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Secret Talks With Ayatollah Khomeini - part 1

by Joel Hilliker
(United States)

The Islamic Revolution of 1979 remains one of the most dramatic events in modern times—when the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This transformed an ally of the United States into a volcano of anti-Americanism. It turned Iran into an Islamic Republic—one of the most radical, violent regimes in the modern world—the source of tremendous unrest and terrorism throughout the Middle East and beyond. The revolution produced a belligerent foe that’s now on the cusp of getting nuclear weapons.


A trove of newly declassified U.S. government documents sheds some valuable light on the machinations and the forces behind that revolution.

This history has particular relevance today and is especially chilling to read in light of the recently concluded nuclear negotiations with Iran. It teaches valuable, painfully learned lessons that America has since forgotten.

The Roots of Terrorism

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has often pointed to Iran as “the head of the terrorist snake.” In the January 2008 Trumpet magazine, he wrote:

We must go back in history to see terrorism’s DEADLY ROOTS and then deal with the cause of the problem. It’s not enough to destroy the branches of a vast network of world terrorism. We must pull up the terrorist tree by its roots. It’s the only way to win this war.

When Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi led Iran, he was a strong ally of America. But our liberal press and politicians thought he was too undemocratic, so they helped to drive him from power. As he was falling, America gave him little or no support.

Then, in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the shah. Khomeini established Iran as the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism.

In that article, Mr. Flurry said it was only later, when that international network of terrorism intensified, that some observers began to see what a terrible mistake liberals had made in assisting the shah’s downfall.

The United States—specifically the administration of Jimmy Carter—has always insisted that it was firm in its support for the shah and his government. The story from Iran has always been that Khomeini courageously defied the United States, which he called “the Great Satan”—and that he conquered and vanquished Washington as it tried to keep the shah in power.

These newly declassified documents tell a much different story.

It’s true that the U.S. gave the shah “little or no support,” as Mr. Flurry wrote. In fact, as these documents reveal, the Carter administration was more hostile than it was merely negligent. Declassified diplomatic cables, policy memos and meeting records now show that the U.S. officials encouraged the shah to get out of Iran—while they were having secret discussions with Khomeini that helped usher him into power!

In report titled “Two Weeks in January: America’s Secret Engagement With Khomeini,” the BBC Persian Service wrote on June 3:

The documents reveal that Khomeini was far more engaged with the U.S. than either government has ever admitted. Far from defying America, the ayatollah courted the Carter administration, sending quiet signals that he wanted a dialogue and then portraying a potential Islamic Republic as amenable to U.S. interests.

Khomeini fed U.S. officials a banquet of lies, and they ate it up!

Iran in Turmoil
Back in 1977, Iran was in disarray. There were frequent protests against the shah, and in the latter part of 1978, massive strikes and demonstrations were paralyzing Iran. The BBC report continued:

On Nov. 9, 1978, in a now-famous cable, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” the U.S. ambassador to Iran, William Sullivan, warned that the shah was doomed. He argued that Washington should get the shah and his top generals out of Iran, and then make a deal between junior commanders and Khomeini.

President Carter didn’t agree at the time, “but by early January 1979, the reluctant president concluded that the shah’s departure was necessary to calm the opposition.”

But “the situation became explosive after the shah’s new prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, deployed troops and tanks to close the airport, disrupting Khomeini’s planned return in late January,” wrote the BBC.

IT SEEMED IRAN WAS ON THE BRINK OF A CIVIL WAR: The elite Imperial Guard divisions were ready to fight to the death for their king the shah; the die-hard followers of the imam Khomeini’s supporters were ready for armed struggle and martyrdom.

The White House feared an Iranian civil war that would have major implications for U.S. strategic interests. At stake were the lives of thousands of U.S. military advisers; the security of sophisticated American weapons systems in Iran, such as F-14 jets; a vital flow of oil; and the future of the most important institution of power in Iran, the military.

IT WAS LESS ALARMED BY THE RISE OF KHOMEINI AND THE DOWNFALL OF THE SHAH emphasis added throughout.

What a terrible miscalculation.

U.S. officials were strongly backing Prime Minister Bakhtiar in public—but these documents show that they didn’t have any real confidence in him and were exploring the possibility of his being ousted in a coup.

On Jan. 9, 1979, the deputy national security adviser, David Aaron, wrote this to his boss, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser: “The best that can result, in my view, is a military coup against Bakhtiar and then A DEAL STRUCK BETWEEN THE MILITARY AND KHOMEINI THAT FINALLY PUSHES THE SHAH OUT OF POWER.”

Just two days later, President Carter pressed the shah to “leave promptly.” That is worse than just giving him “little or no support”—the U.S. actively pushed for him to flee his country in order to create a power vacancy there.

The report said, “By then, a broad consensus had emerged within the U.S. national security bureaucracy that they could do business with the ayatollah and his inner circle after all.”

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