The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Shah of Iran
(Film showing students chanting and demonstrating.)
ROBERT MacNEIL: The Shah of Iran was greeted by both friendly and hostile demonstrators when he arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia this afternoon for an overnight stop on his way to a state visit with President Carter. The small but highly organized demonstrations were a small preview of what apparently awaits the Iranian King in Washington tomorrow. Tonight, on the eve of his talks with President Carter, a conversation in Williamsburg with the Shah of Iran.
JIM LEHRER: Welcome, Your Majesty. As you know, President Carter isn`t the only one who will welcome you to Washington tomorrow. An estimated 15,000 or so demonstrators are also supposed to be there, some demonstrating for you, some against you as was the case here this afternoon. Are you disturbed over the fact that your visit is causing such a ruckus?
SHAH of IRAN: I can`t say that I`m disturbed, because I think that if you go and inquire about the nature of those who demonstrate against you would find that they are mostly Marxists, anarchists wearing masks; and I would be very much interested to see how many Iranians are behind those masks. The fact that they don`t hide at all that they are Marxists is, I think, a very good sign of why the Marxists are against what I am and what I represent. And also you could go and compare how many they are and how many those who are for their country, and eventually their King, how many they are.
LEHRER: Well there are reports, as I`m sure you know, that your government -- indirectly as well as directly -- have helped organize those pro- government demonstrators to come here to Washington to counter demonstrate against the antis. Is that true?
SHAH: I`m not aware of the facts. First of all, I think that patriotic elements in our country wanted to show, at least for one time, that the demonstrator is not always those who demonstrate against. And you could have seen who the demonstrators who were against were, and those who were for.
LEHRER: This is your eleventh trip to the United States, and the other ten were relatively quiet. Why now? Why all of this turmoil now, do you think? What`s your guess on that?
SHAH: I think my country is taking more and more importance in the geopolitics of the world, and it will be even more important as the so called "detente" grows and if eventually the big superpowers adopt a more and more hands-off policy in various regions of the world. And my country is going to obviously play a more and more responsible role in our region. This will not be very pleasant for the forces of subversion and international anarchy and chaos.
LEHRER: Are you suggesting, Your Majesty, that these demonstrators who identify themselves as Iranian students -- and I don`t know whether you saw the signs, but the signs they were carrying out here and the ones that apparently already are waiting for you in Washington; they identify themselves as Iranian students -- are you saying that they are funded in some way or organized in some way by Communist elements, or they`re not really Iranian students, Iranian citizens?
SHAH: They are, maybe -- some of them, or eventually even many of them, Iranian so-called "students" in the United States; but if you go and ask them where they study, how long they have been studying, after years and years of study what degrees they have achieved, I don`t think that they will answer you because they have no answers. They are professional students. And I even heard that here they had the hammer and sickle as a sign on their cardboards. And we have many informations relating them to international organizations, no doubt.
LEHRER: Some of the specific things, whatever their background and their organizations, the things that they are charging against you and your government fall in this area of human rights, and particularly in the area of squelching political dissent. So my question is, are there 100,000 political prisoners now in Iranian jails, as they charge?
SHAH: There are 2,200.
LEHRER: What are their crimes? What are these 2,200?
SHAH: Mostly terrorists; and all of them Marxists.
LEHRER: Would demonstrating, like the people here in Williamsburg are doing today and they`re planning to do in Washington tomorrow -- would that be considered a crime in Iran?
SHAH: Not simple demonstration. That depends what they would say. If they say things that are forbidden by the law in the country, obviously they will be prosecuted. Otherwise, no.
LEHRER: Just so I will understand this, and an American audience understands what is considered a crime punishable by jail in the political area in Iran: is to criticize you personally a crime punishable by imprisonment?
SHAH: That depends what is said. But what is outlawed in our country is Communism.
LEHRER: So if you advocate Communism, that in itself is a crime.
SHAH: That`s illegal.
LEHRER: To criticize you and your government is not illegal.
SHAH: Not the government, anyway. My God, they are doing that all the time.
MacNEIL: But you, yourself? Is that permitted?
SHAH: Not if it is against what you call lese majeste in French -I think that this is a law that you have in many places.
MacNEIL: Presumably -- it`s been widely reported, presumably one of the reasons you want to talk to President Carter is about arms purchases from this country. You are now this country`s largest single purchaser of arms. Is it true that you will be discussing arms with him?
SHAH: We will discuss every subject, among them the question of arms. The question is that my country is a sovereign country, and we have defense needs. If you want to furnish some of those needs we will be very happy. But the needs will remain the same.
MacNEIL: Yes. I think what is -- especially since this administration began to talk a lot about cutting down conventional arms sales, as I`m sure you`re aware -- what puzzles a lot of Americans is why a country like yours, that still has a large degree of poverty and illiteracy and so on would be spending, with its billions of dollars in oil revenues, such a high proportion on armaments; they can`t quite see why a country situated like yours needs an army with its tanks that they say in a few years will be one of the biggest tank fleets in the world, an air force that will be one of the biggest in the world, a navy that will be one of the biggest in the world. Who are you afraid of in the region that you need such a very big armed forces?
SHAH: I have said that before, that we are looking in every direction. And because of the nature of today`s wars, wars are fought in one week, maximum two weeks` time. Whoever loses in the first one or two weeks has lost. With the nature of the United Nations and its impotency, I think that there is no chance for countries to recover what they have lost in the first two weeks.
MacNEIL: Your Majesty, just looking at the countries that surround you -- the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, who all border on you immediately -- most countries either make or buy arms with a particular potential enemy in mind. Now, who would be your particular potential enemies? Who would you be arming against, potentially, or hypothetically?
SHAH: Against all countries which could be manipulated and encouraged by outside powers; and as I have again said before, we have settled all our problems with, for instance our neighbor, Iraq; but the question remains the same: today they have more guns, tanks and planes that we have, in addition to some weapons -- very sophisticated weapons -- that we don`t even have one exemplary.
MaCNEIL: So Iraq would be one of the countries; although you say you have settled your problems at the moment, that is one you are potentially worried about.
SHAH: That could be.
MacNEIL: You`ve also spoken of a role for your country in maintaining stability in the Persian Gulf, the route through which so much of the oil comes out to Japan, to Western Europe and to this country; and as I understood one of your early remarks last year, you weren`t sure that President Carter fully understood the importance of that stabilizing role for your country. Does he now understand it, in your view?
SHAH: I don`t know that he misunderstood that problem. I have never talked of this subject with him before, and I can`t say that he did not understand. But the vital role of the (unintelligible) harbors is, I think, better known today than yesterday, than the day before yesterday.
MacNEIL: Specifically, on the arms that you`ve been buying recently, are you, as you sit in Tehran, looking at the changing politics in the United States -- does it give you anxiety, this new move in the Congress and the administration to cut down on arms sales ... just ideologically, for ideological reasons?
SHAH: Yes, because I wouldn`t understand the reasons. If the world was disarmed, I wouldn`t care less. We would feel much happier. We could spend some of the money that we are spending on arms for other purposes. But the case is that the world is arming more than ever, and conventional weapons are being poured in every part of the world.
MacNEIL: Especially the Middle East.
SHAH: And especially in our region. Now, if you have a SALT-II agreement, that I wish you can have -- we must always work for these kinds of understandings, anyway -- and then if you even decide to hold your actual positions in the Indian Ocean, or even leave the region, you and the Soviets, then we shall be faced with a completely new situation. If the forces for stability, which my country is one of them, then are left without sufficient conventional weapons, then a catastrophe that could not be remedied could eventually happen.
MacNEIL: And is it true, as reported, that you will be asking for an additional group -- 140 is the reported figure -- of the new General Dynamics plane, the F-16, of which you`ve already ordered 160, that you will be looking for more of the AWACS reconnaissance and control planes, and naval patrol boats? Have you a shopping list, in other words, as reported?
SHAH: I don`t know if I could call that a shopping list; I can call it the defense needs of my country. We have more than 7,000 kilometers of borders, of frontiers; and as much aerial borders. With a simple calculation you can see immediately how many planes you need to defend those borders.
MacNEIL: Are the figures I gave roughly accurate of what the defense needs of your country are?
SHAH: Well, roughly. But these are the minimum requirements that my country has, according to our calculations, and if you compare what the Europeans have on both sides -- the NATO countries and the Warsaw countries -- you can see how many planes they have for each kilometer of airspace.
MacNEIL: Can I ask you one other question in this area: one of the objections in the Congress here to your being sold the most sophisticated American weapons -- you`re very familiar with the argument, I`m sure the AWACS reconnaissance plane, the Spruance class destroyers, the F-16, is that they require not only servicing but instruction and maintenance, and even operation, some of them, at present by American personnel. I believe the figure given is 24,000 American advisory personnel now there. Could Iran fight now, using its most modern weapons, without the American personnel being involved?
SHAH: The 24,000 are not military personnel.
SHAH: Not even advisory.
SHAH: Not even technicians. No, no, this is, I think, mixing the civilians working for civilian projects and the military. You are not bound to fight with us, except by bilateral agreement that we signed in 1959, where after consultation you will have to come to our help if we are attacked by a Communist or a Communist-inspired country. But you will have, obviously, your own rules and regulations. Probably there must be some understanding between the executive and the legislative. The question is that we have that agreement, but regardless of that, in many cases we can handle those weapons alone.
MacNEIL: So barring more such sophisticated weapons would not mean - thinking of the point of view of the Congress -- would not be sucking American personnel, civilian or military, into, as is sometimes said, another Vietnam or something if Iran got involved in a conflict.
SHAH: Well, my answer would be to ask you the question, what will you do if we are attacked by a Communist or a Communist-inspired country?
MacNEIL: I can`t answer that, Your Majesty.
LEHRER: Your Majesty, let`s talk about oil for a moment. OPEC will consider a price increase at its meeting next month. What is your position on a price increase?
SHAH: I think that we are going just to be spectators in the coming meeting. You have been accusing us of being hawks, of every kind of names and nicknames, and now let`s other people carry the ball.
LEHRER: You mean you do not favor a price increase?
SHAH: We shall remain silent.
LEHRER: Is there a need for a price increase?
SHAH: That depends from what angle you look at it.
LEHRER: Let`s look at it from your angle. Do you feel there is?
SHAH: You are asking if there is a need. Some of the people would say that there has been the decrease in the purchasing power because of the world inflation, even of the dollar.
LEHRER: Do you expect President Carter to bring this up at your meeting tomorrow?
SHAH: Very certainly, yes.
LEHRER: Do you think he`s going to ask you, "Your Majesty, please do what you can to keep the price rise from coming off"?
SHAH: It is possible.
LEHRER: What are you going to tell him when he does?
SHAH: I will say that I`m not going to push for anything, but OPEC has thirteen members and we are only one.
LEHRER: President Carter, as I`m sure you know, has been telling the American people that the United States is almost in a state of being held hostage by Middle East oil at this stage of the game. What`s your view of that? Do you feel the United States is hostage to you and the other Middle East countries, the other OPEC countries?
SHAH: To some extent, yes; because you are importing about fifty-one percent of your consumption of oil from that part of the world.
LEHRER: He`s also said that our very security -- economic security, and then the next step, our basic national defense security -- is at risk as long as this hostage situation continues. Would you agree with that?
SHAH: Well, definitely, yes.
LEHRER: Do you and others in that part of the world consider the possibility that if the spigot should ever be turned off or if there should be an embargo of any kind that the United States might have to take armed intervention action to prevent this from happening?
SHAH: Well, that will be up to you. I don`t know if you can do it. But there will be no embargo from my country, anyway.
LEHRER: It`s not something that`s discussed -- the possibility of what this means to the United States and what this means to the Western world ... could mean.
SHAH: Well, certainly that could be discussed, what it means. And that is why I`m pleading, I`m almost begging the Western world to find new sources of energy.
LEHRER: On the subject of talking to President Carter, I know that in all these state visits like this there`s always preliminary discussions back and forth between representatives of the governments and you know pretty much, I would imagine, what the President is going to bring up. Is human rights on the list? Is he going to -- you know how President Carter is pushing human rights now -- is that on the list of things to be talked about tomorrow?
SHAH: I just don`t know. There are no agenda. But I would welcome that, why not?
LEHRER: Has there ever. been any discussion between the Carter administration and your government about the human rights situation in Iran?
SHAH: No. No, and I don`t see why you would have raised a question like that, because we have ready answers.
LEHRER: That there is no problem.
SHAH: Not as far as I`m concerned.
LEHRER: All right. Robin?
MacNEIL: It`s just that organizations like the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, which for instance was awarded a Nobel prize this year, have, as you`ve often commented on yourself, made repeated charges that your secret police has indulged in torture and imprisonment without charge, and that sort of thing. Those would be the things, presumably, that a President who was making a display of his concern about human rights would bring up.
SHAH: It`s a long time since torture has not taken place in our country. The torture that they were pretending was practiced is not more than we can see in American films that is being done to people in - I don`t know -- by some officials. Well, I don`t want to bring this question up. The question is that torture does not exist any more in my country,-and we have taken steps that people would be allowed even to have civilian lawyers in their defense, and after the cross-examination their case would be sent to the court immediately.
MacNEIL: That was a change in the law last summer, wasn`t it?
LEHRER: This group that is protesting, or one of the groups that is demonstrating, has put out the word, they claim that in addition to the 100,000 political prisoners now in your jails,-581 political dissidents have either died as a result of being tortured or have been executed over the last four years in your country.
SHAH: That is ridiculous. Some people have been executed, naturally, but they were duly judged; and according to the court they merited that sentence.
LEHRER: Were they for political crimes?
SHAH: No, for murder and for terrorist activities. And some of them just for treason, high treason.
MacNEIL: As a Middle East power, Your Majesty, and a major (fiddle East power who deals with both the Israelis and the Arab nations, are you personally, or is your government, playing any role in the current preparations to try and get a Geneva conference going?
SHAH: Not directly, but we will help as much as we can.
MacNEIL: Do you think the signs are good at the moment?
SHAH: Well, there have been some rather good signs lately -- the proposals of President Sadat, and some of the answers of Mr. Begin.
MacNEIL: You`ve spoken often about your desire not only to improve the industrial base of your country and the infrastructure but also just the lives of the people. I noticed that you said in an interview four years ago that you were soon going to make schooling free for children up to the eighth grade. Has that happened yet?
SHAH: Oh, a long time ago.
MacNEIL: That has happened.
SHAH: Not only is schooling free up to that grade, but secondary education will be free and university will be free if they accept to serve the state for the same duration as their studies. But this is an assurance of getting a job, because they would be paid as anybody else.
MacNEIL: You said that by next year the per capita income of Iran should be $1,800. How is that distributed through the population? The charge is often made that it`s still concentrated in very few hands.
SHAH: Well, it`s already $2,220. I mean, two months ago it was. And I think that this insinuation, or accusation, is very far from the truth because you can`t find a worker now unless you give him exception ally high wages. Sometimes higher than Western Europe.
MacNEIL: I`m very sorry, but I have to end it there. Thank you very much, Your Majesty, for joining us this evening. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night. Good night, Your Majesty.
MacNEIL: Jim Lehrer and I will be back tomorrow evening. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
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- This episode features a discussion on Shah of Iran. The guests are Patricia Ellis, Jim Wesley. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Shah of Iran,” 1977-11-14, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 2, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-tb0xp6vx3b.
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