We have run several articles recently examining the collision course the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran are on, and looking at some of the reasons for this antagonism. The following article looks at the question from a different angle, the role played by the U.S. in bringing the Khomeini regime to power in 1979, after the fall of the U.S.-supported Shah (king).
Like Washington’s support for Islamic fundamentalist forces fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, this move was guided by the interests of U.S. imperialism in its rivalry with the Soviet bloc at that time. In the post Cold War period, especially as the U.S. seeks to deepen the capitalist transformation of the Middle East and install regimes more suited to its current economic and political requirements, the choices it made in those earlier decades have had unintended and far-reaching negative consequences for the American empire: these Islamic fundamentalist forces now claim “ with some success “ the banner of opposition to the U.S. Like the coming to power of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran in the first place, this situation has been a very bad thing for the people. An examination of why and how the U.S. helped Khomeini come to power is part of demystifying and exposing the real nature and goals of both the imperialists and the Islamic forces now in conflict with them.
Dr Ibrahim Yazdi was one of Ruhollah Khomeini’s closest advisors when the ayatollah was in exile in Paris, before returning to Iran in 1979. Currently he is the leader of NehzateAzadi, a nationalist- religious organisation. Recently he granted an interview to the Iranian Internet magazine Iran-Global. It sheds light on several aspects of the role of the imperialist powers and in particular of the U.S. in the seizure of power by the clergy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Much of the interview focuses on questions related to the Guadeloupe summit. For those who followed the Iranian revolution, this name is familiar. It represented a key moment in the decision by the Western powers to go along with ascension to power of the Islamic clergy in Iran. This conference of the heads of four Western imperialist powers (the U.S., UK, France and West Germany) was held in the first week of January 1979 on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The agenda concerned the world situation and the political crisis in Iran, where a popular revolutionary upsurge was about to topple the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a monarch brought back to power by a coup organized by the CIA and the British in 1953.
As a result of the discussions at this summit, the Western imperialists agreed to put an end to the Shah’s reign and transfer power to the mullahs headed by Khomeini. It was only after this conference that the U.S. media began to refer to the increasing people’s opposition to the Shah’s rule and also the possibility that the U.S. might not support the Shah.
Although it has been clear from the beginning that the decisions taken at the Guadeloupe summit were a result of negotiations and agreements between the imperialists and Khomeini and those around him, the dimensions of the agreements achieved before and after the conference have been kept secret from the people inside and outside Iran. In the contexts of both those times and today, the Western imperialists have had every interest in hiding their role in bringing Khomeini to power. The anti-people, reactionary Islamic forces in Iran have kept this secret for several decades in order not to tarnish their regime’s carefully polished and false image as anti-imperialist, which along with religion is a pillar of its claims to legitimacy. It is important to realize that while this interview brings some aspects to light, it reveals only a small part of the realities of that epoch and in particular the negotiations related to the Guadeloupe summit. Other sources, such as interviews and the memoirs by some influential personalities and authorities of that time, including the book by U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s special envoy to Iran after the fall of the Shah, General Huiser, have provided further details. But much more must come out before we have a full picture of what went on behind the scenes.
There are two important reasons for the need for a better understanding of the events surrounding the Islamist seizure of power in Iran and the role that the imperialists played in that. The first is to more fully reveal the imperialists’ role in allowing the establishment of a new Islamic regime in Iran, which they saw as their best choice at that time. The second concerns the emergence of Islamic movements in the Middle East, the nature of their anti-U.S. role and the real challenge this presents for the people of the world and the progressive and revolutionary forces.
Who is Ibrahim Yazdi? He is a leader of the nationalist religious trend whose chief figure, Mehdi Bazargan, was assigned by Khomeini to form a provisional government after the fall of the Shah. This government collapsed after the occupation of the American embassy by pro-Khomeini students. Later, due to conflicts with other clerical factions, the most important organisation of this trend, NehzateAzadi, was ousted from the government and even excluded from aking part in parliamentary elections. Yazdi was also one of the founders of the Iranian Islamic student association inspired by the Egyptian-based Moslem Brotherhood, the forerunner of much of today’s political Islam. He was close to Khomeini during the ayatollah’s exile in France “ in fact, perhaps his most important political adviser during the pre-1979 period. He went back to Iran along with Khomeini, and became a leading member of Khomeini’s Revolutionary Council and the Foreign Minister in the provisional government.
The U.S. and the decision to let the clergy come to power In this interview, Yazdi says, “In January 1979 the U.S. television network PBS invited me for a debate with Henry Kissinger on Iran. But Kissinger did not come and he sent his assistant Mr Josef Sisko instead.” Yazdiemphasises that before going to the U.S., Ayatollah Khomeini had authorized him to meet with an American official, if the opportunity were to arise. He continues, “After the TV interview, and before going to a restaurant, the interviewer told me that he had invited Mr Henry Precht, the head of the Iran desk at the U.S. State Department, to dinner as well, in order to have conversation. ” Yazdi does not say what issues were discussed, or what the relationship was between this meeting and the Guadeloupe summit. He remains silent about other issues possibly discussed, in relation to the transfer of power to Khomeini and his ilk.
Yazdi limits himself to saying, “My understanding from this meeting was that the U.S. officials were confused and unclear and also ignorant about Iran’s situation. In my opinion, up until the very last minute they maintained the view that the Shah should be kept in power, and that any change or reform should take place under his regime. But the British and Israeli diplomats, who were more familiar with Iranian affairs and had a deeper understanding, had advised the Shah to abdicate in favour of his son.” Speaking of the U.S., he adds, “What they wanted to know was the views of the leadership of the revolution on key questions, including relations with the West. We explained
that we didn’t have any problem with the West. All we wanted was our independence. We were prepared to sell them our oil. Since the nature of the Iranian revolution was Islamic and anti-communist, they were not concerned on that score, but they wanted to know whether or not the regime that was going to come to power would be able to confront communism.”
At the time the Iranian masses rebelled against the Shah, the U.S. was confronting the East bloc headed by the Soviet Union, a formerly socialist country that had become America’s chief imperialist rival. What the U.S. was concerned about was the role that Iran would play in this great clash. In this context, it seems that Khomeini and his advisers assured the Western powers that they would run the country in the imperialist’s interests. As a result,the U.S implemented a new plan. Yazdi continues, “The Americans were concerned about the power vacuum that would be created if the Shah left, and who would fill it. Therefore they agreed to the following: the Shah would leave, then [Shahpour] Bakhtiar would come in (as Prime Minister). The Army would then cooperate with the revolution and probably find a position in the revolution. From the other side Brzezinski [Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor] believed that in the absence of the Shah, the only way to block communism was coordination between the military and the clergy. His reasoning was that the clergy were anti-communist, and at that moment they also had the ability to mobilise the masses of people. The military was consolidated and the Shah’s 400,000-man Army had been indoctrinated with anti-communism and trained to put down rebellion, so the coalition between the military and the clergy could neutralise the danger of communism.”
What Yazdi means by communism here is mainly the danger of a government tied to the social-imperialist (socialist in words, imperialist in deeds) Soviet Union. But at the same time there is no doubt that the revolutionary communists and other genuinely revolutionary organisations were fast expanding among the masses of people. That was also a major concern for U.S. imperialism. Anyway, Yazdi’s remarks explain the events on two religious holidays (Tasooa and Ashoura during the Islamic month of Moharram) in early 1979. From exile, Khomeini called a huge demonstration on those two days. Hundreds of thousands of people took part. This time, the Army did not attack the crowds. This was a change from their reaction to other recent mass demonstrations, especially that of 6 September 1978, which resulted in a massacre. This time the Army did not intervene at all, even when people marched right up to its tanks. At the same time, the leaders of the demonstration put out the slogan, “The Army is our brother” and asked the people to give the soldiers flowers.
Here Yazdi confirms that the leadership of the movement was up to something more than just putting forward reformist slogans and compromising acts in the midst of a revolutionary situation. This stance was the direct result of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Khomeini’s people and Western imperialist representatives, in particular U.S. officials. Khomeini and his ilk were negotiating with the U.S. and other Western imperialists and selling out the people’s revolution in order to abort and kill the revolution. They sought to keep the structure of the existing reactionary and anti-people state intact and change only the managers of this state. Thus this state would remain in the service of the world imperialist system’s existing network of economic and political relations.
Yazdi makes the point this way: “Mr Khomeini advised Carter that those representatives of the U.S. in Iran who have connections with the Army should prevent the killing of the people.” He also confirms, “Huizer’s trip to Iran was not to force the Army to stage a coup. Instead, he had gone to make sure that the military men would not do anything that would damage the reputation of the Army among the people. The Americans believed if the Army could keep its strength intact and cooperate with the revolution, then after the victory of the revolution, when the fervour of the people diminished, the Army could easily claim its share as part of the revolution.”
This interview also divulges that in view of the upcoming Guadeloupe summit, a representative of the French government asked Khomeini to give a report on the situation of Iran reflecting the views of Khomeini and the people around him. Khomeini immediately agreed. The report was provided by SadeghGhotbzadeh (one of the three main people managing Khomeini’s political affairs while he was staying in Paris, along with Yazdi and Abdul Hassan Bani Sadr. (Bani Sadr became the first president of the Islamic Republic after the revolution, before being ousted in 1981. In September 1982, Ghotbzadeh was accused of plotting a coup against Khomeini and executed.) As Yazdi says, this report had an important impact on the results of the Guadeloupe summit. However its contents have never been revealed and it seems to have been destroyed.
Contacts and channels between the ayatollahs and the U.S. Yazdi also confirms that the contacts that he, Ghotbzadeh and Bani Sadr organised with the help of the French government were not the only channel in the relations between Khomeini and the U.S. As he says, on the basis of his own personal role, “At that time, the leader of the revolution had three channels of contacts with the U.S. One was in France. Documents about this relationship have been published. Another channel was between the Revolutionary Council, through Mehdi Bazargan, Ayatollah Mousavi Ardabili and DrSehabi, with [William H.] Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Iran. And the third channel was the direct contact and negotiations between Dr [Ayatollah] Beheshti and Sullivan. Stemple [John D. Stemple, CIA analyst and political officer at the U.S. embassy in Iran at the time], in his book, referred to both channels in Tehran, but he has not written anything about the negotiations between DrBeheshti and Sullivan.”
Ayatollah Beheshti was one of the most reactionary and vicious of Khomeini’s aides and very influential within leadership circles. He was one of the architects of the massacre of revolutionaries and communists that started on 20 June 1981. He was killed by a bomb planted in the Parliament a month later. Rumours about his direct connection with the U.S. were going around from the very beginning days of the revolution. Yazdi confirms and details the contacts between Beheshti and U.S. authorities, both with the American embassy in Iran and when he travelled to the U.S. Yazdi calls this channel the “missing key” to a clearer picture of the negotiations between the Khomeini circles and the U.S. Even Yazdi, who was among Khomeini’s key political advisers at that time, was left out of the loop about it. So it seems to have been the most secret and important channel of all.
Yazdi says, “DrBeheshti came to the U.S. a few months before I left the U.S. for Najaf [in Iraq, where Khomeini was headquartered before going to France] and then Paris. He spent some time with me in Houston, then he went to Washington “ and New York “ for a month. He did not appear in public at any meeting of Iranians. And we don’t know what he was doing during that month when he was in Washington and New York. In my opinion, this is important. While the Revolutionary Council was negotiating with Sullivan, DrBeheshti simultaneously and separately was negotiating with him; this needs to be further investigated. For example, it is not clear whether or not Huizer met with him when the general came to Iran.”
In this interview Yazdi says that when the students occupied the American embassy, they got hold of documents concerning Beheshti’s negotiations with Sullivan, but Khomeini prevented them from making them public. His excuse was that “Beheshti is a member of the Revolutionary Council, so it is not necessary to publish them.” As the source for this, Yazdi cites Abbas Abdi, a leader of the student occupation, now a journalist and one of the main promoters of the self-styled reformist former President Khatami.
The clerics as an alternative for U.S. strategists The interviewer asks Yazdi, “Then, according to the Brzezinski plan (the formation of a coalition between the Army and the mullahs), the U.S. was looking at the clerics as an alternative? He answers, “Yes, as a force that after the Shah could fill the political vacuum and prevent the communists from gaining political power. Let me put it this way: The U.S. saw the rule of the clergy together with the cooperation of the Army as necessary in order to repel the danger of communism.”
This confirms not only that the Western powers, particularly the U.S., initially approved of the coming to power of the mullahs, but also that they engineered the coalition between the clergy and the Army.
This is the real story behind the power of reactionary fundamentalist forces who like to claim to be “anti-imperialist” “forces that in their most radical era were busily creating various channels behind the scenes to cut deals with the imperialists. At the same time that they were raising empty anti-imperialist slogans to throw dust in the eyes of the people, they also stifled the revolution against the U.S. domination of Iran and committed mass murder of revolutionaries.
These exposures from the mouth of one of Khomeini’s closest collaborators reveal only a small part of the great compromise between the clergy and the imperialists. During the first years after the clerics came to power, they were to continue making secret deals with the U.S., such as the three-way arrangement between the U.S, Israel and the Islamic Republic in which Iran bought American weapons from Israel in order to finance President Ronald Reagan’s covert death squads in Central America (known as the “Iran-Contra” scandal.)
Why, despite so much experience and evidence, are some people among those who want to oppose imperialism still confused about the nature of these Islamic forces? Why do they assess Islamic fundamentalists as anti-imperialist, and beyond that, call on the masses and revolutionary and progressive organisations to unite with these forces? Such confusion is particularly common within left trends in the U.S. and European countries.
Most of the Islamic movements fighting the cultural influence of the West cannot envisage or carry out a political programme much different than that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They could not and do not even seek to go beyond what has been implemented in Iran in the last three decades. Therefore any support for or legitimising of these so-called anti-Western movements will result, in the final analysis, in support for this kind of political programme Yazdi himself, who took part in the great robbery, the stealing of the revolution, sums up that his alliance with Khomeini and the clergies was a mistake. He says, “Now that I look at the past, my first criticism is that we [all of those actively involved in the revolution] were united around what we did not want. From left intellectuals to traditional Moslems, all had one aim : the fall of the Shah. All longed to see the fall of the Shah. We struggled for years against his despotism. That’s why we did not see what we should have seen. Therefore I advise the younger generation to be more careful, first define what they want and agree on that, not on what they don’t want.”
Shouldn’t the people and the revolutionaries sum up the lessons of this stolen revolution, beyond what even Yazdi doing?