Israel: Israelis Won’t Testify on Iran-Contra
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Israel will not allow independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh to interview four Israelis who helped set up the first arms-for-hostages deals, despite assurances Walsh won’t prosecute them, an Israeli diplomat says.
Oded Eran, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy, said Friday that the four ″acted in this respect as emissaries of the state of Israel and therefore it is inconceivable that they will be questioned.″
Walsh is investigating possible criminal violations in connection with the sale of U.S. arms to Iran for the release of American hostages and the diversion of some profits to the Nicaraguan rebels.
The prosecutors want to talk to the four Israelis about their role in 1985 arms sales. Walsh is seeking interviews with David Kimche, former director general of Israeli’s foreign ministry; American-born arms dealer Al Schwimmer; Yaacov Nimrodi, another arms dealer; and Amiram Nir, an adviser on counterterrorism to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Kimche helped initiate the first sales in 1985, when Israeli-owned U.S. arms were shipped to Iran. The weapons were later replaced by the United States.
After negotiations between Walsh’s office and Israel broke down in May, Kimche was served with a grand jury subpoena while in New York City on private business. However, Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr of the U.S. District Court in Washington allowed Kimche to leave the country on the promise that he would return if the validity of the subpoena were upheld.
Schwimmer, who has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, was served with a subpoena by U.S. consular officials in Israel. Nir and Nimrodi cannot be served with subpoenas unless they set foot on U.S. soil.
Eran said representatives of the independent counsel ″indicated they have no interest in them as other than witnesses.″
Robinson has refused to quash the subpoenas but has said he will review questions Walsh wants to ask Kimche and Schwimmer to determine if they are covered by diplomatic privilege. Kimche and Schwimmer could claim privilege about actions they took on behalf of the Israeli government.
Walsh is expected to argue that the privilege doesn’t cover statements the Israelis heard made by Americans involved in the arms for hostages deals, such as Lt. Col. Oliver North or retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord.
But Eran contended that all aspects of their dealings with Americans on the Iran arms sales are privileged.
″We have acted as a sovereign state and will continue to do so,″ Eran said. ″There is a principle involved here. The principle is, you talk to the state. Therefore, we cooperate on the basis of government to government.″
Eran said Walsh has been offered the opportunity to submit written questions to a commission headed by retired Gen. Rafael Vardi. The commission was set up by Israel to gather information for U.S. investigators, but it has refused to provide some of the information sought by Walsh.
Eran said Walsh first must agree to Israel’s conditions in order to obtain the financial and historical chronologies he is seeking.
Earlier, prosecutors were allowed to take notes from the 40-page financial chronology at the Israeli Embassy, but they were not allowed to copy or take the document from the building.
Negotiations began in January when Walsh submitted his first request to interview the four Israelis.
Israel immediately refused the request but agreed in February to provide the chronologies by March 31. In return, Walsh agreed not to subpoena the Israelis before that date.
Later, however, Israel refused to provide the chronologies without immunity grants for the four Israelis.