89MOSCOW15118, SOVIET REACTION TO KHOMEINI’S DEATH

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
89MOSCOW15118 1989-06-07 15:02 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

R 071502Z JUN 89
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6962
INFO GULF WAR COLLECTIVE
AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
AMCONSUL PESHAWAR

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 15118 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL:OADR 
TAGS: PREL UR IR IZ AF
SUBJECT: SOVIET REACTION TO KHOMEINI'S DEATH 
 
REFS: (A) MOSCOW 14076,  (B) STATE 176500 
 
1. C-ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
SUMMARY 
/------- 
 
2. KHOMEINI'S DEATH EVOKES IN THE MINDS OF SOVIETS 
THE DEATH OF STALIN.  PERHAPS SIMPLY BECAUSE STALIN 
IS ON EVERYONE'S MINDS THESE DAYS AS THE CONGRESS OF 
PEOPLE'S DEPUTIES REVIEWS PAST CRIMES, SOVIET 
CONTACTS IN TWO SEPARATE MEETINGS WITH EMBOFFS 
INDEPENDENTLY BROUGHT UP THE DEAD SOVIET DICTATOR IN 
DESCRIBING THE CURRENT SITUATION IN IRAN: STALIN THE 
COMPROMISE CHOICE FOR LEADER FOLLOWING LENIN'S DEATH 
(LIKE KHAMENEI NOW); AND STALIN THE GIANT HISTORICAL 
FIGURE WHOSE SHOES NO MORTAL COULD EVER FILL (LIKE 
THE NOW-DEPARTED KHOMEINI). 
 
3. OUR CONTACTS SUGGEST THE SOVIETS DO NOT EXPECT ANY 
SUDDEN CHANGES IN IRANIAN POLICY, WITH REGARD TO 
BILATERAL RELATIONS, IRAN-IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN.  BUT 
THE SOVIETS DO APPEAR TO HOPE FOR A MORE PRAGMATIC 
IRANIAN APPROACH TO EMERGE EVENTUALLY.  ONE CONTACT 
RAISED THE INTRIGUING POSSIBILITY THAT A DEBATE IS 
UNDERWAY CONCERNING HOW EAGERLY THE SOVIETS SHOULD 
PURSUE IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH IRAN.  FOR THE MOMENT 
THE SOVIET DESIRE FOR FULL NORMALIZATION REMAINS 
OFFICIAL POLICY, HOWEVER.  THE RAFSANJANI VISIT MAY 
WELL BE POSTPONED BECAUSE OF THE MOURNING PERIOD, BUT 
NO WORD HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM IRAN ON THIS.  THE 
SOVIETS STILL DEFEND PROSPECTIVE ARMS SALES TO IRAN. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
4. EMBASSY OFFICERS MET JUNE 7 WITH MFA MIDDLE 
EASTERN COUNTRIES ADMINISTRATION IRAN SECTOR OFFICIAL 
VADIM NAZAROV AND "IZVESTIYA" DEPUTY MIDDLE EAST 
EDITOR ANDREY OSTALSKIY TO DISCUSS SOVIET REACTIONS 
TO THE DEATH OF KHOMEINI. 
 
THE STALIN IMAGE 
/----------------- 
 
5. BOTH NAZAROV AND OSTALSKIY, INDEPENDENTLY, FOUND 
THEMSELVES DRAWING ON THE IMAGE OF STALIN TO DESCRIBE 
CIRCUMSTANCES IN THE WAKE OF KHOMEINI'S DEATH. 
NAZAROV COMPARED THE SELECTION OF KHAMENEI TO SUCCEED 
THE AYATOLLAH AS IRAN'S SPIRITUAL LEADER TO STALIN'S 
SELECTION AS THE COMPROMISE CANDIDATE OVER OTHER, 
MORE FACTIONALIZED RIVALS FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF 
LENIN.  OSTALSKIY COMPARED THE REACTION OF THE 
IRANIAN PEOPLE TO KHOMEINI'S DEATH TO THAT OF THE 
SOVIET PEOPLE FOLLOWING STALIN'S DEMISE.  OSTALSKIY 
SAID THAT, AS WITH STALIN, THERE WOULD AT FIRST BE A 
PERIOD OF INTENSE MOURNING OVER KHOMEINI--"BUT LATER 
WOULD COME A RE-EVALUATION".  OSTALSKIY SUGGESTED THE 
SOVIETS WERE HOPING THIS RE-EVALUATION WOULD RESULT 
IN THE ADOPTION OF A MORE PRAGMATIC COURSE BY THE 
IRANIAN LEADERSHIP. 
 
REACTIONS, PERSONAL AND OFFICIAL 
/------------------------------- 
 
6. NAZAROV SUGGESTED THAT, SPEAKING PERSONALLY, HE 
AND MANY SOVIETS WERE NOT SORRY TO SEE KHOMEINI 
DEPART THE SCENE.  KHOMEINI'S REGIME HAD DESTROYED 
MANY LIVES AND VIOLATED MANY STANDARDS OF 
INTERNATIONAL BEHAVIOR. 
 
7. THE OFFICIAL S0VIET REACTION, HOWEVER--WHICH HAD 
TO TAKE SOVIET INTERESTS INTO ACCOUNT--NATURALLY 
CONSISTED OF OFFERING CONDOLENCES TO IRAN, NAZAROV 
SAID.  GORBACHEV SENT A SHORT MESSAGE TO KHAMENEI 
(PUBLISHED AT THE BOTTOM OF FRONT PAGE OF THE JUNE 7 
"PRAVDA"), AND SHEVARDNADZE AND FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN 
OF THE SUPREME SOVIET LUK'YANOV SIGNED THE CONDOLENCE 
BOOK AT THE IRANIAN EMBASSY. 
 
IRAN DOMESTIC POLITICS 
/---------------------- 
 
8. IT WAS VERY HARD TO PREDICT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT 
INSIDE IRAN, NAZAROV SAID.  KHOMEINI HAD BEEN THE 
ONLY IRANIAN POLITICAL FIGURE WHO EXERCIZED A 
CONSISTENT LINE.  THE FLIRTING WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD 
WHICH OTHER LEADERS HAD ENGAGED IN WOULD RE-EMERGE, 
BUT WHETHER IT WOULD LAST REMAINED UNPREDICTABLE. 
 
9. THE CHOICE OF KHAMENEI AS KHOMEINI'S SUCCESSOR HAD 
BEEN TACTICAL, NAZAROV SAID, REPRESENTING A 
COMPROMISE BETWEEN THE RADICAL SPIRITUAL LEADERS AND 
THE PRAGMATISTS.  IN ACCEPTING A LEADERSHIP ROLE, 
THOUGH, KHAMENEI WAS TAKING A RISK: WHEREAS IRANIANS 
HAD NOT BEEN WILLING TO CRITICIZE KHOMEINI'S 
LEADERSHIP OF THE COUNTRY, THERE WAS EVERY CHANCE 
THAT THEIR PENT-UP FRUSTRATIONS WOULD NOW BE 
UNLEASHED ON A LESS-IDOLIZED LEADER LIKE KHAMENEI. 
 
10. KHAMENEI WAS TIED TO THE BAZAARIS, NAZAROV SAID, 
AND HAD CALLED FOR REDUCED GOVERNMENTAL INVOLVEMENT 
IN COMMERCIAL LIFE.  LIKEWISE, HE HAD--AS SECRETARY 
GENERAL OF THE "PARTY OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC"--AT 
ONE TIME CALLED FOR A REDUCED POLITICAL ROLE FOR THE 
COUNTRY'S SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP.  KHAMENEI HAD ALSO 
HELPED CREATE THE 25-MEMBER CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW 
COUNCIL WHICH WAS PROPOSING TO EXPAND THE POWERS OF 
THE PRESIDENCY AND ABOLISH THE POST OF PRIME 
MINISTER.  UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES, NAZAROV 
SUGGESTED, KHAMENEI APPEARED TO FAVOR RAFSANJANI'S 
ELECTION TO THE POST OF A MORE POWERFUL PRESIDENCY, 
THEREBY FACILITATING IRAN'S RETURN TO A MORE 
PRAGMATIC, LESS SPIRITUALLY-INFLUENCED APPROACH.  BUT 
MUCH DEPENDED ON WHEN THE COUNCIL WOULD MAKE ITS 
DECISIONS CONCERNING THE POWERS OF THE 
PRESIDENCY--NAZAROV COULD NOT ESTIMATE WHEN THIS 
WOULD BE--AND IN ANY CASE, AS RAFSANJANI'S CALL FOR 
THE DEATHS OF AMERICANS HAD DEMONSTRATED, THE ACTIONS 
OF EVEN A "MODERATE" IRANIAN POLICI
AL FIGURE WERE 
ENTIRELY UNPREDICTABLE. 
 
FOREIGN RELATIONS 
/----------------- 
 
11. WHAT REMAINED CONSTANT, NAZAROV SAID, WAS IRAN'S 
DESPERATE NEED FOR FOREIGN ASSISTANCE TO EMERGE FROM 
ITS ECONOMIC CRISIS.  MUCH OF THIS ASSISTANCE COULD 
ONLY COME FROM THE WEST, AS THE SOVIET UNION SIMPLY 
DID NOT HAVE THE WHEREWITHAL TO PROVIDE IT.  THE 
SOVIETS WERE IN A POSITION, HOWEVER, TO BUY IRANIAN 
NATURAL GAS AND TO OFFER TRANSPORTATION ROUTES FOR 
THE GAS AND OTHER IRANIAN PRODUCTS. 
 
12. BECAUSE THE SOVIETS WERE NOT PRESENTLY PERCEIVED 
AS A MAJOR THREAT BY IRAN, NAZAROV SAID, THE IRANIANS 
WERE ALSO INTERESTED IN RECEIVING AS MUCH POLITICAL 
SUPPORT AS POSSIBLE FROM THE USSR.  THE "PRIMITIVE" 
IRANIAN CONCEPTION OF FOREIGN RELATIONS BROUGHT ABOUT 
BY THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION--IN WHICH OTHER NATIONS 
WERE EITHER FRIEND OR FOE-- WAS SLOWLY EVOLVING INTO 
SOMETHING MORE SOPHISTICATED. 
 
RAFSANJANI VISIT 
/--------------- 
 
13. NAZAROV SAID THE SOVIETS HAD RECEIVED NO WORD ON 
WHETHER RAFSANJANI WOULD CANCEL OR POSTPONE HIS JUNE 
21 VISIT TO MOSCOW.  GIVEN THAT DURING THE 40-DAY 
PERIOD OF MOURNING A DEVOUT FOLLOWER OF KHOMEINI 
WOULD BE EXPECTED TO REMAIN AT HOME AND GRIEVE, 
HOWEVER, THERE WAS A CLEAR POSSIBILITY THAT THE VISIT 
WOULD BE AT THE VERY LEAST POSTPONED, NAZAROV 
INDICATED. 
 
DEFENSE COOPERATION 
/------------------ 
 
14. IN A RECENT CONVERSATION, THE IRAQI AMBASSADOR 
(PROTECT) TOLD EMBOFF THAT VORONTSOV'S MAY 21 VISIT 
TO TEHRAN HAD PRODUCED SUSPICIONS THAT A MUTUAL 
DEFENSE AGREEMENT HAD BEEN SIGNED BETWEEN IRAN AND 
THE USSR.  8UCH A DEVELOPMENT WOULD BE OF TREMENDOUS 
CONCERN TO THE IRAQIS, THE AMBASSADOR SUGGESTED, AND 
HE WAS TO SEE MFA NEAR EASTERN AND NORTH AFRICAN 
COUNTRIES ADMINI8TRATION CHIEF POLYAKOV JUNE 6 AT 4 
P.M. TO DISCUSS THE MATTER. 
 
15. ASKED ABOUT SOVIET-IRANIAN DEFENSE COOPERATION, 
NAZAROV SAID THAT THE IRANIAN PRESS AGENCY STATEMENT 
ON THE VORONTSOV VISIT TOOK LIBERTIES WITH REALITY. 
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER WAS THAT THE SOVIETS WERE 
PREPARED TO COOPERATE WITH IRAN IN A VARIETY OF 
SPHERES, WHICH WOULD NATURALLY INCLUDE MILITARY 
COOPERATION AS WELL.  THIS IN NO WAY ENVISAGED A 
MUTUAL DEFENSE AGREEMENT, NAZAROV SAID.  THE IRANIANS 
STILL VIEWED THE SOVIETS AS TOO MUCH OF A THREAT FOR 
THAT. 
 
16. ARMS SALES WERE ANOTHER MATTER, HOWEVER, AND HE 
REITERATED ARGUMENTS OUTLINED IN REF (A) IN DEFENSE 
OF SUCH SALES.  NAZAROV DISTINGUISHED BETWEEN WEAPONS 
SUCH AS MISSILES, WHICH WOULD BE PROVOCATIVE, AND 
FIELD ARTILLERY, WHICH HE DESCRIBED AS HAVING 
"LIMITED USES".  HE PROVIDED NO FURTHER CLUE AS TO 
THE TIMING OF THE SALES, BUT ASSERTED THAT THE 
RAFSANJANI VISIT WOULD BE "TOO SOON" BECAUSE SOVIET 
PRODUCTION PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS WERE INVOLVED. 
 
IRAM-IRAQ 
/-------- 
 
17. NAZAROV FORESAW NO IMMINENT CHANGE IN IRAN'S 
POLICY ON THE CONFLICT WITH IRAQ.  A MAJOR CONSTRAINT 
UNDER WHICH ANY IRANIAN REGIME HAD TO OPERATE, HE 
SUGGESTED, WAS THE NEED TO ENSURE THAT IRAN'S POLICY 
ON TERRITORIAL DISPUTES WITH IRAQ DID NOT APPEAR 
WEAKER THAN THAT OF THE SHAH, WHO HAD CONSOLIDATED 
SOME OF IRAN'S CLAIMS. 
 
AFGHANISTAN 
/---------- 
 
18. IN A MOMENT OF FRANKNESS, NAZAROV CONCEDED THAT 
THE IRANIANS WERE SPEAKING OUT OF BOTH SIDES OF THEIR 
MOUTHS WITH REGARD TO THEIR AFGHAN POLICY.  IRAN WAS 
TELLING THE SOVIETS THAT AN AFGHAN POLITICAL SOLUTION 
HAD TO COMPRISE ALL POLITICAL FORCES IN THE COUNTRY, 
WHEREAS THEY WERE TELLING THE AFGHAN RESISTANCE THAT 
NAJIB HAD TO GO BEFORE A SETTLEMENT COULD BE 
REACHED.  THE SOVIET VIEW REMAINED THAT NAJIB 
INTENDED TO FIGHT TO THE BITTER END AND THAT ONLY A 
DECISION TO INCLUDE HIM IN THE NEGOTIATIONS OFFERED 
ANY HOPE FOR A SETTLEMENT.  THE ALLIANCE OF EIGHT, 
HOWEVER, CONTINUED TO INSIST ON NAJIB'S DEPARTURE. 
 
SOVIET POLICY-MAKING ON IRAN 
/--------------------------- 
 
19. OSTALSKIY SUGGESTED THAT SOME SOVIET 
OFFICIALS--INCLUDING CERTAIN DEPUTIES TO THE CONGRESS 
OF PEOPLE'S DEPUTIES FROM THE MOSCOW REGION--DID NOT 
SHARE THE OFFICIAL VIEW THAT RELATIONS WITH IRAN 
SHOULD BE FULLY NORMALIZED WHILE IRAN REMAINED 
EMBARKED ON ITS REVOLUTIONARY COURSE.  HE SUGGESTED 
THAT SHEVARDNADZE HAD BEEN RELUCTANT TO MEET WITH 
KHOMEINI LAST FEBRUARY, AND PREFERRED TO DEAL WITH 
OTHER, "MORE NORMAL" MEMBERS OF THE IRANIAN 
LEADERSHIP. 
 
20. OSTALSKIY SAID HE WAS ONE OF THOSE WHO CALLED FOR 
THE SOVIET UNION TO COORDINATE ITS APPROACH TO IRAN 
WITH THE UNITED 8TATES.  HE ARGUED THAT IT WAS NOT IN 
THE SOVIET INTEREST FOR U.S.-IRANIAN RELATIONS TO BE 
ESTRANGED, AND THAT THE SOVIETS DID NOT INTEND TO 
SEEK ADVANTAGE FROM THE PRESENT SITUATION.  OSTALSKIY 
WOULD NOT ELABORATE ON WHO IN THE "MOSCOW GROUP" OF 
DEPUTIES SHARED HIS VIEWS.  ALTHOUGH FOR THE PRESENT 
THOSE VIEWS WERE CLEARLY IN THE MINORITY AS FAR AS 
OFFICIAL SOVIET POLICY WAS CONCERNED, OSTALSKIY SAW A 
TIME APPROACHING WHEN SOVIET LEGISLATORS WOULD DEBATE 
THIS AND OTHER FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES IN THE SUPREME 
SOVIET. 
 
 
COMMENT 
/------- 
 
21. DESPITE ANY PERSONAL EMBARRASSMENT WHICH SOVIET 
ASSOCIATION WITH REVOLUTIONARY IRAN MAY BE CAUSING 
SOVIET OFFICIALS AND JOURNALISTS, THE OFFICIAL SOVIET 
APPROACH CONTINUES TO BE AIMED AT CULTIVATING 
NORMALIZED RELATIONS WITH IRAN IN THE HOPE THAT 
WHOEVER EMERGES AT THE TOP FOLLOWING THE PROTRACTED 
LEADERSHIP STRUGGLE IN IRAN WILL BE A "PRAGMATIST". 
AS SOVIET OFFICIALS CONCEDED, HOWEVER, THIS TERM IN 
THE IRANIAN CONTEXT IS ONLY RELATIVE. 
 
 
MATLOCK

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