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IRAN: Secret dealings between U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia

October 18, 2008 | 11:15 am

Nixonsandshah

Iran and the U.S. are bitter rivals now. But a report in the Los Angeles Times Friday delved into a time just before the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the two countries were the best of buddies, at least on the surface.

The report, based on a scholarly research paper just published in the Middle East Journal, prompted a flood of e-mails and commentary, both positive and negative. It suggested that the Nixon and Ford administrations sought to undermine Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in an effort to roll back oil prices.

The plan worked. Oil prices went down. But the U.S. may have gotten more than it bargained for. A drop in oil prices in early 1977 led to dramatic instability in Iran that turned into the revolution.

Saudi Arabia worked behind the scenes with the U.S. to lower oil prices, according to scholar Andrew Scott Cooper's paper, entitled, "Showdown at Doha: The Secret Oil Deal That Helped Sink the Shah of Iran."

But it almost went the other way. As late as May 1975, the Ford administration and the Shah were conspiring against Saudi Arabia, according to declassified transcripts of conversations that Cooper uncovered. Here's a startling excerpt from the report, which describes a meeting between the Shah, Ford and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:

President Ford joined in the conversation by telling the Shah that Kissinger had broached the idea of seizing Saudi Arabia’s oil assets if a crisis arose: “Henry told me what he told you we would do if there were a Qaddafi-like development in Saudi Arabia. I reaffirm it.” The Shah seemed pleased to have Ford’s personal assurance — “That is good” — and said he thought Egypt should be invited to join an invasion force.

Readers weighted in extensively on the report, which somewhat counters the popular view that President Carter was the man who lost Iran.

"Wow!" wrote one reader. "Ask Mohammed-Reza Pahlavi's wife, son and the rest of his family which president caused the Islamic revolution. CARTER CARTER CARTER. I can't wait until Kissinger sees this study and this article. Talk about revisionist history."

One reader from Oceanside, Calif., said the whole episode should have caused the U.S. to reexamine the fundamental assumptions of its foreign policy:

The term "our allies" is as corrupt and stupid as a mafia family praising each other. Someone eventually pays the price...The US practices very short-term myopic politics usually limited to the term of the administration in power...If you look at birth of all radical freedom movements in Latin America you find cruel dictators supported by erroneous US policies.

Some snickered that it was obvious that U.S. policies were responsible for the revolution. It's what every cabbie in Tehran absolutely "knows" in his heart.

"The only thing to say [is]…DUH!!!" one reader wrote.

"Of course US policies contributed to the revolution," the reader continued. "That should be obvious to anyone who’s ever researched the era or even done as little as read the Wikipedia entries for the Iranian revolution or the Iran hostage srisis. Hope you didn’t work too hard on the article."

One reader in Canada wondered, "How come it took so long for the story to come out?"

But others wondered about the timing of both the Times article and the Middle East Journal report, which laid blame on Republican administrations for the Iran revolution just weeks before a presidential election in which Iran policy figures as an issue.

One reader from San Francisco called the study "another ridiculous example of how the United States is blamed for everything bad that happens in the world."

He continued:

Does it bother you that this report is released now, when we are three weeks away from the election? What a coincidence, huh? And why should the Times give this report any credibility? Could it be because the Times is in the tank for Obama and the Democrats? What the hell happened to responsible, objective journalism?

One Canadian said he doubted that anything the U.S. did could have stopped the revolution:

I remember watching the Iranian revolution on T.V. in the late 70's. There was not a force on earth that could have stopped the toppling of the Shah. The streets and boulevards were jammed with people who had had enough of the Shah and the daft U.S. government. The depth and breadth of the revolt was such that only the foolish believe the Iranian Army or even U.S. intervention could have prevented the Shah's fall.

— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, left, with President Nixon and former First Lady Pat Nixon. Credit: NARA, via Wikimedia Commons

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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