Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III was one of several U.S. officials, according to an informed Israeli source, who had contact over a period of years with Israeli officials about a $1-billion Iraqi oil pipeline project that is now the subject of a special investigation in Washington.
"We considered Meese a competent member of the government of the United States, and for us, any approach by a competent member of the U.S. government is understood to be an approach by the government itself," the source said.
Meese's reported contact with the Israelis is significant because independent counsel James C. McKay is investigating Meese's role in the pipeline project, which was being promoted by his close friend and former lawyer, E. Robert Wallach. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Wallach wrote a 1985 memo to Meese discussing a plan that included suggested payments to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres or his Israeli Labor Party to secure Israeli support for the pipeline.
Peres, now Israel's foreign minister, acknowledged Saturday that the government of Israel had agreed at the behest of the Reagan Administration not to oppose construction of the pipeline but denied that he had ever been offered or received money or anything of value for acceding to the project.
Agreement Within Cabinet
The project was broached to the Israeli government in contacts by officials of the Administration, the Peres statement said. It said the matter was discussed by the relevant Cabinet ministers and that all of them agreed not to object.
The ministers involved were Peres (then the prime minister), Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir (now prime minister) and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to an informed Israeli source.
Meese's attorney, James Rocap, said Saturday that "Mr. Meese did not approach any Israeli official with respect to the pipeline matter. Nor did he initiate any other action with respect to the project. His very limited involvement was passive only."
A source close to Meese said that when Meese received a handwritten letter from Peres expressing his government's support for the project in mid-1985, Meese simply referred it to then-National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, "as he should have done."