Bush Appeared To Support Arms-For-Hostage Trade With AM-Tower Report Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Vice President George Bush appeared to support a trade of arms for hostages during a meeting with President Reagan last year, Secretary of State George P. Shultz told the Tower commission, according to the panel’s report Thursday.
In a speech on Dec. 3, the vice president said that Reagan ″is absolutely convinced he did not swap arms for hostages.″
According to Shultz’s account, however, the vice president was present at a meeting with Reagan at the White House on Jan. 7, 1986, at which a proposal was discussed that called for trading Israeli TOW missiles for the release of U.S. hostages held in Beirut.
The deal would also have involved the release of members of the Lebanese Hezbollah faction who were held prisoner by Israeli-supported Lebanese Christian forces.
In its report on the secret Iranian arms sales, the commission quoted Shultz as saying that only he and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger opposed the idea at the meeting.
″I took the initiative as the person in the room who was opposed to what was being proposed,″ Shultz told the board. ″I cannot give you a full accounting, but it was clear to me by the time we went out that the president, the vice president, the director of central intelligence, the attorney general, the chief of staff, the national security adviser all had one opinion and I had a different opinion and Cap (Weinberger) shared it.″
Attorney General Edwin Meese III also mentions the vice president in his discussion with the commission about the same meeting.
″Cap and George (Shultz) were opposed to the idea,″ Meese is quoted as saying. ″I don’t remember what the vice president or (Chief of Staff) Don Regan might have said. Bill Casey (then director of central intelligence) was very much in favor of the idea.″
Stephen Hart, the vice president’s acting press secretary, said Bush was still studying the commission’s report and would have no immediate comment.
But in an interview published in Friday’s editions of The New York Times, Bush said he agreed it would be wrong for the United States to trade arms for the hostages but insisted the administration had no such intention.
Bush said he agreed that mistakes had been made, but he refused to discuss his advice to the president. He also denied any knowledge of transferring funds from the Iran arms sales to the Contras.
″If I had known now what I know from reading all of the testimony so far I then could clearly say that I wish I had done something differently: Like if there was any hint of diversion of funds - I use that just as an example - but in terms of the origination of policy, was it proper strategically to reach out to Iran - yes,″ Bush said. ″If this includes arms for hostages, that’s wrong. I wish I had known something so I could have done something different on that.″
The report also quoted former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane as saying he told the vice president and other members of the National Security Council in August, 1985, that President Reagan had given approval to shipments of arms from Israel to Iran.
McFarlane said he notified them ″within a day or so″ of the president’s action. Donald Regan the White House chief of staff, has maintained that Reagan did not authorize the September shipments in advance, only afterward.
Commission member Edmund S. Muskie, asked at a news conference about Bush’s role in the whole affair, said the vice president ″doesn’t have a management responsibility, but he has a responsibility as one of the four statutory members of the National Security Council.″
However, Muskie said, ″there were not more than two or three, at most three, full meetings of the National Security Council to consider this policy, its consequences, its progress, its results and its problems. So there were too few meetings at which Vice President Bush and the other members of that council were given an opportunity to influence the result.″
Bush has said he supported the president’s decision to sell arms to Iran as a justified attempt to establish contact with moderate elements in Tehran. He has also said that mistakes were made in implementing the policy.
At a press conference in Lansing, Mich., on Feb. 12, however, the vice president said he had privately ″expressed certain reservations on certain aspects″ of the administration’s Iran policy.
He refused to provide details of the reservations, but said they were known to the ″key players.″
Bush also conceded at the Michigan press conference that the Iran-Contra affair had damaged his unannounced campaign for the Republican nomination for president in 1988.