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Gingrich "Add" for Covert Action in Iran: 1995

Modern US relations with Iran can be thought of as beginning in 1953, when a combined US and British covert operation led to a successful coup d'etat ousting the appointed prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, and reinstated the monarchy of the Shah under Reza Pahlavi. The 1970s concluded with violent rioting in opposition to the Shah. The subsequent flight into exile by the Shah and his family in 1979 was viewed as the final expulsion of an exploitive and imperialistic Western and predominantly American conspiracy. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's, the perception by the Iranians that the US had sided with Iraq did not improve the US image with Iran.

The trend in US policy towards Iran has been for the US to attempt to compel changes in certain aspects of Iranian behavior. Of particular concern to the US has been Iran's pursuit of a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program, its association with large elements of global terrorism, its record on domestic human rights, and its attempts to disrupt other Persian Gulf states.

As an "ex officio" member of the HPSCI, House Speaker Newt Gingrich took an inordinate interest in intelligence activities, occasionally using his position to chide the Clinton administration for its failure to make greater use of covert action to achieve US foreign policy objectives. In February 1995 Gingrich began calling for a strategy "designed to force the replacement of the current regime in Iran." In October 1995, for example, Gingrich wrote the first of several articles calling for a covert action program to topple the government of Iran. His desire for a covert operation became public in a six-paragraph article in The Wall Street Journal, then on news wires around the world. Not surprisingly, these articles had prompted vehement protests from Tehran.

Apparently undaunted, Gingrich, over the initial objection of the Clinton Administration, managed to insert $18 million into the classified portion of the annual intelligence authorization for a covert action program designed to "change the behavior" of the Iranian regime rather than to topple it. By December 1995 Gingrich's demand for about $18 million for covert action in Iran has become the major reason for a lengthy delay on an agreement between House and Senate negotiators on the $28 billion intelligence budget. Word of the provision leaked to the press a few weeks later, before Clinton had even signed the legislation, prompting the Iranian parliament to denounce the United States and establish a $20 million fund to counter the covert action. CIA found itself required, against its judgment, to plan a "secret" mission, with its cover already blown, in a region where American policy had suffered failures and fiascos.

While other policy makers had acknowledged that normal relations with Iran were conceivable, House Speaker Newt Gingrich determined that Iran was obligated to make any initial overtures, and incentives by the US to create circumstances more favorable to dialogue between the two countries were not warranted in the meantime. Gingrich then called for further efforts to undermine the Iranian government and for President Clinton's to sign the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). The ILSA was specifically aimed at discouraging foreign investment in Iran's (and Libya's) energy industry with the expectation that it would prevent Iran from acquiring the financial resources to continue sponsorship of terrorism and pursuit of a WMD program. The law provided for stiff penalties that would be imposed by the US and include a wide range of exclusions from US banking institutions and export/import sanctions against individual foreign firms found in violation.

Several legislative actions of the negative-reinforcement variety were introduced by the US Congress during the Clinton Administration to implement the engagement of Iran. They arrived in the form of sanctions and an attempt to politically isolate Iran from the US and the rest of the world. This came to be known as the Iranian half of the Clinton administration's "Dual Containment" policy, which applied equally to Iran and Iraq. In 1995, President Clinton issued the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (EEPA) that terminated all US commerce with Iran. As the Iranians did not respond to this statute by altering its behavior, EEPA was followedin 1996 by additional legislation.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:23 ZULU