescue operation. In its original form, this matrix had assessed such options as attacking the Abadan refinery, destruction of Iran’s F–14 fleet, a naval blockade, mining of key ports, and seizure of Abu Musa and Tunbs Islands. (Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 82M00501R: 1980 Subject Files, Box 13, [text not declassified]) Odom hand-carried the original matrix to Carter at Camp David on November 20, 1979. (Joint Chiefs of Staff History Office, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, 1977–1980, p. 73)
  5. A potential staging area in Iran between Yazd and Isfahan.
  6. In a March 21 paper, “Outline of Operational Concept,” the CIA identified the Twin Otter mission as “a clandestine air penetration of Iran to locate and determine the suitability of an MC–130 landing zone for use in place of Na’in Airfield for helicopter refueling operations.” It identified what would become Desert One. [text not declassified] (Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 82M00501R: 1980 Subject Files, Box 14, Folder 1)
  7. Dated March 21. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 31, Iran 3/80)
  8. The Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers was scheduled to meet in Islamabad May 17–22.
  9. On March 18, the EC Heads of Mission in Tehran and the Greek Chargé recommended that, given the need to uphold the principle of diplomatic immunity and the failure of the Commission of Inquiry, their respective countries should request from Bani-Sadr that he release the hostages. Failing that, they recommended that their Embassies in Iran close until the hostages were released. (Telegram 1951 from Copenhagen, March 21; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800154–0934) Saunders included this communiqué in the March 20 Iran Update. (Memorandum from Saunders to Vance, Christopher, and Newsom, March 19; Department of State, Official Files of [P] David D. Newsom, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Lot 82D85, Iran Update Mar 1980)
  10. See footnote 13, Document 204.
  11. In their March 22 letter, the hostage families wrote Carter that they had organized themselves into the Family Liaison Action Group and that they were “alarmed and outraged” by reports of U.S. involvement with the Shah, particularly Jordan’s presence in Panama. The group felt that the United States “should in no way be negotiating, publicly or privately, on behalf of the Shah.” The families were prepared to “object strongly and publicly” if the Shah returned to the United States or was treated in a U.S. military hospital “because we know such action will ruin what chances may be left for getting our people out of Iran.” They also charged Carter with being “insensitive” to their feelings and those of the American people. (Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 34, Iran 3/80)
  12. See Document 147.
  13. March 27.