The shah still has his friends

Ian Urquhart December 10 1979

The shah still has his friends

Ian Urquhart December 10 1979

The shah still has his friends

As events in Iran moved toward a climax, there were recriminations in Washington over many aspects of the affair. But the hottest discussion centred on the decision to let the shah into the country. And last week the heat was on former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and David Rockefeller, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank which employs Kissinger as an adviser and has had extensive dealings in Iran and with the shah.

From the outset, there had been whispers that Kissinger and Rockefeller had lobbied the Carter administration to admit the shah. It seemed logical enough. Both know the shah well and have defended him in public. Both also have contacts at the top of the administration, Kissinger from his years in government and Rockefeller through his post as North American chairman of the Trilateral Commission,* to which both Carter and his foreign affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, belonged before entering the White House.

*The commission, a Rockefeller brainchild, brings together prominent citizens from North America, Europe and Japan to discuss international issues. Its Canadian members include former finance minister Donald Macdonald, a potential candidate for the Liberal leadership.

By last week, however, the whispers had become shouts. First, The Wall Street Journal said Kissinger had told the administration he would support the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT H), now foundering in the Senate, if the shah were admitted. Then the Boston Globe, quoting a "high state department official," reported that Kissinger “threatened to hold the Carter administration accountable for the death of the shah if the exiled Iranian ruler was not permitted to come to the U.S. for cancer treatment.” Finally, George Ball, a highly respected former undersecretary of state, charged on NBC’S Meet the Press: "Had it not been for Mr. Kissinger and a few others making themselves enormously obnoxious for the administration, trying to force the shah into this country, maybe we wouldn't even have done it, even for reasons of compassion.”

This was too much for Kissinger. In a private meeting last week with his successor at the state department, Cyrus Vance, he is reported to have complained that he was “being knifed” by bureaucrats. Publicly, he denied that he had pressured the adminis-

tration to let the shah in, as did Carter.

But, in a lengthy defence of his actions in The Washington Post the next day, Kissinger indicated he had played at least an indirect role in the decision. He admitted approaching the administration on five separate occasions (the last in July) to argue for the shah’s admittance. But he said there was certainly no contact in the two weeks leading up to the decision in October because he was in Europe at the time. ("The telephone not having been invented in 1979,” quipped a state department official.) Kissinger also noted there were appeals to the administration on behalf of the shah from Joseph Reed, Rockefeller’s personal assistant, and by John J. McCloy, a former chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank and a pillar of the American establishment. Indeed, said Kissinger, it was Reed who presented the shah’s medical records to the state department in October. Rockefeller refused to go beyond a previously released statement outlining his role in arranging for Dr. Benjamin Kean to examine the shah in Mexico and for the records to be given to the state department.

In spite of warnings of a backlash in Iran, the government apparently decided to accept Kean’s finding that the shah was seriously ill with cancer (although Kean is a specialist in tropical diseases), and that the shah had to go to New York for treatment. That city is the headquarters of the Chase Manhattan Bank. But it is not the best cancer-treatment centre in the world or even in the U S., according to Dr. D. E. Bergsagel of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, which is one of the best. While the charges of Khomeini that the shah was brought to New York to plot his return to power may be put down to paranoia, American explanations certainly raise some questions.

Among them are: why did the Carter administration rely on the medical report of Rockefeller's doctor?; why was the shah not advised to go to another country with better facilities?; alternatively, why couldn’t specialists be flown to the shah in Mexico?; and, finally, why did several people connected to the Chase Manhattan Bank work so assiduously to bring the shah to New York?

Ian Urquhart