Amid charges, countercharges and a slight retreat by CBS News, Henry Kissinger decided yesterday not to appear on next Sunday's "60 Minutes," as he had apparently promised.
The No. 1 prime-time program on TV had postponed a segment last Sunday -- called "the Kissinger-Shah Connection" -- for one week under the impression that if '60 Minutes" agreed to a couple of conditions, Kissinger would appear to reply to allegations contained in the segment. They concern his relationship with the deposed shah of Iran while Kissinger was secretary of state under President Nixon.
The "promise" to appear, subject to the conditions, was made last Friday by Kissinger, but yesterday he notified CBS he had no intention of appearing -- alleging, says CBS, that it was to be "a hatchet job."
According to CBS News sources, the story about connections between the shah and Kissinger had been in the works at '60 Minutes" since last December.
Sometime earlier this year, Dan Rather and others working on the story discovered what one source said "they considered to be new and significant information" concerning the background of why the United States didn't use its influence with the shah to prevent the 1973 oil price ordered by the OPEC cartel (apparently alleging that Kissinger didn't act at the time to pressure the shah).
After Kissinger canceled out yesterday, "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt issued an angry statement alleging that Kissinger had "reneged" on an earlier promise and that, in addition, Kissinger had threatened to sue the program over the segment.
Attached to Hewitt's statement were concurring remarks by Rather, pointing out that Kissinger "personally gave me his word" and that "on the basis of his word I pulled the segment from Sunday's lineup."
But late yesterday CBS News vice president of public-affairs broadcasting Bob Chandler, who did not like the wording of the earlier statement, ordered a rewrite that omitted the word "renege" and the reference to Kissinger's threat to sue.
Rather, however, stuck with his earlier remarks, although he said "we" (instead of "I") had "pulled the segment."
According to the second, revised statement issued by CBS, News yesterday:
" '60 Minutes' has been working on a story for some time on the policies of Henry Kissinger with respect to Iran while he was secretary of state.
"In the course of preparing the story, we asked him several times to appear in the report. He refused the report, titled "The Kissinger-Shah Connection,' was then scheduled for Sunday, April 27.
"On Thursday night, April 24, Dr. Kissinger called Dan Rather and protested the planned broadcast of the story. Late Friday afternoon, Kissinger agreed to appear, subject to securing the permission of NBC, to whom he is under contract, and subject to a postponement of the story for a week, while he could make time for an interview.
" '60 Minutes' agreed to the delay and announced it to the press last Friday. Because some listings appeared in newspapers and some promotions appeared on the air '60 Minutes' announced this postponement Sunday on its broadcast.
"On Monday morning, April 28 after succeeding in having the report postponed, Dr. Kissinger informed '60 Minutes' first through his agent [Marvin Josephson], then personally, that he had no intention of appearing, alleging that it was 'a hatchet job.' Accordingly, Dr. Kissinger will not appear on '60 Minutes' next week. "The Kissinger-Shah Connection will be broadcast as announced."
Rather added yesterday that "Last Friday, Henry Kissinger agreed to be interviewed if we would postpone the '60 Minutes' segment for one week. He personally gave me his word. On the basis of his word, we pulled the segment from Sunday's lineup."
Reached in New York late yesterday where he was scheduled to preside at a dinner given by the Council of Foreign Relations, Kissinger said through a spokesman that "any notion of a suit is totally absurd" because he hadn't seen the program.
According to Kissinger's spokesman Bill Hyland in Washington, Kissinger "decided not to go on the program after listening to various witnesses they were going to interview" and deciding that "it was not going" to be fair or objective."
Hyland said Kissinger proposed that the program "interview other people who could offer a different viewpoint and [CBS] had not agreed. He decided it was not going to be a fair treatment and he wasn't going to participate."
As for the earlier charge by CBS News that "Kissinger reneged" on his promise to appear, Hyland said the former secretary of state characterized the charge as "absurd."
He said Kissinger felt it would be a "hatchet job" knowing the viewpoints of the witnesses "60 Minutes" had interviewed.