Against Future Arms for Iran, Shultz Asserts
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, clearly at odds with President Reagan on U.S. policy toward terrorism, said Sunday that he opposes any future shipments of arms to Iran but acknowledges that he does not speak for the Reagan Administration on the subject.
Shultz, who is known to have opposed U.S. contacts with Iran from their outset in 1985, also indicated that he has discussed with the President whether he should continue to serve as secretary of state under the circumstances. He did not disclose details of the conversation.
“I talked to the President. I serve at his pleasure, and anything that I have to say on that subject I’d just say to him,” Shultz said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The secretary said last week that he has no plans to resign.
Not Involved, Shultz Says
Shultz made it clear that he was never involved in the U.S. diplomatic overtures to Iran. He noted that Reagan’s national security adviser, John M. Poindexter, was the President’s “designated hitter” on the Iranian initiative, and added, “My own information about the operational aspects of what was going on was fragmentary at best.”
Despite a growing furor in Congress, Poindexter and other top Administration officials have never ruled out future shipments of arms to Iran. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who will be the Senate’s majority leader in the 100th Congress, called on the President on Sunday to stop the flow of arms to terrorist nations.
Shultz emphasized that the United States still has a policy against supplying arms to countries that support terrorism--including Iran--and that he sees no need for any future shipments as a means to demonstrate the President’s good faith in his overtures to moderate elements within that country.
“Iran’s use of terrorism, Iran’s taking of hostages, to me is something that we have to fight against very hard and unequivocally,” he said.
Asked if there would be any more arms shipments to Iran, either directly from the United States or indirectly through a third country, Shultz replied, “Under the circumstances of Iran’s war with Iraq, its pursuit of terrorism, its association with those holding our hostages, I would certainly say, as far as I’m concerned, no.”
He then replied with an unqualified “no” when asked if he had the authority to speak for the Administration on the matter of future arms shipments.
Iran’s Policy Unchanged
Although the President said in his nationwide television address last week that there had been no evidence of Iranian government complicity in acts of terrorism against the United States since the first U.S. arms shipment to Tehran, Shultz emphasized that Iran’s policy toward terrorism has not changed.
“Iran has and continues to pursue a policy of terrorism, as shown, for example, in the fact that some terrorists were part of the pilgrimage to Mecca recently last summer,” he said. “So they continue in that policy. And we have to be concerned about terrorism, whether directed against us or directed against anybody else.”
He said that, while there is some evidence that Iranian-supported terrorist acts against the United States have diminished, American hostages are still being held by groups in Lebanon associated with Iran. He also dismissed the distinction that Reagan made between terrorist acts directed at the United States and those directed at U.S. allies.
Not Limited to Americans
“We must look on the terrorism matter as an international matter, not just something limited to Americans,” he said.
Shultz indicated that, in light of the Iranian arms shipments, he expects that U.S. allies no longer will support the Reagan Administration’s embargo against arms shipments to terrorist countries. He claimed that he was unaware of the continuing U.S. shipments six weeks ago when he assured moderate Arab leaders during a meeting at the United Nations that the Administration was still enforcing its embargo against Iran.
Although he never stated explicit opposition to Reagan’s initial decision to send arms to Iran beginning in 1985, Shultz characterized it as a highly controversial move and suggested that the President had decided on it against the advice of some within the Administration.
“You can argue for it, you can argue against it,” he said. “At any rate, when you get elected President, that’s one of the things you get the right to do is to make decisions of that kind.”
Joint Chiefs Not Consulted
Meanwhile, Poindexter emphasized on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and CIA Director William J. Casey all had been consulted by the President before he proceeded with the arms shipments. But Poindexter acknowledged that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were kept in the dark on grounds that it was not a military operation.
Poindexter declined to confirm or deny the possibility that the United States, in addition to shipping arms, is also giving support to Iranian dissidents or exile groups seeking to overthrow Iran’s leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He insisted that the purpose of U.S. actions is to win a change in Iranian policies, not to overthrow Khomeini.
As Poindexter defended the Administration’s failure to inform Congress about the Iranian arms shipments before last week, he pledged that there are no other secret operations that have been kept from the appropriate congressional oversight committees.
Poindexter Won’t Testify
Although several committees have asked Administration officials to Capitol Hill to explain why word of the arms shipments was kept from them, Poindexter said he will not testify because the President’s staff is protected by the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution. However, he committed himself to talk to members of Congress informally and promised that Casey would testify before the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who appeared with Byrd on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley,” said it was “immaterial” to him whether Poindexter testifies, as long as the committee hears from Casey.
Both Leahy and House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who appeared on “Face the Nation,” charged that the Administration broke the law by failing to notify Congress of the Iranian arms shipments “in a timely way,” as required under the National Security Act.
Wright conceded a possibility that President Reagan might invoke executive privilege to fend off questions from Capitol Hill, but added, “I don’t believe it applies in this case.”
“We don’t seek a confrontation--we’d much rather have a conciliation and an understanding in which the President and the Congress can find an avenue in which jointly to seek consensus,” Wright said.
He declined to speculate on what might happen if executive privilege is invoked to block testimony by White House aides. Recalling the “very, very sad episode” surrounding former President Richard M. Nixon’s attempts to use executive privilege to cut off disclosures about the Watergate scandals, Wright said, “We don’t want that kind of thing.”