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Context of 'May 8, 1984: American Pastor Kidnapped by Hezbollah'

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The Reverend Benjamin Weir, a US citizen, is kidnapped by Hezbollah in Beirut. He will be held hostage for over a year [New York Times, 11/19/1987] until his release in September 1985, concurrent with covert Israeli arms sales to Iran (see September 15, 1985).

Entity Tags: Benjamin Weir, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

A major meeting to codify the arms-for-hostage deal with Iran takes place in Ronald Reagan’s private White House quarters, after Iranian officials sent requests to open negotiations with the US through backchannel sources. Reagan, recovering from intestinal surgery and wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, is joined by Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, White House chief of staff Donald Regan, and National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane. McFarlane, passing along information he has received from Israel (see 1981), says the Iranians will see to it that Hezbollah releases four American hostages in return for US and Israeli arms. McFarlane has long supported arms sales to Iran, and is most supportive of the deal; Weinberger and Shultz, who support dealing with Iraq, are firmly against it. But the deal will go through (see September 15, 1985). [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, Donald Regan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Benjamin Weir.Benjamin Weir. [Source: Santa Clara University]The first arms-for-hostage deal between Iran and the US is completed (see August 6, 1985). On August 30, Israel sold over 500 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran. Now Iran frees the Reverend Benjamin Weir, an American kidnapped over a year before in Lebanon. White House officials hope for further hostage releases, but none are forthcoming. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] Ronald Reagan will telephone Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to thank him for Israel’s help in securing Weir’s freedom. The TOW missiles will be delivered to Iran on September 20, in the cargo hold of a DC-8 transport plane once owned by a Miami-based air transport company; the aircraft took off from Tabriz, Iran, disappeared from radar screens over Turkey, made what was supposed to be a “forced landing” in Israel and later returned to Iran by a circuitous route. [Time, 11/17/1986]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Weir

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

John Poindexter.John Poindexter. [Source: US Navy]In a meeting between President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and new National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the participants discuss whether to sell 4,000 Israeli-owned, US-made antitank missiles to Iran as another arms-for-hostages deal (see September 15, 1985). Shultz and Weinberger, as they have before, oppose any dealings with Iran. Bush, according to records of the meeting, fails to express any views at all, but Shultz will recall Bush supporting the deal. In 1988, Bush will tell a reporter that he doesn’t remember any such conflict over the arms sales, saying, “I never really heard them that clearly. And the reason is that the machinery broke down—it never worked as it should. The key players with the experience weren’t ever called together… to review the decisions that were made at a lower level.” It is hard to imagine any higher levels of the executive branch of government than what is represented in this meeting. In 1987, Bush will tell the Tower Commission investigating the deal that he didn’t know enough about the arms-for-hostages deals to be able to express an informed opinion about the decision to make the deals, and doesn’t remember the meeting as a “showdown session,” testimony contradicted by both Weinberger and Shultz in their own statements to the commission. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, Tower Commission, William Casey, John Poindexter

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org]The Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa publishes an article reporting that the US has been sending spare parts and ammunition for US-made jet fighters to Iran in return for Iran facilitating the release of American hostages held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (see September 15, 1985). It also reports that national security adviser Robert McFarlane and four other US officials, including his aide Oliver North, visited Tehran in September 1986 and met with several high-level Iranian officials, who asked for more US military equipment (see Late May, 1986). After the meeting, the report says, four C-130 transports airlifted the arms to Iran from a US base in the Philippines. The flight of the transports has never been confirmed, but the rest of the report is essentially factual. It is unclear where Al Shiraa got its information; the publication has close ties to Syrian officials, and it is possible that the Syrians leaked the information in order to destabilize any possible thawing of relations between the US and Iran, perhaps with an eye to increasing Syria’s own influence in Iran. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, quickly confirms McFarlane’s visit, but adds elements to the story that many from all sides of the issue find hard to believe, including claims that McFarlane and his companions used Irish passports to enter Iran, and were posing as the flight crew of a plane carrying military equipment Iran had purchased from international arms dealers. Rafsanjani claims that McFarlane and his companions brought gifts of a Bible signed by Ronald Reagan, a cake shaped like a key (to symbolize an opening of better relations between Iran and the US), and a number of Colt pistols to be given to Iranian officials. Rafsanjani says that he and other Iranian officials were outraged at the visit, kept McFarlane and his party under virtual house arrest for five days, and threw them out, sparking the following complaint from McFarlane: “You are nuts. We have come to solve your problems, but this is how you treat us. If I went to Russia to buy furs, [Mikhail] Gorbachev would come to see me three times a day.” US officials say that Rafsanjani’s embellishments are sheer invention designed to humiliate the US and bolster Iran’s perception around the world. They confirm that McFarlane, North, and two bodyguards did visit Tehran, but bore neither Bible, cake, nor pistols; they did stay in Tehran four or five days, and met with numerous Iranian officials, perhaps including Rafsanjani. The officials are unclear about exactly what was accomplished, though apparently no new deals were concluded.
US Arms Deals with Iran Revealed - Though Rafsanjani’s account may be fanciful in its details, the effect of the Al Shiraa report is to blow the cover off of the US’s complex arms-for-hostage deals with Iran. While Al Shiraa does not mention the hostage deal, Rafsanjani does, saying that if the US and France meet certain conditions—the unfreezing of Iranian financial assets and the release of what he calls political prisoners held “in Israel and other parts of the world,” then “as a humanitarian gesture we will let our friends in Lebanon know our views” about the release of American and French hostages. On November 17, Time magazine will write of the Al Shiraa revelation, “As long as the deep secret was kept—even from most of the US intelligence community—the maneuver in one sense worked. Iran apparently leaned on Lebanese terrorists to set free three American hostages… . But once the broad outlines of the incredible story became known, the consequences were dire. The administration appeared to have violated at least the spirit, and possibly the letter, of a long succession of US laws that are intended to stop any arms transfers, direct or indirect, to Iran. Washington looked to be sabotaging its own efforts to organize a worldwide embargo against arms sales to Iran, and hypocritically flouting its incessant admonitions to friends and allies not to negotiate with terrorists for the release of their captives. America’s European allies, the recipients of much of that nagging, were outraged. Moreover, the US was likely to forfeit the trust of moderate Arab nations that live in terror of Iranian-fomented Islamic fundamentalist revolutions and fear anything that might build up Tehran’s military machine. Finally, the administration seemed to have lost at least temporarily any chance of gaining the release of the missing six US hostages in Lebanon, or of cultivating the Iranian politicians who might sooner or later take over from [the Ayatollah] Khomeini.” [Time, 11/17/1986; New York Times, 11/19/1987; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
'Cowboy' Operation in the West Wing - The arms-for-hostages deal is run from the National Security Council by a small group of NSC staffers under the supervision of North; the group is collectively known as the “cowboys.” A government official says in November 1986, “This thing was run out of the West Wing [of the White House]. It was a vest-pocket, high-risk business.”

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini, Robert C. McFarlane, Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Al Shiraa, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation.Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Reagan addresses the nation on the Iran-Contra issue (see October 5, 1986 and November 3, 1986). “I know you’ve been reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors (see Early November, 1986), unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my administration,” he says. “Well, now you’re going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.” But despite his direct introduction, Reagan presents the same half-truths, denials, and outright lies that his officials have been providing to Congress and the press (see Mid-October, 1986 and November 10, 1986 and After).
'Honorable' Involvement - He admits to an 18-month “secret diplomatic initiative” with Iran, for several “honorable” reasons: to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah. He calls the press reports “rumors,” and says, “[L]et’s get to the facts.”
Falsehoods Presented as Facts - The US has not swapped weapons to Iran for hostages, Reagan asserts. However, evidence suggests otherwise (see January 28, 1981, 1983, 1985, May 1985, June 11, 1985, July 3, 1985, July 8, 1985, August 6, 1985, September 15, 1985, December 6, 1985, December 12, 1985, Mid-1980s, January 7, 1986, January 17, 1986, Late May, 1986, September 19, 1986, and Early October-November, 1986). Reagan also claims the US has not “trafficked with terrorists,” although Iran is listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It “has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not.” Reports of Danish and Spanish vessels carrying secret arms shipments, of Italian ports employed to facilitate arms transfers, and of the US sending spare parts and weapons for Iranian combat aircraft, all are “quite exciting, but… not one of them is true.” Reagan does admit to his authorization of “the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran,” merely as a gesture of goodwill. “These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane,” he says. (In reality, the US has already sent over 1,000 missiles to Iran over the course of a number of shipments.) He says the US made it clear to Iran that for any dialogue to continue, it must immediately cease its support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and to facilitate the release of US hostages held by that group in Lebanon. Evidence exists, Reagan says, of the Iranians ramping down their support of terrorism. And some hostages have already been freed, a true statement, though he fails to mention that others have been taken.
Admission of May Meeting - Reagan admits that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane met with Iranian officials (see Late May, 1986). According to Reagan, McFarlane went to Iraq “to open a dialog, making stark and clear our basic objectives and disagreements.” He presents no further information about the meeting, except that the talks were “civil” and “American personnel were not mistreated.”
Exposure Risks Undermining Efforts to Facilitate Peace - The public disclosure of these “honorable” negotiations has put the entire US efforts to broker peace between Iran and Iraq in jeopardy, he says. In negotiations such as these, there is “a basic requirement for discretion and for a sensitivity to the situation in the nation we were attempting to engage.”
Reagan Says Congress Not Lied to - Reagan says that there is no truth to the stories that his officials ever lied to members of Congress about the Iranian negotiations (see Mid-October, 1986). The members of Congress who needed to know about the negotiations were informed, as were the “appropriate Cabinet officers” and others “with a strict need to know.” Since the story has now broken, “the relevant committees of Congress are being, and will be, fully informed.” [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 11/13/1986; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Robert C. McFarlane, Hezbollah, Contras, Ronald Reagan, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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