AFTERMATH OF THE TOWER REPORT : U.S. Tried to Use Son of High Iran Official
Despite repeated setbacks, White House officials stepped up their efforts to trade arms for hostages last fall because they had a promising new Iranian intermediary--the eldest son of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, sources said Friday.
The surprising role of 25-year-old Mehdi Bahremani Rafsanjani is detailed for the first time in the Tower Commission report, although he is identified there only as Rafsanjani’s “relative.”
The younger Rafsanjani met with National Security Council and CIA officials repeatedly last August, September and October in London, Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington and traveled to the United States with special immigration papers provided in Istanbul so no U.S. visa would be needed, according to the report.
Offered a Soviet Tank
During the negotiations, the younger Rafsanjani and the Iranian officials who accompanied him promised not only the release of the hostages but also offered a Soviet T-72 tank captured from Iraq and a copy of the 400-page interrogation of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut who was tortured and killed after he was taken hostage in 1984.
U.S. officials’ hopes soared even higher during two days of secretly taped meetings in Washington last Sept. 19 and 20.
“Sincerely believe that (President Reagan) can be instrumental in bringing about an end to Iran/Iraq war--a la Roosevelt w/ Russo/Japanese War in 1904,” then-NSC aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North wrote in a computer message to his boss, then-National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter. “Anybody for RR getting the same prize? . . .”
President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in mediating the Treaty of Portsmouth to end the war between Russia and Japan.
Hostages Never Arrived
NSC officials sent a small Danish cargo ship, the Erria, to pick up the much-coveted advanced Soviet tank last October. The freighter waited several weeks off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, hoping to trade a cargo of machine guns for the tank. But the tank, the interrogation report and the hostages never arrived.
On Jan. 26, a dark-haired man in sunglasses identifying himself as Mehdi Bahremani Rafsanjani, son of Hashemi Rafsanjani, said at a hastily called news conference at the Miramar-Sheraton Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., that he had received $6 million as a “kind of commission” from the arms deals and was going to return $5.8 million to the U.S. government.
“I just had a kind of commission,” the man said in broken, accented English. “I just wanted to bring it back.”
Other than saying that he “made contact between people I know” to earn the money, the man provided few details before he, an unidentified woman and three bodyguards sped away in a black limousine without license plates.
State Department officials said they believed the man was indeed Rafsanjani’s son, although they said he still did not possess a valid U.S. visa. It was unclear Friday whether the man actually returned the money. The Tower Commission report does not mention the alleged commission, although it reported that $22.8 million from the arms sales to Iran was unaccounted for.
According to the report, the United States turned to the “second channel” last summer after officials lost confidence in Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms broker who had acted as middleman for more than a year.
Two sources told The Times that Ghorbanifar identified the younger Rafsanjani as the intermediary who replaced him. And Ghorbanifar told the Tower Commission that the switch was “a major error” because, he claimed, he had been in touch with three major factions in the Iranian leadership while “the second channel involved only the Rafsanjani faction.”
Met With Secord
On July 25, 1986, the report notes, the “relative” met in London with retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and Albert A. Hakim, Secord’s Iranian-born U.S. business partner. Secord and Hakim worked closely with North in the arms-for-hostages operation.
A month later, Secord held three more meetings with the “relative” in Brussels, describing him later to North as a “well-known favorite of (Parliament Speaker) Rafsanjani.”
“They badly need air defense items, armor spares, TOW (missiles), gun barrels, (helicopter) spares and tactical intelligence,” Secord wrote. “I told them all things negotiable if we can clear the hostage matter quickly.”
Staff writer David Holley in Los Angeles contributed to this story.