JERUSALEM (Dec. 3)
Israel admitted Wednesday that a senior official of the Prime Minister’s Office had contact with U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North but that he knew nothing of the transfer of proceeds from the sale of American arms to Iran to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that North, who was fired last week from the staff of President Reagan’s National Security Council, had briefed Amiram Nir, the Prime Minister’s advisor on terrorism at the time of the arms deal. But Nir was not told the money would go to the Contras, the statement said.
The statement was Israel’s latest contradiction of repeated assertions in Washington that Israeli officials knew where the profits of the arms sale went. North was named by U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese as the key figure in the transfer of funds to the Contras, ostensibly without the knowledge of President Reagan or other top Administration figures.
Meese, at a White House press conference November 25, implicated “representatives of Israel” in the transfer of money paid by Iran to Swiss bank accounts maintained by the Contras. Reagan said Monday that “another country” had facilitated the weapons shipments to Iran and deposited the overcharge in the Contra bank accounts. He did not name the other country but was widely perceived to be referring to Israel.
Sources here said Wednesday that the President was not referring to Israel and Israel therefore decided not to address the President directly on the matter. It has, however, given “clarifications” to Secretary of State George Shultz and to Meese.
The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Thomas Pickering, noted Tuesday that there were differences “but not necessarily contradictions” between the Israeli and American versions of the transfer of money to the Contras. He praised Israel for its willingness to give whatever assistance is needed to clear up the affair. He said his Embassy has not been asked to question anybody in Israel.
It was learned, meanwhile, that Israel has informed Pickering that it would allow Israeli officials involved in the Iran arms shipments to testify before Congressional committees inquiring into the affair and would provide whatever documents are asked for. Instructions have gone to the Israel Embassy in Washington.