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Behind the Headlines a Controversial Case

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The allegations of U.S. officials’ involvement in the plan to sell $2.5 billion worth of American weapons to Iran were met with uniform denials by those officials or their spokespersons.

The allegations, presented in an affidavit by defense attorney Paul Grand in support of a joint motion by attorneys in the case to dismiss the charges, indicate that U.S. officials debated and eventually approved the sale of American weapons by several of the defendants to Cyrus Hashemi, a government informant who presented himself as a weapons buyer for the Iranian government.

The affidavit named Vice President George Bush, Marine Corps commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger among those officials with whom the defendants had contacts with.

Grand, the attorney for defendant Samuel Evans, also claimed in his affidavit that there was a general policy debate within the Administration over the possibility of approving covert arms sales to Iran.

With the indictment of four Israelis in the case, the Israeli government was faced with questions about reported Israeli sales of American weapons to Iran. The Israeli government denies the reports and has disassociated itself from the defendants in this case, although several defendants claimed the Israeli government was fully aware of their involvement in alleged negotiations to sell weapons to Iran.

RESPONSES TO ALLEGATIONS

Prosecuting Attorney Lorna Schofield had no comments to the JTA on the affidavit except to say she had filed papers in response to the motion to dismiss charges. Those papers are not presently available in the public court record of the case.

American government officials responded to the allegations against them with denials and reiterations of American policy on arms sales to Iran.

State Department spokesman Don Kaufman told the JTA, “The U.S. in neutral in the war. We do not ship arms to either side and do not grant licenses to ship arms from other countries.”

Kaufman explained the U.S. ban on weapons sales to Iran, saying, “Iran is intransigent in efforts to bring the war to an end. We are opposed to any arms going to Iran.”

Vice President Bush’s spokesman Stephen Hart told the JTA, “Allegations that (Bush) had a role in this are ridiculous — the Vice President had no role in this.” Hart said he could not respond to questions about a general policy debate within the Administration over covert arms sales to Iran.

Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Anthony Rothfork said Gen. Kelley is aware of the investigation and the allegations concerning him but does not know anything about the case itself. Rothfork said Kelley does not know the defendants John de la Roque or Bernard Veillot, who stated repeatedly on the tapes that they were in contact with Kelley. Rothfork said Kelley was not involved in any decision on selling American arms to Iran through the defendants. Kelley himself was not available for comment.

A Pentagon spokesman gave similar responses to questions of involvement of Pentagon officials and said they could not comment on a case still in litigation.

Prior to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979, America considered Iran a critical ally in the region. The 1979 hostage crisis effectively severed official U.S. relations with the present day regime and cut off all arms sales.

Officially, until today the U.S. government maintains a hard-line stance on Iran; no diplomatic relations, no weapons and that means no licenses for resale of American weapons by other countries.

The Israelis pledged to stop such shipments in 1979 when the U.S. charged they were undermining the government’s attempts to block the sale of all American weapons to Iran following the seizure of the hostages at the American embassy in Teheran.

Israeli Consul spokesman in New York Baruch Binah told the JTA that Israel fulfilled certain “contracts” with Iran until 1981 and Iran paid for those goods.

Since 1981, Israel has never acknowledged any sales of American arms to Iran. Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres on recent visits to the United States were questioned repeatedly by the press on these reports of arms sales and categorically denied government involvement in each instance.

In the most recent press reports last month, the Danish Sailors’ Union announced it had evidence of Israeli shipments of thousands of tons of American-made weapons to Iran aboard Danish ships. The Israeli government has denied the newest charges, also.

Shortly after the arrests of the four Israelis in Bermuda, investigators discovered that Gen. Avraham Bar-Am carried a letter authorizing him to seek out buyers for Israeli military exports including weapons and technology.

The letter, however, as Israeli officials hastened to note; did not authorize Bar-Am to negotiate arms deals and specifically not the deal alleged in this case. Binah said Bar Am is “a private person acting on his own” and “had a license to deal in arms, not to break any laws.”

Defense lawyers interviewed by the JTA said they expect the questions of American and Israeli official involvement to be central issues in the trial scheduled for late November.

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