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William H.Sullivan, United States ambassador to Iran from 1977 to 1979, said to a Harvard audience this week that the Soviet Union is attempting to encourage the break-up of Iran by "agitating" ethnic independence groups within the country.
Sullivan told about 70 at a Center for International Affairs seminar Wednesday that Soviet KGB operations have been proceeding in three areas of Iran in an effort to "reduce Iran's effectiveness as a barrier to "Soviet mischief" and to Soviet intentions on the Persian Gulf.
While U.S. officials have hinted at Soviet attempts to stir ethnic unrest in Iran, Sullivan's statement is believed to be one of the highest-level confirmations of such charges.
Sullivan on Thursday gave The Crimson permission to publish an account of his remarks, which he made on an off-the record basis.
While discounting the role of Iran's communist party-"The Tudeh is not a very useful instrument to the Soviets"- Sullivan said KGB agents are providing weapons and training to Kurdish fighters; had "considerable assets that are still alive" in Azerbaijan, near the Soviet Union; and would seek to infiltrate Ballucci tribesman along the Afghanistan border.
In his talk, Sullivan reiterated, sometimes sarcastically, his criticism of Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, and blamed internal Carter administration "scrapping" for what he termed a paralysis in U.S.policy towards the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlevi in the final stages of his rule.
"There has to be a reduction in the role of the national security adviser, so he becomes the sort of staff officer that he was intended to be," Sullivan said, adding that "the most vicious sort of contest was going on inside Washington" over the length to which the U.S.should go to keep the shah in power.
Repeating earlier assertions, Sullivan also said he warned American officials not to permit the deposed shah to enter this country unless they evacuated beforehand all personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
He said he cabled Washington several times in 1979 that "if we wanted to maintain an embassy in Tehran, we wanted to maintain an embassy in Tehran, we should not allow the shah into the U.S."
"If we wanted to maintain a personalized relationship with the shah, we should have closed our embassy and brought our people home. If we wanted to keep an embassy in Tehran, then we should have told the shah that a Canadian doctor could take out his gallstones better than an American," the 73-year-old former diplomat said.
Sullivan and Brzezinski gave conflicting advice in late 1978, when opponents of the shah were uniting in massive demonstrations. While Sullivan says he recommended the U.S. prepare for the transition to a new Iranian government, Brzezinski reportedly urged that every measure--including massive displays of force--be employed to keep the shah in power.
When the White House continued to issue statements professing support for him, "even the shah was embarrassed by it and asked me to stop them," Sullivan said.
"'It makes me look like a puppet,"' Sullivan quoted the shah--"an indecisive and sort of diffident man"--as saying.
According to Sullivan, the shah did not use unlimited force in an attempt to stop the revolution because of "dynastic" reasons. Believing he had about six years to live, the shah "repeatedly" told Sullivan that "he could suppress his opponents for as long as he was alive, but he was afraid the revolution would then below up in the face of his son," who would succeed him.
The shah left Iran in January 1979, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power following a provisional governments headed by Shahpour Bakhtiar and Mehdi Bazargan. Sullivan wrote in the current issue of Foreign Policy that Brezezinski asked him over an open international telephone line "whether I thought I could arrange a military coup against the revolution."
"There was an assumption in Washington that the U.S. seemed to have far greater power and manipulative control over the situation in Iran than we actually had," Sullivan said Wednesday. Because of the varying statements coming from Brzezinski on the one hand and State Department officials on the other, the U.S. "spoke with not only an ambivalent voice, but an actively internecine one" on Iran.
"The president has to have different points of view presented to him, but he has to speak with one voice internationally and with a secretary of state that speaks for him with confidence," Sullivan said.
Responding to a question implying that he had violated security by publishing his magazine account, Sullivan said he originally promised not to go public but changed his mind after Cyrus R. Vance resigned as secretary of state in protest of the aborted rescue mission last April and was subsequently chided by Carter.
"When Vance quit and was so securrilously treated, I felt I had no inhibitions... I have no apologies for [the article]. I think the country should be aware of what went on," Sullivan said, adding that the article was originally planned to appear before the presidential election in November.
Asked about charges that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency assisted the shah's secret police--SAVAK--Sullivan acknowledged that U.S., British and Israeli intelligence agencies combined to set up SAVAK, but said its "use as a political instrument was a strictly Iranian inspiration.
"Anybody in this room who is suggesting that we supplied bastinadoes and the iron boot [torture devices]--I don't think that would be received very well in this room," Sullivan added.
Sullivan, who said he was "pessimistic" about Iran's future, surprised some analysts by also saying that Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, was "in trouble" and that Iran did not need American spare parts to continue most of its war efforts.
One lesson to be drawn from the Iranian revolution, Sullivan said, is the need for a better understanding of the pace of economic development in Third World nations. In Iran--where the shah attempted a program of modernization--"not many people (in the U.S.) looked at the numbers" which indicated that Iran did not have sufficient resources and manpower to utilize massive American assistance, Sullivan said.
Nobody Was Prepared
"It was obviously an impracticable and impossible and yet nobody was prepared to tell the shah that it couldn't be done," Sullivan added.
Also, he said, the U.S. should "avoid entanglements with personnified governments." Because of the emphasis on personal ties to the shah, the U.S. "lost sight of the greater interests--not only national interests and those of our friends and allies, but those of the Iranian people."
"While succumbing to the ecstasy of the embrace, you have to keep an eye over the shoulder to see if there's a man coming through the door," he added.
Sullivan, a former ambassador to Laos and the Philippines and now president of American Assembly, was recalled from Iran before the seizure of the American hostages in November, 1979. However, in February of that year, he was one of 100 briefly taken captive at the Embassy before the revolutionary government responded to Sullivan's request and ordered them released.
President Carter visited Iran once during Sullivan's tenure there, and on New Year's Day 1978 toasted the shah with remarks that Sullivan said were added to prepared "cool but correct remarks." In his toast, Carter called Iran "an island of stability in one of the most 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."
Sullivan said Wednesday he didn't know if Carter made the statement "of his own inspiration, whether Amy wrote it, or whether it was the same fellow that wrote his toast in Mexico City" which included a reference to Montezuma's Revenge
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