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Context of 'April 22, 1975: Kissinger Outlines US Plans to Help Iran Achieve Nuclear Capability'

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Alexander Haig, President Nixon’s chief of staff, is briefly staying on at the White House to ease the transition into the new, hastily assembled Ford staff. Haig, knowing that President Ford will not consider retaining him in the position, believes that Donald Rumsfeld, the US ambassador to NATO, might be the person Ford needs to head his staff (see August 9, 1974). (Nixon held Rumsfeld in grudging admiration, referring to him as a “ruthless little b_stard,” but had sent him to Europe and NATO headquarters because he did not like Rumsfeld’s obvious ambition.) Although Ford is not sold on having a chief of staff at all, Haig believes Ford needs someone with Rumsfeld’s “strong personality and fine administrat[ive skills]” to help him establish himself. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom Ford is retaining, sees Rumsfeld as, in Kissinger’s words, an exemplar of a “special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly.” Ford has a good relationship with Rumsfeld, who in the 1960s led an insurgency among House Republicans to replace Minority Leader Charles Halleck with Ford. He views Rumsfeld as something of a maverick, and wants someone not beholden to the entrenched Nixon loyalists remaining in the White House as well as someone with a good relationship with Congressional Republicans. Rumsfeld fits the bill. Rumsfeld, a former Navy pilot, will later write that Ford “had to provide sufficient change to make the transition from what many perceived to be an illegitimate White House and administration to a legitimate administration. It was a bit like climbing into an airplane, at 30,000 feet, going 500 miles an hour, and having to change part of the crew.” (Werth 2006, pp. 60-61; Unger 2007, pp. 49-52) (Rumsfeld will, in turn, ask his own former assistant, Dick Cheney, to once again join him as his assistant in the Ford White House—see 1969). Ford’s longtime aide and speech writer Robert Hartmann will be equally blunt in his own recollections: “The Nixon-to-Ford transition was superbly planned. It was not a failure. It just never happened.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 26)

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger circulates National Security Decision Memorandum 292 on “US-Iran Nuclear Cooperation” outlining the administration’s negotiating strategy for the sale of nuclear energy equipment to Iran. The document states the government would permit “US material to be fabricated into fuel in Iran for use in its own reactors and for pass through to third countries with whom [the US has] agreements.” According to the document, the administration would “[a]gree to set the fuel ceiling at the level reflecting the approximate number of nuclear reactors planned for purchase from US suppliers,” but would consider increasing the ceiling “to cover Iran’s entitlement” from their proposed $1 billion investment in a 20 percent stake in one of the private US uranium enrichment facilities that would be supplying Iran. The strategy paper also explains under what terms the Ford administration would be willing to grant Iran approval to reprocess US supplied fuel. (US National Security Council 4/22/1975; Linzer 3/27/2005) Three decades later, Kissinger will tell the Washington Post that the Ford administration was never concerned about the possibility of Iran building nuclear weapons or the potential for proliferation. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he will recall. “They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn’t address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons.” (Linzer 3/27/2005)

President Gerald R. Ford signs a presidential directive giving the Iranian government the opportunity to purchase a US-built nuclear reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Iran, with support from the US, wants to develop a massive nuclear energy industry that has complete “nuclear fuel cycle” capability so fissile materials can be supplied self-sustaining basis. US companies, chief among them Westinghouse, stands to make $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts. The shah has argued that Iran needs a nuclear energy program in order to meet Iran’s growing energy demand. Iran is known to have massive oil and gas reserves, but the shah considers these finite reserves too valuable to be spent satisfying daily energy needs. In a 1975 strategy paper, the Ford administration supported this view saying that “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” Top officials in the Ford administration—including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who is responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency—are strong supporters of Iran’s ambitions. Kissinger will tell the Washington Post 30 years later that the Ford administration was not concerned about the possibility of Iran using the facilities to produce nuclear weapons. “I don’t think the issue of proliferation came up,” he says. But Charles Naas, deputy US ambassador to Iran at this time, will tell the Post that nuclear experts had serious concerns about potential proliferation. Naas will explain that the administration was attracted to the nuclear deal “terms of commerce” and interested in maintaining good relations with the shah. (Linzer 3/27/2005)

Vice President Dick Cheney says during a “town hall meeting” at Minnesota State University: “They’re already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy.” (White House 10/5/2004) The Washington Post later notes that “Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago” (see 1976). (Linzer 3/27/2005)

Speaking at a forum on Middle East peace sponsored by The Week magazine, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warns that if Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons it could touch off an arms race that could lead to the end of civilization. “I do not believe that living in a world with 20 or 30 nuclear states is a situation that civilized life can support,” he says. (Rose 4/15/2005) But during the 1970s, Kissinger and other US officials had supported Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear energy program (see 1976 and April 22, 1975). At the time, they were not concerned about the potential for Iran to use the technology to develop nuclear weapons. Nor were they concerned about proliferation. Kissinger told the Washington Post in March that he did not “think the issue of proliferation came up.” (Linzer 3/27/2005)


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