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Costa Rican President Denies U.S. Harassment With PM-US-Iran-Contras Rdp, Bjt

February 28, 1987

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica has denied being threatened with a U.S. aid cutoff if he made public that a Costa Rican airport was being used to supply anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels.

″I was never blackmailed, nor was I ever threatened,″ Arias told a news conference when asked about an account in the Tower commission report that U.S. national security aide Lt. Col. Oliver North made such a threat.

″I was asked permission for North American planes to continue using the airport, in the northern part of the country, with supplies for the Contras, but I refused,″ he said. ″The report must have been erroneous.″

Arias, speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Mexico City, did not go into further details on the incident.

But officials in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, said the request was made shortly after Arias was sworn into office May 8. The airport is located in northern Costa Rica, near the towns of Potrero Grande and Santa Elena.

Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Rivera Bianchini said Arias denied use of the airport to preserve Costa Rica’s neutrality in the conflict between the Contra rebels and Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.

″Events show that the Tower commission report is not saying the truth when it affirms that President Arias received threats from the North American government to keep the Potrero Grande air strip open,″ Rivera Bianchini said.

The aid was never cut off, even though Arias denied further use of the airport and publicly disclosed its existence.

The Tower commission report, which investigated the activities of the National Security Council in the wake of secret U.S. arms sales to Iran, said North threatened Arias with a cutoff of $80 million in U.S. aid if Arias publicized the secret Costa Rican airfield used to resupply the Nicaraguan rebels.

In addition, the report said North threatened to withdraw an invitation to Arias to make an official visit to Washington, but it made no mention of any threat if Arias denied the use of the airport.

According to the report, North discussed the aid suspension Sept. 9 during a conference call involving North, U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs, and Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

While the report indicated that North confronted Arias on the issue in a phone call, Tambs and Abrams both said they doubted the call was ever made.

″I recognize that I was well beyond my charter in dealing with a head of state this way and in making threats-offers that may be impossible to deliver, but under the circumstances - and with Elliott’s concurrence - it seemed like the only thing we could do,″ North said in a memo to Poindexter.

Poindexter replied, ″You did the right thing, but let’s try to keep it quiet.″

North was fired from his NSC post Nov. 25 following an investigation that linked him to the diversion of Iranian arms sales profits to the Contras. Poindexter resigned the same day.

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