WASHINGTON (Jul. 9)
Lt. Cot. Oliver North said Thursday that while Israel and the United States may have had some different objectives in the Iranian initiative, there was a “basic fundamental agreement” on the need to open contacts with the more moderate elements in Iran.
“I believe that there was sufficient congruence between Israeli objectives and American objectives that made this project worthwhile,” North said during his third day of testimony before the Senate-House special committee investigating the Iran-Contra affair.
He said both countries “saw the need to get to some faction within the Iranian government that would lead to a more moderate, more pro-Western government in Iran, if not immediately, then over time.”
The former National Security Council aide explained that both countries feared that with no relationship with Iranian moderates, the “chaos” that might result when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies would allow the Soviet Union to move into Iran.
In addition, North said there is need to control the threat from “Iranian-sponsored fundamentalist Shiite terrorism” which, he stressed, exists not only in the Middle East, but also in the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere in the Far East.
Explaining the different objectives of Israel and the U.S., North said that the U.S. wanted an end to the Iran-Iraq war, while some in the U.S. believe “Israel may like to see the war go on.”
DEFENDED ISRAELI NIR
During his testimony Thursday, North strongly defended Amiram Nir, who according to a report in the Washington Post was removed as terrorism advisor to Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir because of North’s testimony on Wednesday. (Shamir’s office denied that report, and Nir was unavailable for comment. See story below.)
In that testimony, North said that during a meeting with Nir and Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar in Europe last January. Ghorbanifar took North into a bathroom and proposed that profits from the sale of U.S. arms to Iran be used to finance the Contra rebels in their efforts against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
North said he was told by the late William Casey, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, that Ghorbanifar was believed to be an Israeli agent, and North said he believed Ghorbanifar made the proposal “with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the Israeli intelligence services, if not the Israeli government.”
The Israeli government has relied on Nir for its denial that Israel knew about the diversion of the arms sale proceeds to the Contras.
North, who spoke of his “close relationship” with Nir Thursday, said if Nir was removed because of his (North’s) testimony, “I sadly regret it. He is a brave man who served his country well, and I believe tried to help us in trying to carry out our policies.” North especially praised Nir’s courage in accompanying him and former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane to Teheran in May 1986. He noted that Casey would not allow him to go to Teheran without assurances that he would be willing to commit suicide if the Iranians tried to torture him, adding that it was even more dangerous for an official of the Israeli government to go to Iran. “I think the world of that young man (Nir),” he said.
North also said the U.S. could not have intercepted the plane carrying the four Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in October 1985, without the help of Nir and other Israelis.
SAID NIR HAD PROCEEDS SUGGESTION
However, North did reveal Thursday that it was Nir who suggested that profits from the sale of U.S. arms be used to pay for replenishing the 503 TOW anti-tank missiles the Israelis sold to Iran in 1985. He said the Israelis had earlier mistakenly believed the U.S. would replace the missiles free of charge.
North said Wednesday that profits from the sale had been used to replenish the TOWs, to help the Contras, to continue the Iran initiative and “to continue other activities which the Israelis very clearly wanted and so did we.” These activities are still classified, according to North.
He repeated Thursday that he and other officials considered Ghorbanifar a “liar” and untrustworthy, but had used him because he was already being used by Israel as a middleman with Iran. “You don’t send Mother Theresa to Teheran,” he said.
North added that the U.S., with no contacts in Iran, had to rely on Israel. He said that one reason for the initiative was to provide the U.S. with such contacts. It was for this reason that the U.S. sought a “second channel” to the Iranians, North stressed, adding that the Israelis understood the U.S. need to have its own sources.