TEL AVIV (Dec. 8)
Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, maintained here Monday that “Israel has every reason of its own to aid the Contras,” the Reagan Administration-backed rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. But she added that Israel played only a “marginal role” in the Iran arms sales deal.
Kirkpatrick made her comments at the opening session of the “Jeane Kirkpatrick Forum” at Tel Aviv University, so named for her championship of Israel at the UN. At a press conference earlier, she discussed the troubles facing the Reagan Administration from the sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of the proceeds to the Contras in possible violation of the law as it stood at the time.
According to Kirkpatrick, the Sandinistas are “sworn enemies of Israel” who have “forged ties of blood” with the Palestine Liberation Organization. “The first Embassy to open in Nicaragua after the Sandinistas took over was that of the PLO,” Kirkpatrick claimed.
SAYS ISRAEL HAD RIGHT TO AID THE CONTRAS
She said the small Jewish community in Nicaragua was forced into exile and even if the struggle in Central America was not Israel’s fight, Israel had the right to aid the Contra underground. And if the U.S. turned to Israel for advice, Israel had to do so to the best of its ability, she said.
Israel, while acknowledging a role in the shipment of U.S. arms to Iran at the request of the Reagan Administration, has firmly and repeatedly denied any involvement in or knowledge of the transfer of monies from the sale to the Contras.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, at a November 25 White House press conference, implicated Israel directly in the transfer, saying that “representatives of Israel” transferred profits from the Iranian arms deal to Swiss bank accounts maintained by the Contras.
Kirkpatrick said “I do not believe the relationship between Israel and the United States will suffer because of the events surrounding Iran and the hostages.”
The Reagan Administration said at one point that the arms deal was an effort to free American hostages being held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon. At other times it insisted it was not trading arms for hostages but was attempting to send a “signal” to Iran that it wanted to improve relations with Teheran and to establish links with Iranian “moderates” who might eventually replace the Islamic fundamentalist regime of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
DEFENDS PRESIDENT REAGAN
Kirkpatrick defended President Reagan in her press conference remarks and appeared to hold others in his Administration responsible for Reagan’s difficulties. The President bore “ultimate responsibility,” the former envoy said, but direct responsibility rested on Secretary of State George Shultz, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan and Meese.
She said the affair had shown “shocking levels of disagreement” between Reagan and his senior advisors. Shultz, appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington Monday morning, upheld the President’s overall policy in the Middle East but reiterated that he had opposed arms to Iran and that he knew “zero” about the transfer of funds to the Contras.
“I have a sense that at a certain critical point, the President was sort of pushed on the stage, out front, and given the burden of trying to explain and defend policy, that his principal advisors were sort of bringing up the rear,” Kirkpatrick said. “They had initiated a policy in which they had failed.”
At another point she said she was “amazed” to learn that senior Administration officials were responsible for the sale of arms to Iran via Israel, and the flow of funds to the Contras.
In reply to a question, she said she was not a candidate for the Vice Presidency in 1988. She hinted, however, that she might replace Shultz should he resign.
President Chaim Herzog of Israel, who attended the opening of the Tel Aviv University forum, praised Kirkpatrick as a “great American and true friend” of Israel. “We are happy that your long-term and courageous connection with Israel now receives a permanent stamp,” he said, referring to the naming of the forum in her honor.