1985 – President Jimmy Carter, “The US and Iran, the Shah’s down-fall, the hostage crisis and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeyni,” a presentation made to 85 Emory undergraduates, Ken Stein’s class, March 24, 1985, recorded and transcribed with President Carter’s permission at the time.
Note to the reader: As part of his agreement and engagement with Emory University after his 1980 defeat, Carter became an Emory University Professor and regularly lectured two days a month to different classes/courses at Emory. He lectured regularly in my Middle Eastern history and Arab-Israeli history courses This lecture was his summary of US-Iranian relations. The notes of the lecture were transcribed from a tape of the class presentation, for which President Carter gave his permission. One should read Carter’s presentation carefully; I have made assessments about what Carter omitted in his class presentation and tried to put some of Carter’s remarks into a broader context. These evaluations are my own and not those of President Carter.
Summary and Ken Stein/s commentary: Neither Carter nor decision-makers in his administration (Vance and Brzezinski) fully understood or appreciated or took seriously the depth of the Iranian people’s combined growing dislike for the Shah’s autocratic rule, nor the administration realize the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few in the Shah’s establishment was a bitter reality for many Iranians. And therefore, could not include those variables to figure into the growing unrest in the Iranian population against the Shah’s rule.
Carter told the students that his administration that the Shah had violated individual human rights, including the imposition of summary punishments by Savak, his intelligence service. Carter did not tell the students he understood the gravity of the abuses undertaken, thinking along the path that the Shah had been a friend of the US for so long and that Iran had value for the US in staying supportive of him and Iran’s place for American policy in the Middle East. Though Carter did not note it to the students, Carter did say in January 1978 in his visit to Tehran, “Iran is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect, admiration, and love which your people give to you.” New York Times, January 2, 1978.”[Showering praise on the Shah was typical of Carter’s effusive public assessments with other leaders. To Saudi Crown Prince Fahd at a White House meeting on May 24, 1977, Carter said, “I don’t believe there is any other nation with whom we’ve had better friendship and a deeper sense of cooperation than we’ve found in Saudi Arabia. And so far as I know, between ourselves and Saudi Arabia there are no disturbing differences at all.” In January 1978, Carter told Egyptian President Sadat in Cairo, “I will represent your interests as if they were my own. You are my brother. I hope I will never let you down. You are probably the most admired statesman in the US.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle, p.284] – kws 6.27.2023
Returning to the Shah specifically, Carter’s personal remarks about the Shah fell on totally unwelcome ears among Iranians who were already bubbling with anger against his abusive acts of violence that he applied to those who protested publicly against him and his policies. Carter did not acknowledge to that students nor did he realize when he made those remarks in January 1978 about the Shah personally that those remarks would reverberate negatively in Iran. Carter acknowledged in this class presentation that the Shah had cancer, but American intelligence and therefore his administration was not aware of the severity of his affliction; Carter noted that in 1978 he never saw any intelligence from American or other sources that said that a revolution in Iran was in the making or that the Shah’s rule was threatened by unrest; he told the students that he had expected Khomeyni not to violate ‘religious standards.’ Carter did not anticipate that the Shahs’ fall and Khomeyni’s rise to power would include absolute autocratic rule. Carter told the students that he faith in Khomeyni as a religious leader, not understanding the deep hatred Khomeyni had for the Shah, a hatred that had built over decades, and Carter did not indicate to the students that there were decades of bubbling antagonism’s emerging against the Shah’ rule [Note to the reader: As Carter did elsewhere in the Middle East in his evaluation of foreign and international matters, he did not take into account the gripping impact that recent history, proud nationalism, encrusted ideology or the particular political culture of a country possessed in shaping shaped local regional politics- On Iran, virtually no one in is administration was following the emergence of the Shia Mosque network’s influence over major population segments. This is attested to by both the Iranian desk officer at the State Department and the Deputy Chief of Mission in Iran -Henry Precht and Charles Naas – when they recollected about what unfolded in fall 1978. In the Arab Israeli conflict resolution realm, neither Carter nor his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski comprehended the deep hostility existing in regional relationships. His administration did not grasp the levels of mistrust if not hatred that existed in 1977 between Jordan and the PLO, Egypt and Syria, the PLO and Israel, and Syria and Israel. It is not that Carter discarded historical realities in shaping his policies, he did not understand their existence or the impact these animosities had on the policies that he wanted sustain, craft or implement.]
In this presentation to the Emory students, Carter initially avoided answering a student’s question whether his administration had a double standard in defining human rights abuses in Iran, because it was the Shah, a friend of Washington. At the end of his presentation, he did acknowledge that accommodations were made to Iran and the Shah’s behavior because of its geostrategic location to the USSR, and thus its importance to the US interest in curbing Soviet aggression into Iran and beyond.
For the students, Carter went into considerable detail in discussing US policies toward the Shah in the Shah’s last days in office, including acknowledgement that the White House and the State Department were not uniform in their views of what should or could unfold in the period when the Shah was tottering. Carter’s use of the term ‘not uniform’ hides the dramatic differences the existed at the time between Secretary of State Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski his National Security Adviser. Brzezinski wanted to use force to keep the Shah in power, Vance was opposed to that option. Carter said to the students that he believed at the time in 1977-1979, that the Shah was democratizing his country, but it seems those words uttered by the Shah to Carter in personal meetings were both not accurate, but sufficient for Carter to believe that was what the Shah was doing and saying was an accurate assessment of what was transpiring in Iran. Here Carter, showed to the students a key view of his personality that he had about most people, he possessed faith in what he was told or promised by them; ‘they would not lie.’
Carter acknowledged that the Shah did act too late in seeking to make governance reforms at home, but he had to receive credit for saying that he was trying! Carter acknowledged the Shah had some human rights abuses, then he compared them to Khomeyni’s human rights abuses, making it a ‘moral equivalence’ assessment comparing what the Shah and what Khomeyni later did to his people and to the killing he allowed in the Iran-Iraq war. Carter was evaluating and comparing brutality but did not give to the students a sense that the Shah’s brutality used against his citizens was a core reason why his population lost faith in his rule. Carter said again to the students, that as president had faith in Khomeyni’s morality, returning to a description of the hostage crisis, “The hostage crisis was a violation of Khomeini’s own religious beliefs.”
Toward the end of the student questions, Carter acknowledged Iran was a strategic military asset for the United States, particularly in relation to the Soviet Union. Carter said, “. We had two sites that we in Northern Iran, we used to monitor test flights of Soviet Missiles. And these two sites were very valuable to us, because we could…if we could observe with our technical means, the launching of a missile and its characteristics after launch , we could determine the type of missile the size of the missile and how many more and so forth…[laughter] but anyway, we were very eager to keep those missile sites. There were a lot of things that we were arriving at great benefit to us and the Shah. This is not the subject of the day but the human rights policy has to be quite flexible”
Carter concluded his discussion with the students in reviewing the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in April 1980.
Ken Stein, May 1, 2023
President Jimmy Carter, “The US and Iran, the Shah’s down fall, the hostage crisis and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeyni,” a presentation made to 85 Emory undergraduates, Ken Stein’s class, March 24, 1985, recorded with President Carter’s permission.
Carter: This is a map I’ve seen before [laughter] I wrote…before I left the White House, one was a map of Iran and this is Tehran, which is home for the Ayatollah Khomeini, at least where he stayed. The other was Alaska where we finally got a…efforts the Alaska landfill over a hundred million acres of land, and of course the other is the Sinai desert region where we very greatly considered by me, Sadat and Begin at Camp David.
Iran, as you know or as I will recapitulate , the history of Iran…The Shah of Iran was put into office quite early with full American support. He was quite different in attitude from his father, who had inclination to align himself with the Nazi’s in the second world war. The Shah also benefited frankly from true confrontation with the Soviets when following the Second World War, the Soviets had a strong a determination to stay in part of Iran, as a portion of that sphere of influence, but I think, in Tehran…may show that the Soviets did particularly withdraw.
Because of that experience, the Iranians always were quite fearful of Soviet intention. And the under Shah and later, the revolutionaries until now. The Soviet presence has been relatively small, when I took office there was a well-known cadre of a few hundred or a few thousand at most of communist affiliates…they were well identified by our intelligence and by the intelligence services in Iran. And I don’t think there is any preconception, I never heard any conjecture made by the intelligence forces that we had in the Middle East and GB and France and Germany and Italy or home that indicated the possibility of a revolution in Iran.
However, late in the year, my first year in office, the Shah made his first visit to meet with me. I think I was the 8th president he had known. With me, he was very determined when he came to the oval office to show what I thought was a well balanced and carefully considered insight into world affairs. Particularly those in Southeast Asia, in the Persian Gulf Region, what we normally referred to when we would say the Middle East. He spent about half an hour, describing to us what he thought might be significant in the peaceful competition between the superpowers, European influence in different countries in the Persian Gulf, the impact on a long-range basis of oil discoveries, oil production, how those disputes will have an impact on his country.
He informed me privately outside the cabinet room that Iran had decided earlier with American encouragement to supply Israel with oil and there was a total embargo as you know among the Arab countries against those shipments of oil with Israel. He had some private secret meetings with Israel’s leaders in his country, and on two occasions in Europe, like in a hotel room in London, and so he was interested in letting me know, in a very quiet way as told my intelligence services in the Arab countries that he was letting Israel have the benefit of their oil supply.
I had at that time quite a…in this revolutionary process. But any good intelligence from Iran about the public disturbances that had taken place, one of the weaknesses of our intelligence forces then and now is that we had kind of a tacit agreement, that with our closest friends such as Egypt and Israel and at that time, Iran, that we were not trying to penetrate in their country with a major intelligence officers for punishment of crimes (there). There had been a reciprocal agreement that was not honored by the other nations. Our country is so open in the presentation of news and opinions, we almost ignored the spying that goes on in our country by our allies and friends. But we do basically honor, the promise that we’ve kept not to try to penetrate their government. So our intelligence within Iran was limited except that the Shah and at least surrounding his military leaders… All started with a considerable amount of knowledge that the disturbances were already quite obvious in Iran, were much more serious in nature than believed by the general public. And so, after we finished a long session of routine consideration of large agenda, involving in the case of meeting with a world leader of a foreign country, I had the Shah come with me to a private room, the oval office is here, the secretaries office is beyond that and behind that is a small private room particularly in the summer time we had nice little private garden where I used to have lunch out a minister or a person or whoever…
And I went through the evidence concerning that the potential opposition to his regime, some of the things that had already been made public by the administration, a complicated subject, one of one of the major forces against the Shah inside Iran, in Europe particularly influence on Iranian students who had been sent abroad and who’s tuition was being paid by the Iranian government. But these groups too had been disillusioned by the moral trappings of the Shah and his family what they considered to be a wasteful expenditure of Iran’s riches and his general autocratic attitude towards his people.
Another very important element of opposition not related, I might say, directly, was opposition from a very rapidly rising middle class, who had always been quite poverty stricken and… but who, because of income that Iran was realizing from its large shipments of oil had become more fluent, more accurate in commercial affairs, traveling abroad whenever they chose, having frequent or constant interactions with foreign scientists and educators, instruction in forms of management. And they were quite educated. But they had no authority to participate in the political affairs of Iran. They had no voice in shaping the destiny of their country. And they were frustrated at this total [non-participation] in the social scene. There were a very conservative rulers or religious leaders on a local level who were dealing with the Shiite Muslims, and as you know they resented very deeply the Shah’s westernization of the country, modernization is not quite an accurate world, but the Shah insisted on women should have equal rights and doing away with traditional dress and many other revolutionary things which the Shah and the…of Iran were deeply resented by the religious conservatives. And the Shah also had a series of arrangements, very secret, but it was sort of a combination of [lets say our] FBI the CIA the local police, and they were quite brutal in their handling of prisoners, just before government…there had been a demonstration of a large group of people on the streets of Iran who had been mowed down by machine guns.
SAVAK, anyway, the secret police and when someone was arrested and put in jail, it was pretty obvious from the reports that I had from the national security sources and multiple other sources, that they were tortured, and were not given at least what we consider to be basic human rights.
Well, I described this thing to the Shah that his situation was he had 33,000 people in jail and he said no I have 2,500 and he told me that my assessment was completely erroneous, that there was no widespread opposition to his benevolent regime but that all of his opponents were being directed from the Soviet Union, he only surmised a few hundred citizens and there were special laws were created to deal with them as well as on his own subjects. We reached an impasse when we both made our point, and the Shah also added as an aside that he thought that the Westerners, the nation including our own of, Germany and GB and so forth were entirely too permissive in dealing with demonstrators. He said his way was best. He had to show a superior, policy in eliminating this disturbance immediately and if necessary, brutally.
Later in that year, the last weekend in 1977 I went to Tehran along with a lot of other people, we happened to spend New Years Eve with the Shah, and he was saying, I went to discuss with him the Sadat moves in the Middle East. He hadn’t heard a lot about it, we spoke in the Shah’s vehicle from the palace, orchestra was playing and Barbara Walters was dancing with the Shah, we had about two hundred American news people with us and some quite famous, anyway.
I left the Shah, then to Saudi Arabia and went through Egypt briefly and came back home, or maybe I came from France. That was the first indication, and then later that year, in 1978, the student demonstrators in this country became more and more vociferous and active and more and more antagonistic of the Shah and in Europe, particularly in the European capitals, and the Shah had demonstrations at home.
When I had a meeting in “Waterloo” with four of the, a few of the other Western leaders of Germany, Great Britain, and France, and one of the things we discussed was the Iranian revolution by then had gained greatly, and Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in France he came to Iraq but he was expelled from Iraq, when he was in France he had been making audio tapes, speeches, which were being sent back to Iran and they were very surreptitiously being played on the radio. The tape recorders and everyone had in Iran, and he became a focal point for all the dissident groups.
From the middle class to the students. Ayatollah: the mullahs did what the Ayatollah Khomeini provided, they were a core as a single confidential force of opposition to the Shah. We gave full support to the Shah. We encouraged him all the time had to honor the principle of human rights, to democratize his country, to get his people posts in the government and the Shah made…even announcing later on that he would leave Iran, the Shah was always a day late and a dollar short. He always did the right thing but a little too late and a little too reluctantly and he lost the trust of his own people.
The Shah had no governmental structure from here on down all the way down to the Iranian people, he was isolated. He would only let the military leaders meet with him personally, the navy was not permitted to deal with the army or the Air force, each one communicated to the Shah and his ambassador came to see me and said that there was no way the Shah could even present to the Iranian people the good things he was doing, and there were many in Iran in education, housing, healthcare, liberalization of trade he did a lot of good things and we were very proud of what he was doing in a material way.
But he didn’t know how to communicate it to the Iranian people. So basically, in spite of our strenuous efforts to help the Shah, he had only a few advocates, and he left there a Prime Minister, who was fairly independent; in several days [in January-February 1979] despite our efforts which we made, and Great Britain and France made, Khomeini decided to fly back into Iran and when he got there he became the second ruler of Iran both religious ruler and political ruler of Iran.
And he appointed a couple of pretty good people to be Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and from as early as 1979 all the way until November we had a fairly good relationship with Iran, we would send delegations over… Secretary of State, me, I was aware of the needs of Iran, and the desires of Iran to get along with us as a counterforce to the possible Soviet question, and also the citizens for a great opportunity to build up the revolution.
We had offered the Shah placement in the United States when he was forced to leave Iran, and he was prepared to go to the ends of the earth for his state… he had a very rich friend, a man in the publishing business, who had literally hundreds of millions of dollars. He knew the Shah and he had been an ambassador in GB I think under…I had met him when I traveled in Europe as the governor. But anyway he had offered his estate, which I think is near Los Angeles, he went and stayed there beautiful, several hundred agents and so forth, and the Shah was destined to go there and we had made arrangements for him to take off in Iran and land in Andrews air force base in Washington to refuel and go on out to California, but at the last minute the Shah, influenced by his advisors, decided not to go out of the region. He wanted to stay close to Iran and keep his presence there so that he might get back into Iran if and when it became possible.
So he went first to Egypt and Sadat made him welcome, and Sadat immediately informed me, in fact I heard that the Shah was not coming to the United State from Sadat. And he stayed in Egypt for a while, and soon it became obvious, it became obvious that a large number of Egyptians were strongly anti-Shah. And pro the revolution. And it became increasingly difficult for Sadat to keep the Shah there and the Sadat never made any moves to expel the Shah. Sooner or later the Shah decided to go to Morocco. King Hassan made him welcome in Morocco. For a while, and then the revolutionary pressures which had…being exerted, forced King Hassan to expel the Shah.
The Shah by then wanted to come to the United States. I didn’t think it was advisable since he had turned us down originally, the revolution was fairly well established, and I thought it would be better, and I’ve never changed my mind, for the Shah to go to a more neutral country. So we made arrangements for him to go to the Bahamas, and he went to the Bahamas and had a beautiful place and soon became obsessed with the fact that the Bahamians were cheating him, they charging him too much rent. I don’t doubt that that’s true, having unlimited wealth and then the Shah soon insisted leaving the Bahamas and so we decided with the Shah with secret diplomacy to go to different places but he didn’t want to go anywhere else. South Africa was willing to accept him, he didn’t want to go to Europe in one of the small countries there in the mountains, and I finally decided that it might be better for him to go to an island off the coast of Panama. By the end we had configured…one of my best personal friends, with his company was trying to negotiate…and went down, decided with the Shah to go there.
So he went to a beautiful island called (?) but anyway the Shah lived a very comfortable life there. And I thought that was a great arrangement. But then, to make a long story short and here again…the Shah was very ill, in fact he had cancer and he had known that for a couple a years even before the revolution took place, his wife even did not know, but some of the American doctors had been to Iran secretly as far back as 1977, and they had told the Shah that he had an incurable cancer. And the doctors came and other people like him, Kissinger, Baker…and told them that the Shah had terminal illness, and the doctors told me and we had the doctors return to the state department to confirm it. The hospitals in New York were the only place where he might find diagnostic facilities and treatment that might save his life. So when I discovered that, process of extraditing…I told him to bring him on in to New York to treat him.
We had notified the Prime Minister of Iran at that time it was Prime Minister Bazargan, that this was going to happen, and he said that it would be disturbing, in their mind there would be in opposition to it, I told him it wasn’t a matter of negotiation we were going to bring him in anyway. And Bazargan made a commitment to me that any threats on our embassy, or to the American people that they would be prevented or thwarted by the Iranian government. So, the Shah came to New York and then shortly after that I think it was in the month (November 1979), the group of revolutionaries, students, militants, kidnappers, terrorists entered the American embassy and the Iranian government did not contend or contest. We had increased security there a good bit and we had reduced the number of embassy personnel from more than 1100 (it was the largest embassy we had in the world) down to about 75 or 80. And when the students took it over, there was no way for us to defend it for there were several thousand outside, and Bazargan…crowd of students outside the embassy wanted to do without bloodshed, but then Khomeini sent his son into the embassy and he talked with the kidnappers and he came out and announced that he thought the kidnappers were right.
By this time the kidnappers had become quite famous in Iran as heroes beating the American giants and subsequently and quite relatedly and I think somewhat…Khomeini endorsed the kidnappings and the holding them hostage. And of course this cemented they were without a government would protect the embassy, no one could send troops to a foreign country to defend the embassy if the local government is not wiling to do so as well. This had never happened in the previous 600 years, in fact…this was a direct violation of the Koran and also for anyone understanding agreements, at this point, it might be better for me to stop and answer any questions…
…As I and subsequently, he devoted a large part of his time to study what had happened while he was a prisoner and also he (unclear from the tape to whom Carter was referring) has been a writer and a constant lecturer on the subject and I respect him and admire him very much. I might say that when he first was released from the ordeal and came here and met me…he was quite unanimous and consistent on his praise of what we had done. Over a period of several years, he has become more and more critical of some of the…that have precipitated the taking of the embassy. And I can certainly understand that.
Student Question: You had mentioned that one of the criticisms shouldn’t have taken hostages…and looking at Iranian history of cross-relations with the US and the Shah’s relations with the US why were the Americans still there…?
Carter: Before the revolution, we had about 40,000 Americans in Iran, and one of the most difficult assignments I had, when the Shah was in his last month as the leader of Iran was to get those 40,000 Americans out. And it was an enormous problem for us, particularly after the revolution erupted on the streets of Iran, it was warfare, and thousands of people were killed and we never lost a single American. What I had to do was I had to arrange with the broadest possible exertion of American influence, military, State Department anything else, to get those Americans identified, to get them located, to induce them to leave, to arrange transportation to one of the nearby airports where we had tight military control, to get them loaded on an airplane and to get them to the United States.
Most airplanes could only hold a couple hundred people, and we had 40,000 to get out. And some of them were quite reluctant to leave because they had major investments in Iran. Some of them represented companies that had like 50 bulldozers in Iran. They didn’t want to leave the damn bulldozers. Hundreds of millions of dollars in cost of material. But we finally convinced them to come out and we reduced our embassy from 1,100 to 72. About 80 I think because 6 of them went to the Canadian embassy you know. Less than 80. So we had a dramatic reduction in embassy personnel. And then from January/February of 79’ until November 79’ we had very good relationships with the Revolutionary Government. There was no premonition that we had, you know, that this would take place, even after the Shah was brought out of there for medical treatment we cleared it with Bazargan and he had spoken to Khomeini immediately but the Shah was in his last days of life, and so we brought him in. And so I don’t think we could have brought them out anymore…the last few that we brought out were 32 teachers. In Tehran in Junior College. And they said that the students loved them, that many of their own students were the ones that had participated in the kidnappings and the hostages. And they felt quite safe because the Iranians would take care of them no matter what happened I revoked their passports, you know to force them out, we had one American company, a large company who refused to bring their people out. They had about 140 of them. I told them that if they didn’t order all their personnel out of Iran that I was going to revoke their passports and force them back, so you know when you live in a free democratic society, I did all I could.
Student Question: Not only did it seem like theUnited States failed in achieving the desired outcome in Iran but actively collaborating with a replacement of a modern autocrat that was friendly to American interests, that had shown signs of democratizing his society, we replaced him with an extremist in Ayatollah Khomeini. It seemed you were willing to accept the status quo in a you wouldn’t in a like right wing dictatorship, like the Shah. Instead, it seems like… people like Khomeini, which we define themselves of enemies should be treated as such…why the double standard?
Carter: Are you insinuating at all that we supported the revolution, that we encouraged the Shah to leave, or that we were friends of Khomeini and enemies of the Shah?
Question: Well, I was just saying that um…
Carter: That seems to be what you’re insinuating.
Question: It seems like, why would you not believe what Khomeini was saying? Why the double standard between like a communist nation and—
Carter: Well, wait a minute. There wasn’t a double standard. We supported the Shah as long as he had any opportunity to stay there. And wanted the Shah to stay. We were very pleased when the Shah tried to democratize his government and appointed a prime minister and let his people have some more intellectual…remember, remember, and we were always concerned about the intentions of Khomeini, and even after the Shah left voluntarily, as far as we were concerned, we encouraged the Shah to stay.
But even after the Shah decided to leave and leave behind some of his friends, not specifically…we still did everything we could to prevent Khomeini from going back to Iran because we knew he would be a be not a dictator. We [The US} can’t exert our influence inside France enough to restrain an Iranian citizen from returning to his own home, and he decided to fly back even the…of Spain, had a direct conversation with Khomeini discouraging him from going back to Iran, but Khomeini had a mind of his own which he certainly exhibited. But there is no question in my mind that the adverse consequences to Iran of Khomeini returning has been a tragedy for the people of Iran.
The Shah did have some human rights abuses, there’s no question about that, estimated by American standards, but the human rights abuses by Khomeyni, the outright murder, the assassinations on the street the persecution of people… hundreds of thousands of Iranian soldiers into Iraq, all of these things are the result of a fanatic misinterpretation of control. I don’t doubt that Iran lost, 15-20% of its total wealth. Just because of the hostage crisis. The hostage crisis was a violation of Khomeini’s own religious beliefs.
And people that trusted Khomeini, to attack hostages who were diplomats. And I think that the Iraqi attack on Iran was precipitated by Khomeini’s fanaticism and irresponsibility. So I have nothing, no feelings towards Khomeini himself, except one of condemnation and revulsion, he’s fanatic and responsible, and he’s still that way, I don’t think anyone could doubt it, my hope is that the Khomeini government [laughter]…more moderate religious beliefs.
I think the Iraqis made a serious mistake in invading Iran, as it turned out, would like to get the world over with and restore the international borders back to its previous starting place. But Khomeini has taken an oath before God that he will never stop the holy war against Iraq until Saddam Hussein would be removed from office or killed, and all of his associates and cabinet members have either been removed from office or killed. Well this means that as long as Khomeini lives, there will never be a cessation of hostilities between Iran and Iraq no matter what the circumstances, so I believe that Khomeini will keep his oath before God. So, the best thing that can be forthcoming in the present part of the war, is a slow reduction in the actual level of combat so that fewer people are killed every week, well I think that the Iran/Iraqi war will continue…
Question: What forms did the support of the Shah take in the last days…you said we backed him until he left. What were we doing?
Carter: We were working to keep his military loyal, I sent an American general in to represent me directly. To deal with these military forces, we gave the Shah advice and public support, I issued public statements in support of the Shah. Whenever he made a move towards democratization or liberalization of policies, we joined with him as carefully, devised between my advisors and the state department to give public support, and we encouraged the European and other nations to give the Shah support and we kept our trade open with the Shah so he wouldn’t have…nation’s income, we did everything diplomatically, and with the military. The Shah had, if the military had been loyal to the Shah, they could have prevented it. But the essence of it was that by the time the revolution was consummated, the supporters of the Shah had become, I’ll estimate, if I were to estimate, 30%, 20%, 10% of his fellow Iranian population. He just lost his base of support in the country, and when that time passed, then it was impossible for us to perpetuate the Shah’s regime. We could, I guess if I had been willing to send in 200,000 American troops, I could have taken over the country, provided we were able to defeat the Iranian army, air force and navy, in a remote part of the world, that’s a ridiculous concept. So we worked with the Shah, with his leaders, in trying to strengthen his regime, his popularity on a worldwide basis and his support among the other Arab countries in that region and to let him know that if he did withdrawal that we would give full support to the PM and the cabinet that he left behind. I think in retrospect we did everything we could. I’ve never seen any responsible analyst…Monday morning…I don’t think we could have done anything more to protect the Shah. The only thing we could have done was send in American military troops to go defend the Shah against his own people.
Question: You said that the Shah spoke and we knew of the political prisoners, you had good intelligence on his secret police and everything. In light of your foreign policy emphasis on human rights, how could you continue to support that so thoroughly?
Carter: Well, of course by the time the Shah became in danger, he had already initiated a great number of modifications to his human rights abuses, as I said he always did it a little too late and not quite enough. The Shah did it not because of my pressures on him, but because he was trying to remove some of the causes of the increasing revolutionary opposition to his reign. But he noted considerably, in a number of forms, I can’t recall what they were but he tried to publicize the he was trying to make, promising people elections the right to vote in Iran and the right to the parliament and to let the parliament itself choose a replacement for the PM that the Shah put forward. And so, I think that those kind of things are indications that the Shah was moving in the right direction. Also the Shah had been around for 35 years or so. He had been loyal to us, we had shared responsibilities, we had difficult circumstances in keeping him alive during the…this was a very great contribution that the Shah was willing to make to his own great testament, in order to help us with Israel. There was a long history of close relationships and confrontations with the Shah. And also, Iran was in the process of establishing a whole series of intelligence sites to monitor what was happening in the Soviet Union so that if the Soviet Union ever attempted in the future to move towards the Persian Gulf in a military attack or invasion, the Shah was kind of a front line of defense for our close allies like Saudi Arabia, in the Persian Gulf region. We had two sites that we in Northern Iran, we used to monitor test flights of Soviet Missiles. And these two sites were very valuable to us, because we could…if we could observe with our technical means, the launching of a missile and its characteristics after launch , we could determine the type of missile the size of the missile and how many more and so forth…[laughter] but anyway, we were very eager to keep those missile sites. There were a lot of things that we were arriving at great benefit to us and the Shah. This is not the subject of the day but the human rights policy has to be quite flexible. You can’t just say these are American standards on human rights, if everybody is equal under the law and everyone has a right to trial by jury, everyone has a right to have equal treatment, you can’t apply those to all our allies and friends and say if you don’t abide by these, we reject you; go to Moscow for your friendship. That is a ridiculous thing to propose, and those of you who have read…Abraham know that…Israeli military occupations there are very serious human rights abuses, direct violation of American standards as described by our constitutional rights. Well we can’t reject Israel, as a friend, just because they don’t measure up to our standards in treating the Palestinians.
Question: Um, yeah, you mentioned that the Prime Minister Bazargan had assured you of some security and protection of the embassy. But I was wondering, what kind of confusion was going on with you and your administration at the time because knowing that a revolt had taken place, it must have been difficult to know who to speak to because there was obviously not a man who could do that for you.
Carter: Well, Bazargan was quite a powerful man. He had been in office for about 8-9 months, I don’t recall the exact dates, I did not review the chapter on Iran in my book before I came here, but he was obviously you know, put into office and had the full support of Khomeini. He had several encounters or confrontations with Khomeini, as far as the assassination of the people on the streets and remember the trial…to the revolution, Khomeini’s inclination was to kill…Bazargan’s inclination was not to. I think I can’t say his motivations but one of his motivations was that he wanted the world to approve of the Iranian Revolution. He wanted it to be acceptable to the world as an improvement over the Shah and as a stable element of the world scene. Khomeini was and is a fanatic, he didn’t care about what the rest of the world thought concerning Iran. Bazargan had several encounters with Khomeini and threatened to resign on two different occasions that we knew about and Khomeini had backed down and Bazargan had prevailed and Bazargan resigned after Khomeini endorsed the kidnapping of our hostages. And this was a severe blow to the image or concept of strength of the Iranian revolution. It became then that Iran was an outcast even among the Muslim countries. And I think, of course, that Bazargan was right and he resigned in public protest against Khomeini’s endorsement of the kidnappings of the hostages. We didn’t have any guarantee, but as I said earlier in 600 years of diplomatic history no government had ever failed, in peacetime, to protect the diplomats of another country and even in wartime when we went to war against Nazi Germany or Japan, we wouldn’t have permitted for their hostages to be kidnapped or abused.
Question: …right decision, right place, right time…is there anything that was not done, with regard to the rescue?
Carter: …[laughter] We had originally planned to send only 6, because these helicopters had been trained in very difficult desert conditions in our country in the West. For this…flight, sometimes in bad weather and sometimes in good weather, the crews were um, highly trained, we flew the helicopters out of the aircraft carriers down off the coast, and they had a long flight to make, it was a maximum flight, to desert 1 south of Tehran. Before that we had sent a small plane in, secretly, through Oman. Just like a twin engine commercial type small plane. And they had landed on desert 1 in the middle of the night, secretly, and they had taken photographs and taken samples to see if they could support a larger plane. And that had flown out without any detection. And we were quite, we had the ability to, in very technical measures that I can’t describe, um, to locate and identify and monitor even walkie talkie conversations in Iran. And so forth. We knew what the situation was in desert 1. And it was, at the time the helicopters took off, we only needed five, and we were going to send six originally, but they were all in such good shape, that we decided well we will just send seven, so we would have a cushion. We never dreamed that two of them would go down. One went down and one came back…and then of course, when they got to desert 1, one of them was incapable of flying, the system had failed. So we were down to five. We interrogated the people on the ground very closely, and we can’t possible have any estimation of…they came back knowing kind of…and there was a possibility that we could have done it had we been able to put in the sacrifice the three men who were in the foreign ministry building, we had all of our hostages in the embassy except for the three who had been kept from Iran in the state department in Tehran. And we needed the helicopters to get to the street to join with them with the others and bring them out. We knew where all the hostages were, we knew that everything was capture…automobile…vigilant…we knew which room they were in, and with mike division… things in my mind…we never dreamed that we would lose 3 helicopters.