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In December 1978, President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says, “An arc of crisis stretches along the shores of the Indian Ocean, with fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance to us threatened with fragmentation. The resulting political chaos could well be filled by elements hostile to our values and sympathetic to our adversaries.” (Time 1/8/1979) There is widespread discontent and rioting in Iran at the time. State Department official Henry Precht will later recall that Brzezinski had the idea “that Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets.” (Scott 2007, pp. 67) In November 1978, President Carter appointed George Ball head of a special White House Iran task force under Brzezinski. Ball recommends the US should drop support for the Shah of Iran and support the radical Islamist opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea is based on ideas from British Islamic expert Dr. Bernard Lewis, who advocates the balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. The chaos would spread in what he also calls an “arc of crisis” and ultimately destabilize the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union. The Shah will later comment in exile, “I did not know it then, perhaps I did not want to know? But it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted. What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.” (Engdahl 1992) While there is later debate about US policy towards Iran actually is at this time, it will be noted that the Carter administration had “no clear policy” due to internal divisions and confusion. (Keddie 2003) The Shah abdicates on January 16, 1979, and Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to Iran on February 1, 1979, taking over the government. Brzezinski will attempt to create a de facto alliance with Khomeini’s new fundamentalist government, but his efforts will come to a half with the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979 (see February-November 4, 1979).
After the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is deposed in Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini takes over as Iran’s new leader in February 1979, the US is interested in continuing to work with the Iranian government. At first the US is taken aback by the new fundamentalist Islamic government, and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski contemplates fomenting a military coup to stop Khomeini. But Khomeini is fiercely anti-communist, and Brzezinski soon decides that Iran’s new government can become part of an effective anti-Soviet alliance he calls the “arc of crisis’ (see November 1978-February 1979). The US embassy in Teheran, Iran, remains open, and more US officials come to Iran and begin tentative talks there. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 236-243) The CIA in particular begins secretly collaborating with Iranian intelligence, providing information about the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The CIA and Iran both covertly work to destabilize the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 264-265) In early November 1979, Brzezinski secretly meets with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, as well as Iran’s foreign minister and defense minister, in Algiers, Algeria. But shortly before the meeting, the US agrees to allow the Shah, dying with cancer, to come to the US for medical treatment. Khomeini is enraged, and on November 4, just three days after the Algeria meeting begins, Khomeini arranges for students to take over the US embassy in Teheran and seize hostages. This realigns political forces in Iran and allows Khomeini to sideline Bazargan and other others meeting in Algeria, rendering the negotiations there moot. Brzezinski’s attempts to create a de facto alliance with Iran collapse. The US hostages will be held for over a year before finally being freed. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 240-243)
The theocratic regime of Iran, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, halts all of Iran’s efforts to create either nuclear weapons or nuclear power plants. Under the previous regime, Iran had begun constructing a nuclear reactor in the city of Bushehr with the assistance of the German firm Siemens. However, Khomeini and his clerics view nuclear power and nuclear weapons as evil, and ban further work on the project. Iran will resume work in the mid-1980s when it learns that Iraq, its opponent in a long-running war (see September 1980), is working on its own nuclear weapons program, and suffers attacks from Iraqi chemical weapons (see August 13, 1981). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 212)
The Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa publishes an article reporting that the US has been sending spare parts and ammunition for US-made jet fighters to Iran in return for Iran facilitating the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (see September 15, 1985). It also reports that national security adviser Robert McFarlane and four other US officials, including his aide Oliver North, visited Tehran in September 1986 and met with several high-level Iranian officials, who asked for more US military equipment (see Late May, 1986). After the meeting, the report says, four C-130 transports airlifted the arms to Iran from a US base in the Philippines. The flight of the transports has never been confirmed, but the rest of the report is essentially factual. It is unclear where Al Shiraa got its information; the publication has close ties to Syrian officials, and it is possible that the Syrians leaked the information in order to destabilize any possible thawing of relations between the US and Iran, perhaps with an eye to increasing Syria’s own influence in Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, quickly confirms McFarlane’s visit, but adds elements to the story that many from all sides of the issue find hard to believe, including claims that McFarlane and his companions used Irish passports to enter Iran, and were posing as the flight crew of a plane carrying military equipment Iran had purchased from international arms dealers. Rafsanjani claims that McFarlane and his companions brought gifts of a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan, a cake shaped like a key (to symbolize an opening of better relations between Iran and the US), and a number of Colt pistols to be given to Iranian officials. Rafsanjani says that he and other Iranian officials were outraged at the visit, kept McFarlane and his party under virtual house arrest for five days, and threw them out, sparking the following complaint from McFarlane: “You are nuts. We have come to solve your problems, but this is how you treat us. If I went to Russia to buy furs, [Mikhail] Gorbachev would come to see me three times a day.” US officials say that Rafsanjani’s embellishments are sheer invention designed to humiliate the US and bolster Iran’s perception around the world. They confirm that McFarlane, North, and two bodyguards did visit Tehran, but bore neither Bible, cake, nor pistols; they did stay in Tehran four or five days, and met with numerous Iranian officials, perhaps including Rafsanjani. The officials are unclear about exactly what was accomplished, though apparently no new deals were concluded.
US Arms Deals with Iran Revealed - Though Rafsanjani’s account may be fanciful in its details, the effect of the Al Shiraa report is to blow the cover off of the US’s complex arms-for-hostage deals with Iran. While Al Shiraa does not mention the hostage deal, Rafsanjani does, saying that if the US and France meet certain conditions—the unfreezing of Iranian financial assets and the release of what he calls political prisoners held “in Israel and other parts of the world,” then “as a humanitarian gesture we will let our friends in Lebanon know our views” about the release of American and French hostages. On November 17, Time magazine will write of the Al Shiraa revelation, “As long as the deep secret was kept—even from most of the US intelligence community—the maneuver in one sense worked. Iran apparently leaned on Lebanese terrorists to set free three American hostages… . But once the broad outlines of the incredible story became known, the consequences were dire. The administration appeared to have violated at least the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a long succession of US laws that are intended to stop any arms transfers, direct or indirect, to Iran. Washington looked to be sabotaging its own efforts to organize a worldwide embargo against arms sales to Iran, and hypocritically flouting its incessant admonitions to friends and allies not to negotiate with terrorists for the release of their captives. America’s European allies, the recipients of much of that nagging, were outraged. Moreover, the US was likely to forfeit the trust of moderate Arab nations that live in terror of Iranian-fomented Islamic fundamentalist revolutions and fear anything that might build up Tehran’s military machine. Finally, the administration seemed to have lost at least temporarily any chance of gaining the release of the missing six US hostages in Lebanon, or of cultivating the Iranian politicians who might sooner or later take over from [the Ayatollah] Khomeini.” (Church 11/17/1986; New York Times 11/19/1987; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
'Cowboy' Operation in the West Wing - The arms-for-hostages deal is run from the National Security Council by a small group of NSC staffers under the supervision of North; the group is collectively known as the “cowboys.” A government official says in November 1986, “This thing was run out of the West Wing [of the White House]. It was a vest-pocket, high-risk business.”
Hossein Khomeini, Ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson, tells the Dutch Daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad that he would welcome a US intervention aimed at overthrowing the ruling mullahs. He says, “If it is only America that can bring freedom to us, let them do so.” (Radio Farda 8/2/2003)
The neoconservative American Enterprise Institute hosts Hossein Khomeini, grandson of the Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini. Khomeini leads a discussion on Iran’s future at the Wohlstetter Conference Center in Washington DC. He is introduced by Michael Ledeen. Both Khomeini and the AEI advocate the overthrow of Iran’s ruling mullahs by the US. (American Enterprise Institute 9/26/2003)
Hossein Khomeini, grandson of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a leading Iranian opposition figure, returns to Iran. During 2003, he spent several months in Iraq and visited the US, speaking at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (see September 26, 2003). Khomeini’s return to Iran is a surprise to Michael Ledeen and the AEI. According to Ledeen, sources close to the Khomeini family suggest that he was lured back with a combination of threats and promises. Ledeen says that Khomeini’s wife was recently visited by Iranian security agents who told her, “If your children suddenly die in the streets, you must know that it was not our doing.” (Ledeen 1/26/2004)
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