We asked Henry Kissinger to comment on allegations that he pressured the administration to permit the shah of Iran to enter the country and that he was exploiting the Iranian crisis politically. Mr. Kissinger's response, which we print here, was written before the president's press conference last evening.
Only the president of the United States can solve the present crisis, and I believe all Americans, of whatever party or persuasion, owe him our support and our prayers.
I have made no criticism of the president's handling of the crisis. My public comments in New York on Nov. 7, in Dallas on Nov. 10 and in Los Angeles on Nov. 11 all called for national unity behind the president. A senior White House official told me at breakfast on Nov. 21 that, on the basis of fragmentary news ticker reports, remarks I had made in Austin on the foreign policy challenges of the 1980's were subject to misinterpretation. I offered to put out an immediate clarifying statement expressing support for the president in this crisis and calling for unity. (Indeed, I suggested that Jody Powell draft it.) The offer was ignored.
Since then I have read and heard myself described by high White House officials as acting deviously and dishonorably; as advising the shah -- strangely enough -- to seek the advice of our government about whether to stay or leave this country; and as having exerted pressure to get him here in the first place.
This campaign struck me as all the more remarkable against the background of a call by me on the first day of the crisis to Deputy Undersecretary of State Ben Read in which I told him that I would not criticize the administration for its handling of the crisis either during its course or afterward; it could be sure that I would do my utmost to keep the crisis and its aftermath insulated from partisan controversy. The administration was well aware that from the first I have been calling congressional and other leaders urging restraint in comment. In short, it is not I who has been courting controversy in the middle of a national crisis.
As for my own involvement in recent events, ironically it began at the administration's initiative. In the first week of January 1979, a senior official of the State Department asked my help in finding a residence for the shah in the United States. Our government had concluded, I was informed, that the shah must leave Iran if the Bakhtiar government were to survive the efforts of Ayatollah Khomeini to obtain total power. If I could find a suitable domicile in America, the shah might overcome his hesitation and hasten his departure. I doubted the analysis but acceded to the request. I called David Rockefeller for help. Mr. Rockefeller expressed his personal sympathy for the shah but also his reluctance to become involved in an enterprise that might jeopardize the Chase Manhattan Bank's financial relationships with Iranian governmental or quasi-governmental organs. I then appealed to his brother Nelson; with his help, a suitable residence was located. A week later the shah left Iran. Two weeks afterward Nelson Rockefeller died.
Thus David Rockefeller's later role was hardly spurred by economic considerations as has been alleged; it ran, in fact, contrary to his commercial interests. He was motivated by his desire to carry out the legacy of his late brother and his devotion to the principal that our nation owed loyalty to an ally who had been loyal to us. This was my view as well, and remains so.
Less than two months later -- in mid-March -- another senior official of the Department of State urged me to dissuade the shah, who had spent the intervening period in Morocco, from asking for a U.S. visa until matters settled down in Tehran.I refused with some indignation; David rockefeller was then approached. He too refused. When Rockefeller and I inquired whether out government would help the shah find asylum in another country, we were told that no official assistance of any kind was contemplated.
This I considered deeply wrong and still do.
Every American president for nearly four decades had eagerly accepted the shah's assistance and proclaimed him as an important friend of the United States. President Truman in 1947 awarded the shah the legion of Merit for his support of the Allied cause during World War II and in 1949 praised him for his "courage and farsightedness" and his "earnestness and sincerity in the welfare of his people." President Eisenhower in 1954 paid tribute to the shah for shis "enlightened leadership." President Kennedy in 1962 hailed the shah for "identifying himself with the best aspirations of his people." President Johson in 1964 lauded the shah as a "reformist 20th-century monarch" and in 1965 praised his "wisdom and compassion . . . perception and statesmanship." President Nixon in 1969 declared that the shah had brought about "a revolution in terms of social and economic and political progress." President Ford in 1975 called the shah "one of the world's great statesmen." President Carter in 1977 praised Iran as "a very stabilizing force in the world at large" and in 1978 lauded the shah for his "progressive attitude" which was "the source of much of the opposition to him in Iran." Such quotations could be multipled endlessly.
And they were correct. In my own experience the shah never failed to stand by us. In the 1973 Mideast war, Iran was the sole American ally adjoining the Soviet Union which did not permit the overflight of Soviet transport planes into the Middle East. In 1973-74, Iran was the only Middle East oil-producing country that did not join the oil embargo against us; it continued to sell oil to the U.S., to Israel and to our other allies. Iran kept its oil production at maximum capacity (thus helping stabilize the price) and never used oil as a political weapon. The shah was a source of assistance and encouragement to the forces of moderation in the Middle East, Africa and Asia; he used his own military power to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf and to discourage adventures by radicals. He firmly supported the peace process that culminated in the Egyptian-Israeli treaty; he was a defender of President Sadat against radical forces in the area.After his initial advocacy of higher prices in 1973, he used his influence to keep the prices steady so that the real price of oil actually declined over the period from 1973 to 1978 (due to inflation).
The crisis we face in 1979 -- the 65 percent hike in oil prices, the cutback of Middle East oil production, the radical challenges to the peace process and the rise of anti-American fanaticism in the whole area -- is the price we are paying for the absence of a friendly regime in Iran. The conclusion is inescapable that many of the shah's opponents in Iran hate him not only for what he did wrong, but also for what he did right -- his friendship for the United States, his support for Mideast peace, his rapid modernization, his land reform, his support for public education and women's rights; in short, his effort to bring Iran into the 20th century as an ally of the free world.
I do not doubt that wrongs were committed by the shah's government in his long rule; the question is how appropriate it is to raise them, after four decades of close association, in the period of the shah's travail. I have been deeply worried about the foreigh policy consequences of spurning him. What will other friends of the United States in the area, in comparably perilous situations and perhaps even more complex domestic circumstances -- leaders essential for a moderate evolution of the whole region -- conclude if we turn against a man whom seven American presidents had lauded as a loyal ally and a progressive leader?
My conviction that on the human level we owed the shah a place of refuge had nothing to do with a scheme of restoring him to power. I have stated publicly that we should seek the best relations possible with the new authorities in Tehran. I simply assert that it is incompatible with our national honor to turn our back on a leader who cooperated with us for a generation. Never before have we given foreign governments a veto over who can enter our country as a private citizen.
Between early April and early July, I put these considerations before three senior officials in phone conversations. And I called twice on Secretary of State Vance in the same period. The upshot was a refusal to issue a visa explained by the tenseness of the situation in Iran. In April I delivered a public speech stating that I thought it morally wrong to treat the shah as a "flying Dutchman looking for a port of call."
In other words, I made five private approaches on this subject to the government -- none after July. Such was the "obnoxious" pressure, as George Ball has called it, to which our government was subjected.
When it became apparent that our government would not help the shah and that he was unable to stay any longer in Morocco, David Rockefeller and I did what we could to find him a place of refuge. David Rockefeller was able to arrange a temporary stay in the Bahamas. In April and May, I appealed to the government of Mexico. To its enormous credit, it had the courage to extend a visa even though -- as one official pointed out to me -- Mexico was being asked to run risks on behalf of a friend of the United States that we were not willing to assume ourselves.
Once the shah was in Mexico, David Rockefeller, John McCoy and I tried to be helpful with private matters on a personal basis. The education of the shah's children in America was the principal issue. We did our best to find appropriate schooling; this raised the issue of visas. Contacts with our government were handled by Mr. Rockefeller's assistant, Joseph Reed, and John McCloy. Mr. McCloy repeatedly urged the Department of State to designate an official with whom the shah's entourage could communicate on such matters without using our group as intermediaries. Such a contact point was never established.
This was the state of affairs when the shah fell ill early in October. As it happened, I was out of the country from Oct. 9 to Oct. 23 and had no communication with any level of the government about the matter. While in Europe, I kept in touch with the Rockefeller office but did not intercede personally with any official or agency of the government -- though I would have had it been necessary. My understanding is that Joseph Reed presented the medical records to Undersecretary Newsom and on the basis of those records the administration admitted the shah for treatment. I am not aware that there was any hesitation. To the administration's credit, no pressure was needed or exercised; I gather that the medical facts spoke for themselves. All of us conceived that the reaction in Tehran would have to be evaluated by the administration which alone had the relevant facts.
As for advice to the shah about whether or not to leave -- the subject of other strange stories -- the situation was as follows. With conflicting threats emanating from Tehran as to the impact on the safety of the hostages of a movement by the shah, Rockefeller, McCloy and I concluded that it was inappropriate for us to advise the shah. Rockefeller called the president on Nov. 15 to ask once again for the designation of an individual who could accurately convey the government's recommendations to the shah's entourage. McCloy stressed the need for this to the deputy secretary of state on Nov. 20; I repeated it to a senior White House official on Nov. 21. We were told the administration agreed with our approach.No such point of contact has yet been established. We were given no guidance; therefore we made no recommendations to the shah as to what he should do when and is his medical condition permits him to leave the United States.
I reaffirm my support for the effort to assure a measure of decency toward a fallen friend of this country. The issue of the shah's asylum goes not only to the moral stature of our nation but also to our ability to elicit trust and support among other nations -- especially other moderate regimes in the area. I do not condone all the practices of the shah's government, though they must be assessed by the standards of his region and, even more, the practices of those who will sit in judgment. Yes, we must seek the best relations which are possible with the new dispensation in Iran. But we shall impress no one by engaging in retrospective denigration of an ally of a generation in his hour of need. We cannot always assure the future of our friends; we have a better chance of assuring our own future if we remember who our friends are, and acknowledge what human debts we owe those who stood byus in our hours of need.
I hope this ends the controversy. I think it is imperative that all Americans close ranks. Nothing will more strengthen the president's hand in pursuit of an honorable outcome than a continuing demonstration of national unity now and in the aftermath of the crisis. I shall do all I can to contribute to this end.