US embassy cable - 85STATE80724

THE IRANIAN SUCCESSION

Identifier: 85STATE80724
Wikileaks: View 85STATE80724 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Secretary of State
Created: 1985-03-16 08:23:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: IR PINT PEPR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 160823Z MAR 85
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI
AMEMBASSY ANKARA
AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
AMEMBASSY DOHA
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
AMEMBASSY KUWAIT
AMEMBASSY MANAMA
AMEMBASSY MUSCAT
AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
S E C R E T  STATE 080724 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL: OADR 
TAGS:    IR, PINT, PEPR 
SUBJECT:    THE IRANIAN SUCCESSION 
 
1.  (S  ENTIRE TEXT). 
 
2.  THE FOLLOWING ANALYSIS, PREPARED BY INR/NESA IN 
FEBRUARY 1985, MAY BE OF BACKGROUND INTEREST TO ADDRESSEE 
POSTS. 
 
T H E  I R A N I A N  S U C C E S S I O N  A N D  I T S 
C O N S E Q U E N C E S 
 
3.  IT IS OBVIOUSLY NOT POSSIBLE TO PREDICT PRECISELY HOW 
EVENTS WILL UNFOLD IN THE MONTHS AND YEARS FOLLOWING 
KHOMEINI'S DEATH.  BUT THE CLERICAL GROUP NOW IN POWER IS 
SO ENTRENCHED THAT IT COULD DOMINATE FOR SOME YEARS.  AT 
BEST, THERE COULD BE A GRADUAL SOFTENING OF THE REGIME'S 
VIEW OF THE US.  BUT INCREASING INSTABILITY AND SOVIET 
PRESSURE ARE MORE LIKELY TO KEEP THE US IN THE POSITION 
OF THE MAJOR ENEMY OF IRAN.  OVER THE LONGER RUN, WE 
THINK A SINGLE STRONG LEADER WILL EMERGE.  IF HE COMES 
FROM THE REVOLUTIONARY GUARD MILITIA, AS NOW APPEARS THE 
BEST BET, HE WILL SHARE MUCH OF THE OUTLOOK OF THE 
PRESENT LEADERSHIP.  THAT WOULD MAKE HIM DIFFICULT FOR 
THE US TO WORK WITH, THOUGH HE MIGHT NOT HAVE KHOMEINI'S 
DEDICATION TO PURSUING THE WAR WITH IRAQ. 
 
4.  PROBABLE SUCCESSION SCENARIO:  MOST LIKELY IS A 
RELATIVELY SMOOTH INITIAL TRANSITION TO THE IMMEDIATE 
POST-KHOMEINI ERA.  THE CLERICS ARE PREPARED TO MOVE 
QUICKLY TO MAINTAIN CONTINUITY AND CONTROL.  A COMMITTEE 
OF EXPERTS TO MAKE THE CHOICE OF SUCCESSOR HAS BEEN 
ELECTED AND MEETS SEVERAL TIMES A YEAR.  IT SEEMS 
INCLINED TO SETTLE ON AYATOLLAH MONTAZERI, A CHOICE WE 
BELIEVE WILL BE ENDORSED IN KHOMEINI'S SEALED WILL. 
MONTAZERI WOULD NOT BY ANY MEANS HAVE UNQUESTIONED 
COMMAND.  INDEED, THE INITIAL IRANIAN GOVERNMENT WILL BE 
A COLLEGIAL AFFAIR BECAUSE NO SINGLE IRANIAN LEADER WILL 
BE ABLE TO REPLACE KHOMEINI. 
 
5.  THE MAIN IMMEDIATE CHALLENGE TO THIS SUCCESSION 
SCENARIO WOULD COME FROM THE JOCKEYING FOR POWER ALREADY 
APPARENT BETWEEN FACTIONS INSIDE THE PRESENT LEADERSHIP 
CADRE.  SHOULD  SUCH RIVALS AS PRESIDENT ALI KHAMENEI AND 
MAJLES LEADER ALI AKBAR RAFSANJANI CLASH, THAT WOULD 
INEVITABLY LEAD TO SERIOUS DISORDER. 
 
6.  A MAJOR DIFFICULTY WILL BE PRESENTED BY THE 
REVOLUTIONARY GUARD, THE PARAMILITARY ORGANIZATION WHICH 
HAS FUNCTIONED AS THE REGIME'S PRAETORIAN GUARD.  EVEN 
KHOMEINI HAS NOT BEEN ABLE TO FIT THE GUARD SMOOTHLY INTO 
THE CURRENT SOCIAL OR GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE.  AND SHOULD 
THE GUARD THROW ITS CONSIDERABLE WEIGHT BEHIND ONE 
FIGURE, HIS PRIMACY WOULD BE GIVEN A STRONG BOOST. 
 
7.  THE LONGER TERM:  WHILE NON-CLERICAL ELEMENTS WILL 
HAVE A HARD TIME COMPETING IN THIS ARENA FOR A LONG TIME 
TO COME, THE CLERICS HAVE NOT INSTITUTIONALIZED CONTROL 
IN ANY DURABLE WAY.  THE INSTABILITY PROVOKED BY 
INFIGHTING AMONG VARIOUS CLERICAL FACTIONS IS LIKELY TO 
BE INCREASED BY ECONOMIC TROUBLES AND OTHER STRUCTURAL 
WEAKNESSES (E.G., CONTINUED MIGRATION TO THE CITIES). 
 
8.  WE THUS REGARD A POSTKHOMEINI CLERICAL REGIME AS 
ESSENTIALLY TRANSITIONAL.  THE CHANCES SEEM GOOD THAT IT 
WILL GIVE WAY SOONER OR LATER TO A SINGLE STRONG LEADER. 
ASSUMING THAT THERE WILL BE NO MAJOR OUTSIDE INTERVENTION 
TO DEFLECT THIS NATURAL COURSE OF EVENTS, THE TRANSITION 
MANEUVERING COULD BE LENGTHY.  THAT WOULD OPEN 
OPPORTUNITIES TO A BROADER RANGE OF PLAYERS. 
 
9.  IN THE END, HOWEVER, WE THINK THAT THE CHANCES FAVOR 
THE EMERGENCE OF A "MAN ON HORSEBACK."  WE WOULD EXPECT 
HIM TO ACT IN THE NAME OF ISLAM AND CLAIM TO DEFEND THE 
FRUITS OF THE REVOLUTION.  AT PRESENT, THE MOST LIKELY 
INSTITUTION TO PRODUCE SUCH A FIGURE IS THE REVOLUTIONARY 
GUARD.  IF THE TRANSITION IS LONG ENOUGH, HOWEVER, 
SOMEONE COULD EMERGE FROM THE REGULAR MILITARY, DESPITE 
EFFORTS TO PREVENT ANY POPULAR HERO FROM USING THE WAR 
WITH IRAQ TO CATAPULT INTO PROMINENCE.  AS YET WE ARE 
UNABLE TO IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CANDIDATES. 
 
10.  POSSIBLE SOVIET ROLE:  ALTHOUGH THE SOVIETS HAVE 
ASSETS AND CAN BRING SOME PRESSURE TO BEAR ON THE 
SUCCESSION SITUATION, WE DO NOT BELIEV THAT THEY WILL BE 
ABLE TO EXERT A DETERMINING INFLUENCE OVER THE COURSE OF 
EVENTS.  THE TUDEH PARTY HAS BEEN CRIPPLED THROUGH 
ARRESTS AND EXECUTIONS, THOUGH ITS PRINCIPAL LEADERS ARE 
STILL ALIVE IN IRANIAN JAILS.  WHILE THE SOVIETS MAY BE 
ENCOURAGING THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW PARTY ORGANIZATION, 
THE PARTY HAS NEVER ENJOYED BROAD APPEAL.  SIMILARLY, 
SOVIET ASSETS AMONG THE MINORITIES WOULD FIND IT 
DIFFICULT TO INFLUENCE THE NATIONAL SCENE IN IRAN. 
 
11.  THE USSR CAN USE ITS CONTROL OVER LAND ROUTES TO 
IRAN, ABOUT 20 PERCENT OF WHICH PASS THROUGH SOVIET 
TERRITORY, TO EXERT PRESSURE.  AND IT MIGHT BE ABLE TO 
MANIPULATE ARMS SALES, IF BY THAT TIME THE SOVIETS HAD 
MANAGED TO ESTABLISH A MAJOR SUPPLY RELATIONSHIP.  BUT 
PRESSING IN THIS WAY WOULD BE RISKY AND THE SOVIETS 
PROBABLY WOULD NOT MAKE AN ALL-OUT PUSH IN THIS DIRECTION. 
 
12.  WE DO NOT EXPECT A SOVIET MILITARY INVASION OF 
IRAN.  A LIMITED STRIKE INTO THE BORDER PROVINCE OF 
AZERBAIJAN WOULD BE POSSIBLE IF IRAN WERE IN CHAOS AND 
APPEARED TO BE FRAGMENTING.  HOWEVER, THE SOVIETS WOULD 
PROBABLY ACT ONLY IF A US MILITARY RESPONSE APPEARED 
UNLIKELY.  ALTERNATIVELY, THEY MIGHT ATTEMPT TO OCCUPY 
AZERBAIJAN IF THEY BELIEVED THE US WERE PREPARING TO 
SEIZE PORTIONS OF SOUTHERN IRAN.  THE USSR MIGHT LAUNCH A 
PREEMPTIVE INVASION IF IT SUSPECTED US PREPARATIONS 
EITHER TO INTERVENE ON BEHALF OF PRO-AMERICAN ELEMENTS OR 
TO SECURE IRANIAN OIL FIELDS. 
 
13.  ALL THESE CONTINGENCIES APPEAR EXTREMELY DISTANT. 
THE SOVIETS WOULD HAVE TO ANTICIPATE THAT THEY WOULD FACE 
A US MILITARY RESPONSE AS WELL AS DIFFICULT LOGISTICAL 
AND TERRAIN PROBLEMS.  MOREOVER, THE SOVIET LEADERS 
PROBABLY PROJECT THAT IRANIAN RESISTANCE WOULD BE ON THE 
ORDER OF THEIR AFGHAN EXPERIENCE AND THAT MAJOR RESOURCES 
WOULD BE REQUIRED TO PACIFY A COUNTRY AS LARGE AND 
POPULOUS AS IRAN. 
 
14.  OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE US?  THE US WILL PROBABLY HAVE 
LITTLE OPPORTUNITY TO INFLUENCE THE COURSE OF EVENTS IN 
THE IMMEDIATE POST-KHOMEINI PERIOD.  LEADING POLITICAL 
FIGURES APPARENTLY STILL BELIEVE THAT THE US HAS NOT 
ACCEPTED THE REVOLUTION AND ITS RESULTS.  AS LONG AS WE 
APPEAR TO BE TILTING TOWARD IRAQ AND ARE ISRAEL'S CLOSEST 
SUPPORTER, THEY ARE UNLIKELY TO CHANGE THAT OPINION.  IN 
ADDITION, THE REGIME SEES ITSELF LOCKED IN A STRUGGLE 
WITH THE US FOR CONTROL OF THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE 
ISLAMIC WORLD.  THUS THEY IDENTIFY THE US AS THE PRIMARY 
ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IN THE EFFORT TO LIBERATE THE 
ISLAMIC WORLD FROM THE GRIP OF WESTERN CULTURAL VALUES. 
 
15.  THESE PERCEPTIONS PUT THE US IN A PARTICULARLY 
DIFFICULT POSITION AS IRAN MOVES INTO THE POST-KHOMEINI 
ERA.  ANY SUCCESSOR REGIME SEEMS DESTINED TO MAINTAIN 
ITSELF IN POWER IN THE NAME OF ISLAM AND THE REVOLUTION. 
THUS IT WILL HAVE A BUILT-IN ANTI-AMERICAN BIAS.  IRAN 
MIGHT GROW LESS HOSTILE TO THE US OVER TIME IF WE WERE 
NOT SEEN AS WORKING AGAINST THE REGIME IN TEHRAN, E.G., 
BY ENCOURAGING THE CUT-OFF OF ARMS TO IRAN.  BUT THIS 
WOULD BE A SLOW PROCESS AT BEST, AND IT COULD BE SET BACK 
BY EVENTS OVER WHICH WE WOULD HAVE NO CONTROL. 
 
16.  THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR:  KHOMEINI'S DEATH WOULD REMOVE 
ONE OF THE STAUNCHEST ADVOCATES IN IRAN OF WAR TO THE 
BITTER END.  YET THE CLERICS ARE BY AND LARGE UNITED ON 
THE CONTINUATION OF THE WAR, UNLESS IRAN CAN EMERGE WITH 
HONOR.  THAT WOULD INCLINE MOST OF THEM TO INSIST ON THE 
OUSTER OF IRAQI PRESIDENT SADAM HUSSEIN AS A PRECONDITION 
FOR ENDING HOSTILITIES. 
 
17.  NONETHELESS, THE SUCCESSOR REGIME, ONCE IT FELT MORE 
OR LESS SOLIDLY IN CONTROL AT HOME, MIGHT BECOME MORE 
FLEXIBLE IN ITS ATTITUDES TOWARD THE WAR.  TACTICS FOR 
FIGHTING AND TOWARD NEGOTIATIONS WOULD BE AMONG SEVERAL 
ISSUES THAT WILL DIVIDE THE REGIME LOYALISTS.  OPPONENTS 
OF THE WAR ARE LIKELY TO BLAME ITS ADVOCATES FOR 
WEAKENING THE REGIME'S BASE OF SUPPORT, FOR THE LARGE 
CASUALTIES, AND FOR DIVERSION OF ECONOMIC RESOURCES.  THE 
WAR'S PROPONENTS, ON THE OTHER HAND, WILL CHARGE THAT ITS 
OPPONENTS LACK REVOLUTIONARY ISLAMIC FERVOR AND ARE NOT 
ADHERING TO KHOMEINI'S WISHES. 
 
18.  ON BALANCE, THEREFORE, WE BELIVE THAT THE CHANCES OF 
ENDING THE WAR WILL RISE SOMEWHAT AFTER KHOMEINI 
DEPARTS.  BUT IRAN'S WILLINGNESS TO MAKE PEACE IS BY NO 
MEANS A FOREGONE CONCLUSION. 
 
SHULTZ 

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