Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Jimmy Carter's support for the Shah of Iran ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Jimmy Carter's support for the Shah of Iran
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: sheldon-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 29 Apr 2003 12:38 PDT
Expires: 29 May 2003 12:38 PDT
Question ID: 197118
In discussions of the relationship between former president Jimmy
Carter and the shah of Iran, some (conservative) writers have alleged
that Carter's failure to support the shah led to the success of the
Iranian revolution and thereby "betrayed" the United States. Others
(leftists) have alleged that Carter gave unstinting support to the
shah, notwithstanding Iran's horrific human rights record and the
Carter administration's public professions of concern for human
rights. I'd like to know how to evaluate these claims. Specifically:
*What support did the Carter adminstration provide to the Shah's
regime terms of and financial and mililtary assistance?
*What public manifestations of support did the Carter administration
provide (speeches, state visits, etc.)?
*What pressure did the Carter administration exert on the Shah to
improve his human rights record?
*Was any aid actually withheld? Did U.S. support for the Shah's regime
increase or decline under Carter?
Subject: Re: Jimmy Carter's support for the Shah of Iran
Answered By: juggler-ga on 29 Apr 2003 16:40 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

I'll start with your first and last questions because they are closely

*What support did the Carter adminstration provide to the Shah's
regime terms of and financial and mililtary assistance?
*Was any aid actually withheld? Did U.S. support for the Shah's regime
increase or decline under Carter?

The US government stopped giving "aid" to Iran in the late 1960s.

"When the US AID mission to Tehran was closed in 1967, it had
chanelled a total of $1 billion in US military and economic aid to
Iran since its creation in 1954. The last military sales to Iran
funded by Pentagon grants or MAP funds were delivered in 1969."
Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War

High oil prices in the 1970s allowed the Iranian government to pay for
its own military programs. With the approval of the U.S. government,
American defense contractors sold billions of dollars worth of
military equipment to the Shah. This was the policy under the Nixon,
Ford and Carter administrations.

Carter entered office in 1977 with pledges to "moralize" U.S. arms
sales, saying that the U.S. should not be "the first supplier to
introduce into a region newly developed advanced weapon systems which
could create a new or significantly higher combat capability." At the
same time, Carter continued his predecessors' policies of approving
large weapons sales to Iran.  In fact, the arms sales to Iran appear
to have accelerated under Carter.  Total U.S. arms sales to Iran for
the Nixon/Ford term of 1972-76 were $10.4 billion.  During the Carter
administration and "before the Shah fled the country on January 16,
1979 he had placed orders with US contractors for an additional $12.2
billion of military hardware, with deliveries to be spread over the
following three years."
Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War


*What public manifestations of support did the Carter administration
provide (speeches, state visits, etc.)?

Carter's major manifestations of support for the Shah came in the form
of the Shah's visit to the White House in November 1977 and Carter's
visit to Iran on New Year's Eve of the same years.

November 1977... "the shah's first meeting with President Carter in
Washington D.C., was disrupted by angry Iranian students. The
demonstrators, mainly Marxist activists members and supporters of
various branches of the Confederation of Iranian Students Abroad, had
been active against the imperial regime for years. The sight of the
shah, President Carter, their aids and their wives suffering from tear
gas inhalation meant for the demonstrators was unforgettable and was
broadcast all over the world.
The shah's visit to Washington D.C. and President Carter's return
visit to Tehran in late December 1977, during which he called the
shah's Iran "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas
of the world," seems to have had two results as Iran prepared to meet
the turbulent days of 1978. First, the shah and President Carter
developed a working relationship and the shah was assured of strong
U.S. backing for the imperial regime. Second, the shah reaffirmed his
resolve to push for reforms in Iran. Issues such as human rights and
political freedoms were discussed but no pressure was exerted on the
source:  "Rebels with a cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran,"
hosted by

"Fast forward to New Years Eve, 1977: President Carter toasted the
Shah at a state dinner in Tehran, calling him 'an island of stability'
in the troubled Middle East. What the president also knew, but chose
to ignore, was that the Shah was in serious trouble. As opposition to
his government mounted, he had allowed his secret police, SAVAK, to
crack down on dissenters, fueling still more resentment. Within weeks
of Carter's visit, a series of protests broke out in the religious
city of Qom, denouncing the Shah's regime as 'anti-Islamic.'"

"The two countries were really close to the extent that Jimmy Carter
and the Shah together celebrated the new 1978 year in Teheran. The
American President danced with Shah’s wife Farah and the Shah’s twin
sister Princess Ashraf. William Sullivan, the then U.S. Ambassador in
Iran, later recalled: “The President was in excellent mood. In his
speech he said: 'Under the Shah’s brilliant leadership Iran is an
island of stability in one of the most troublesome regions of the
world. There is no other state figure whom I could appreciate and like
more.'"2 This was their last meeting."

Detailed information about the chronology of the New Year's Eve visit
is available from the Jimmy Carter Library:

More evidence of support...

"As late as December 12, 1978, during a White House press conference,
President Carter still reaffirmed his belief in the Shah. 'I fully
expect the Shah to maintain power in Iran and for the present problems
in Iran to be resolved. The predictions of doom and disaster that came
from some sources have certainly not been realized at all (14).'"
Fanning the Flames: Guns, Greed & Geopolitics in the Gulf War

Finally, consider President Carter's own assertion that "we gave the
Shah every possible legitimate support."

 " was a blow to the United States when the Shah was deposed. He
had been a close associate, an ally with, I think, if I'm not
mistaken, seven presidents who preceded me, and we never dreamed that
the Shah was likely to be overthrown by his own people. But when he
became embattled by attacks from his own people at home, and
particularly from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was issuing broadcasts
and tape recordings from France, we gave the Shah every possible
legitimate support."
source: Jimmy Carter Interview, hosted by

Overally, it's pretty clear that relations between the Shah and Carter
administration were quite cordial.  For a general example of the
nature of teh relationship, see this 1977 address by a State
Department official:
"The U.S. and Iran, An Increasing Partnership"


*What pressure did the Carter administration exert on the Shah to
improve his human rights record?

Carter's main pressure seems to have come during the November 1977
meeting at the White House, where he apparently pressed the Shah to
implement some human rights reforms.

"...President Carter, in those meeting and talks, had demanded serious
liberalization of Iran's political and economic institutions and had
tied the Shah's demand for sophisticated weaponry to serious and
tangible improvement in Iran's human rights record and Iran's domestic
political freedoms. So had members of U.S. Congressional Committees on
Foreign Relations and Arms Sales.
"Carter started by pressuring the Shah to release 'political
prisoners' including known terrorists and to put an end to military
tribunals. The newly released terrorists would be tried under civil
jurisdiction with the Marxist/Islamists using these trials as a
platform for agitation and propaganda."

"Carter pressured Iran to allow for 'free assembly' which meant that
groups would be able to meet and agitate for the overthrow of the
In November 1977, the Shah and his Empress, Farah Diba, visited the
White House... Carter pressured the Shah to implement even more
radical changes."
source: "Carter Sold Out Iran 1977-1978," hosted by chuckmorses

Here are President Carter's own words on the subject:

"Did you tell him, when you were in office, what you thought of his
record on human rights?
JC:  Yes, very strongly. When the Shah was in Washington for a state
visit in November of 1977, his secret police, Savak, had fired into a
crowd of peaceful demonstrators and killed, I believe, several hundred
of them. When the Shah came to visit me, I took him aside into a small
office that I had adjacent to the Oval Office, and I told him that I
thought that he was making a serious mistake in violating the human
rights of his own people through his secret police and in taking
strong military action against peaceful demonstrators. I advised him
strongly not to do this any further. He replied to me with some degree
of scorn and said that not only the United States but all the European
countries were making a serious mistake in permitting demonstrations
of our people against our government, that this was obviously a
communist plot to overthrow democracy and freedom in the Western
world, and we were ignorant as leaders in not stamping out this kind
of demonstration at its earliest stage. And he said that.. in the
nation of Iran there were just a tiny handful of people who opposed
his regime, and these were all communists, inspired and controlled
from outside, that there was no indigenous threat to his popularity.
That was his response. It was a very frank and fairly unpleasant
confrontation, but in private."
source: Jimmy Carter Interview, hosted by


Finally, here is some general information on this subject:

"Did the Carter administration 'lose' Iran, as some have suggested?
Gaddis Smith might have put it best: 'President Carter inherited an
impossible situation -- and he and his advisers made the worst of it.'
Carter seemed to have a hard time deciding whether to heed the advice
of his aggressive national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who
wanted to encourage the Shah to brutally suppress the revolution, or
that of his more cautious State Department, which suggested Carter
reach out to opposition elements in order to smooth the transition to
a new government. In the end he did neither, and suffered the
source: American Experience
"People & Events: The Iranian Hostage Crisis, November 1979 - January
1981," hosted by

"Throughout all of 1978, as demonstrations and violence shook Teheran
and weakened the Shah’s hold on power, the Carter administration
oscillated back and forth between supporting him and pressing for
source: "Avoiding the Burden: the Carter Doctrine in perspective,"
hosted by

"There is extensive documentation on the various and sometimes
conflicting efforts made by U.S. officials beginning in November 1978
to persuade the Shah to respond to domestic demands for reform and to
share and then transfer power to moderate opposition elements. The
final agonizing days of the Shah's regime and Prime Minister
Bakhtiar's last futile attempts to keep the Islamic fundamentalist
movement in check and maintain a Western-oriented and more democratic
government in power are described in detail. The documents also give
some evidence of the divisions and uncertainty within the Carter
administration over how to deal with the revolutionary movement.
Although the White House reaffirmed its support for the Shah and the
monarchy until the middle of December 1978, the Embassy was vigorously
involved in negotiations to accomplish a transfer of power to the
"Iran: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1977-1980"

Finally, I found a reference to a book called "Roots Of Revolution An
Interpretive History of Modern Iran" (1981) by Nikki R. Keddie.
According to a review, one of the main claims of this book is that
U.S. policy toward the Shah didn't really make much difference either
way. In other words, the Iran situation was not the result of
President Carter giving too much support or not enough support to the
Shah. Rather, Keddie apparently argues that the Iranian revolution was
an internal phenomenon that could not have been signficantly altered
by U.S. policy.  Here is a brief excerpt from a review:

"Ambassador Sullivan's book is premised on the assumption that policy
alternatives open to the Shah and the United States Government during
his tenure made a crucial difference; Nikki R. Keddie, a leading
historian of Iran who watched the Islamic revolution from a distance,
holds otherwise. 'It seems unlikely that a different American policy
in 1978-79 could have significantly changed the course of events,' she
writes. 'Probably only a very different set of policies over the
previous twenty-five years could have led to different results. As to
the Shah's vacillating carrot-and-stick behavior ... there is no proof
that different behavior in 1978 would have maintained his throne.'"
source: Book Review, hosted by

I hope this answers your question. If anything is unclear, please use
the "request clarification" feature.  Thanks.

search strategy:
iran, shah, carter, 1977, 1978, 1979
aid, awacs, military, shah, 1977
december, 1977, carter, tehran, teheran, sha
"aid to the shah"
"support of the shah"
"support for the shah"
sheldon-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
thorough, detailed, specific--perfect!

There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy