President Reagan, turning outside the White House for help in a time of political turmoil, named NATO Ambassador David Abshire today as his special counselor to coordinate White House responses to investigations of the Iran- contra scandal.
The announcement, made in the midst of a holiday lull at the White House, said Abshire "will head a team that will coordinate White House activities in all aspects of the Iran matter."
Abshire will be given Cabinet rank, Reagan said.
The President offered the "important special assignment" to Abshire, 60, in a telephone call to Brussels, where the foreign policy-military specialist has been serving at NATO headquarters since 1983.
Abshire, who assumes his new duties Jan. 5, will be replaced by Alton Keel, acting national security adviser, whose appointment was previously announced.
The White House said Abshire "will coordinate White House responses to congressional and other requests for information in a timely manner, working with senior members of the White House staff, assisted by representatives from key White House staff offices."
The appointment of an in-house counselor on the Iran arms crisis had been urged for some time by key Republicans on Capitol Hill. One of the most persistent voices was Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who praised the appointment of Abshire.
"David Abshire has what it takes--both the respect and the experience--to be the President's point man on the Iran affair, he's an excellent choice," Dole said in a statement. "Today's announcement is yet another signal to the Congress and the American people that President Reagan is determined to stay on top of this controversy until it has been fully resolved."
Abshire's duties include staying in touch with two major inquiries to be conducted by Senate and House select committees, as well as filling informational requests from independent counsel Lawrence Walsh and the presidential panel, headed by former Sen. John Tower of Texas, examining the role of the National Security Council.
Search for Documents
The White House counsel's office has been combing the National Security Council files for documents relating to the clandestine sale of arms to Iran and siphoning profits from the sale to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Also available to Abshire will be the still-secret chronology of events prepared by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the NSC aide who orchestrated the scheme, according to Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III.
Abshire, in a statement released by the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels, said, "This is an unexpected call to duty that I could not do other than accept."
The NATO ambassador said he had had a "good conversation" with Reagan this morning.
"From my NATO vantage point I, of course, especially appreciate how our President is the leader of the Free World," he said. "It is critical that these issues be resolved with bipartisan cooperation and to public satisfaction."
Abshire, a West Point graduate and one of the founders of the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington "think tank," was described by the White House as "a respected and articulate advocate of our foreign policy goals."
Abshire was considered a candidate for the job of Reagan's national security adviser after the 1980 election, but the appointment went instead to Richard V. Allen. Abshire's name was also mentioned as a successor to Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter when Poindexter resigned as national security adviser Nov. 25. Instead, Reagan chose Frank Carlucci.