Behind the Headlines Role Ofran in the Mideast

Despite Cambodia and the numerous other foreign and domestic problems pressing on the Ford Administration, it is beyond question that President Ford and his immediate advisors will devote their fullest attention to what the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, will have to say to them.

The American assessment of the Shah and the Shah’s conversations during his three-day state visit in Washington beginning today will go far towards determining not only U.S. policy in the Middle East–from Israel’s security to the flow of oil–but the strategy of maintaining Western influence from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

Of critical importance to American strategists is whether, in moving towards a settlement of some kind between Israel and her neighbors, the Soviet Union can be prevented from getting a permanent foothold either in the oil areas or on the waters between India and Africa. In this vastness, Egypt some day may be a major factor in Western strategy and Saudi Arabia may develop, too, as a power.

But at present, the only state outside of Turkey and Israel worthy to be called dependable is Iran; its potential as a bulwark in the decades ahead is even greater. When Congress was being apprised of American strategy two years ago as U.S. arms began flowing to Iran, the State Department observed with rare frankness that Western strength in the area depended to a large extent on Iran’s course.

VIEWED AS A GENUINE MODERATE

The immediate power of the Shah may be seen in the simple fact that the sinking of a single oil tanker in the strait linking the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman can effectively block the oil flow from that entire area to the West. For all the criticism leveled at the Shah, he is in his outlook a genuine moderate in the Middle East, Indeed, some Western Asian experts here regard his policies at this time both for the region and his own country as probably the most realistic and progressive in practical terms.

In addition to meeting and dining with the President at the White House, the Shah will meet Vice-President Nelson A. Rockefeller, Secretary of State Henry A, Kissinger, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will be questioned Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

His visit comes on top of other visits in recent days to the White House by Jordan’s King Hussein and Egyptian and Saudi officials and before Ford goes to Salzburg to confer with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat June 1 and 2. Therefore, some observers note, the Iranian monarch’s reasoning may well establish some patterns in the President’s own approaches both to the Sadat meeting and with Israel’s Premier Yitzhak Rabin June 11 and 12 in Washington.

STATUS OF JEWS

While ,Moslem and Mideastern, Iran under the Shah has taken stands in a spirit of tolerance that has enabled the country to go forward socially as well as economically and politically. This is exemplified by the treatment of the country’s tiny Jewish minority. Among the 35 million living in Iran only about 70,000–one-fifth of one percent–are Jewish.

Under the Shah’s rule, their lot has improved immensely. A Jew sits in Parliament, many Jews practice medicine and engage in other professions, and numerous Jewish students and teachers are in the universities, A Jewish educational system is encouraged and no limits are put on emigration. The emancipation of Jewry in Iran began with the Shah’s father in the early 1920s after they had lived in extreme poverty and much ignorance for generations. In turn, Jews when emancipated have helped develop Iranian industry and education.

While diplomatic relations do not formally exist between them, Iran extended de facto recognition to Israel in 1950 and considerable commerce flows between them. Iran did not participate in the Arab oil embargo stemming from the Yom Kippur War and indicated it will not take part in another, It is prepared, If the parties so desire, to help mediate a settlement between Israel and her neighbors.

Thus, as the pressures mount in the countdown towards the President’s meetings with Sadat and Rabin, the Shah’s views on means to counter anti-Western influences in the Middle East, plus discussions of an Iranian-Saudi alliance to brace the Middle East on the way to modernization without violence and in harmony for all the states in the area, including Israel, may well be seen in retrospect as a major element in America’s course in the area during the foreseeable future.

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