Secretary of State Cyrus Vance conferred for 2 1/2 hours with the shah of Iran today, and indicated afterward that the United States would continue its role as Iran's main arms supplier without linking the sales to the situation in the country.
At a news conference, Vance said the human rights issue came up at the meeting at Niavaran Palace, but he refused to be drawn into any criticism of Iran on the matter. He also said he did not raise with the shah the possibility of linking continued U.S. arms sales to improvement of the Iranian human rights situation.
Vance, the highest U.S. official to visit Iran since President Carter took office, declined to discuss details of his arms talks, but said the shah "did not express concern" about any slowing of U.S. weapons sales to Iran. "We discussed some outstanding orders and agreed to discuss them further in the future," Vance said.
During the campaign and after he took office, President Carter emphasized human rights as a factor in U.S. relations with other countries.
Military aid was denied to Uruguay, Argentina and Ethiopia because of human rights violations in those countries. Recently, however, the administration has appeared to moderate that policy, particularly concerning countries that are considered to be of great strategic importance like South Korea and Iran.
The new administration has also imposed a partial moratorium on arms sales to foreign countries while officials reassessed policy in this area. Nevertheless, on April 27 Carter approved the sale to Iran of five sophisticated reconnaissance planes costing about $1.1 billion.
Iran has ordered about $15 billion worth of U.S. weapons in the last five years. Since Iran quadrupled its oil prices in 1973, the country's defense budget has increased proportionately so that it now ranks as the largest purchaser of military equipment in the nonindustrial world and accounts for more than one-third of total U.S. foreign military sales.
The overriding concern in the Carter administration's policy considerations toward Iran appears to be the country's strategic location as a strong bugger between the Soviet Union to the north and the world's most important oil export terminals in the Persian Gulf to the south. Iran has assumed the role of self-proclaimed protector of this key oil export route to the West.
Talking to reporters at the U.S. embassy, Vance said he did not expect President Carter's concern with human rights to "complicate relations" with Iran. "It is one of the factors that has to be taken into account in that has to be taken into account in our bilateral relations," he said.
The closest Vance came to criticizing Iran's human rights position was when he said he recognized that "this country has a responsibility to deal with terrorism," but added "the question of dissent doesn't necessarily involve terrorism."
Asked about charges by Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that Washington secretly funded opposition attempts to topple his government, Vance replied emphatically, "They are false." He said he had hoped to discuss the matter with Pakistan's foreign minister at a meeting of the Central Treaty Organization here Saturday, but Pakistan is only sending its Tehran ambassador to the conference in an apparent snub to the United States.
Vance said the United States and the Soviet Union "might find a bridging of differences" over the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks resuming in Geneva. He indicated that the United States has no new proposals to break the current deadlock, but he said he hoped the two sides could achieve a "synthesis" of proposals already on the table.