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Context of 'Early 1982: Defense Secretary Weinberger’s Attempts to Open Arms Deals with Iraq Unsuccessful'

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Shatt al-Arab waterway.Shatt al-Arab waterway. [Source: CNN]Iraq invades Iran, officially beginning a nine-year war between the two countries, although Iraq insists that Iran has been launching artillery attacks against Iraqi targets since September 4. The overarching reason, according to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is over control of the Shatt al-Arab, the geographically critical waterway between Iran and Iraq that empties into the Persian Gulf. (Iraq signed over partial control of the Shatt al-Arab to Iran in 1975, but reclaimed the waterway in 1979 after the fall of Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi; Iraq also has hopes to conquer the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.) The United States will provide covert military support to both Iran (see November 3, 1986) and Iraq (see 1981-1988) during the war. [Infoplease, 2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s, Iran-Contra Affair

F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran.F-14 spare parts shipped to Iran. [Source: Reuben Johnson / Weekly Standard]Israeli officials secretly ask Reagan administration officials for authorization to transfer arms of US origin to Iran. Officials in the Departments of Defense and State have known of Israeli arms sales to Iran that predate Reagan’s installation as president and the freeing of the American hostages, and since Reagan’s ascension to power, plans for US arms sales to Iran have been in the works (see January 28, 1981). Secretary of State Alexander Haig tells Israel that it is acceptable “in principle” for Israel to sell only F-4 fighter plane parts, and the US must approve specific arms-sales lists in advance. It shortly becomes evident, according to State Department documents leaked years later to the press, that Israel is not submitting lists for approval, and is selling US-made arms to Iran far in excess of spare parts for a specific model of fighter jet. (By the mid-1980s, officials will acknowledge that several billion dollars’ worth of ammunition and parts worth would flow from Israel to Iran each year.) Little oversight is exercised on the arms sales; one US ambassador to the region will say in 1992, “[I]t is probable that those who were to serve as their proxies—Israel and private international arms dealers—had agendas of their own, and the end result was that more arms were shipped than anyone in the administration wanted.” The Israeli arms transfers also violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires written permission from the US for a nation to transfer US-made arms to a third party, and requires the president to immediately inform Congress when such transfers take place. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Arms Export Control Act, US Department of State, US Department of Defense

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

Caspar Weinberger.Caspar Weinberger. [Source: US Department of Defense]Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, a vehement opponent of the US’s arms sales to Iran (see 1981 and December 20, 1983), concludes that if Iraq doesn’t receive military aid, it will lose its war with Iran (see September 1980). Weinberger arranges the secret swap of a Soviet T-72 tank given to the Iraqi military in return for four US howitzers. Some Pentagon intelligence officials covet the Soviet tank for the information they can glean about Soviet weaponry, but, according to two highly placed officials in the Reagan administration, Weinberger sees the deal as an opportunity to begin direct US arms shipments to Iraq. A Pentagon official explains in 1992, “Cap’s view was that once the first arms shipments to Iraq were authorized by the President, the first bite of the forbidden apple had been taken, and other direct covert arms sales to Iraq would follow.” However, the exchange falls through when the Iraqis, fearful that the Soviet Union will terminate its own military aid program, withdraws from the deal. A subsequent Iraqi offer to exchange a Soviet HIND helicopter also falls through when the Pentagon expresses its concerns over the criminal record of the middleman, a Lebanese-born international arms trafficker. However, Reagan and Defense Department officials continue to find ways to secretly supply arms to Iraq (see October 1983). Later, Weinberger will call the Iranian arms deals “insanity. How could you send arms to the Ayatollah when he was sworn to destroy us?” But Weinberger will be much less forthcoming about the US’s arms sales to Iraq, summed up under the sobriquet of “Iraqgate.” Weinberger will later claim that he is not involved in any arms deals with Iraq, and will say, “The little that I know was that it was all handled by the CIA. There might have been a role by some people in the Pentagon. But I didn’t keep a hand in that.” He will refuse to acknowledge the accuracy of Pentagon memos from 1982 and 1983 sent directly to him that outline proposals to arm Iraq. In a 1992 news article, reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger note that Weinberger will repeatedly lie “without compunction” about his involvement in arms sales to Iraq over the coming years, and observe, “Whenever his credibility is questioned, Weinberger routinely invokes concerns for national security and hides behind a veil of secrecy.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Caspar Weinberger, Reagan administration, Murray Waas, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

William Eagleton, the chief of the US-interests section in Baghdad, writes a memo that asserts the US can secretly supply arms to Iraq for use against Iran through third-party nations. “We can selectively lift restrictions on third party transfers of US-licensed military equipment to Iraq,” he writes. Although Eagleton is not the architect of this policy—that is primarily Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Shultz’s assistant, Richard Murphy, who fear that Iran will lead a rise of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region—Eagleton’s memo heralds the onset of US arms transfers to Iraq through several regional countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Egypt. The arms transfers are almost certainly illegal, a direct violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which directs the president to inform Congress if any such third-party arms transfers are enacted. Reagan officials decide not to inform Congress because they know Congress will never approve the arms transfers, particularly in light of the US’s stated policy of neutrality towards the Iran-Iraq War. Congress also knows nothing of the Reagan administration’s secret supplying of arms to Iran (see 1981). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: William Eagleton, George Shultz, Richard W. Murphy, Caspar Weinberger

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Rumsfeld greets Hussein.Rumsfeld greets Hussein. [Source: Washington Note.com]US Special Envoy Donald Rumsfeld—formerly the Secretary of Defense and now the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, GD Searle and Co.—personally meets with Saddam Hussein for 90 minutes in an attempt to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq. Rumsfeld also discusses US interest in the construction of the Iraq-Jordan Aqaba oil pipeline [to be built by Bechtel (see December 2, 1983)]. [US Department of State, 12/10/1983 pdf file; Iraqi television, 12/20/1983; US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002; Newsweek, 9/23/2002; Washington Post, 12/30/2002; London Times, 12/31/2002; Vallette, 3/24/2003; New York Times, 4/14/2003] Rumsfeld does not raise the issue of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons with Saddam. [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] Rumsfeld also delivers a letter to Hussein from Reagan administration officials declaring that for Iraq to be defeated by Iran (see September 1980) would be “contrary to United States interests.” Rumsfeld’s visit represents one side of the somewhat double-edged US foreign policy in the region: the US has allowed Israel to sell US-made arms to Iran for use against Iraq (see 1981). By this time, the US has already started clandestinely providing arms to Iraq as well (see October 1983). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992] After his meeting with the Iraqi president, Rumsfeld meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. They agree that “the US and Iraq… [share] many common interests.” Rumsfeld briefly mentions US concerns about Iraq’s chemical weapons, explaining that US “efforts to assist [Iraq]… [are] inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us….” [US Department of State, 12/21/1983 pdf file] On September 19, 2002, almost two decades later, Rumsfeld will be questioned in Congress about this visit (see September 19, 2002). [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s, Iran-Contra Affair

Graham Fuller.Graham Fuller. [Source: Ohio University]The US tilts ever more sharply towards Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, even though the Reagan administration continues to maintain a posture of overt neutrality in the conflict. The administration has provided covert military aid for both sides in the struggle (see 1981 and October 1983), and has been divided over which regime to support (see January 14, 1984). It is already involved in “Operation Staunch,” a program designed by Secretary of State George Shultz to stem the flow of weapons to Iran. Now, some officials are arguing that it is time to reverse that course. Graham Fuller, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Middle East, writes two controversial secret memos advocating that the administration begin providing support for Iran against Iraq. Fuller is presenting a position long held by national security director Robert McFarlane and two of McFarlane’s aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher. This pro-Iran group has recently been joined by CIA director William Casey. Both McFarlane and Casey are supportive of Fuller’s memo. Fuller writes in a May 17 memo, “Our tilt to Iraq was timely when Iraq was against the ropes and the Islamic revolution was on a roll. The time may now have to come to tilt back.” Fuller argues that the US should once again authorize Israel to ship US arms to Iran. Ironically, this is the mirror image of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s argument in favor of supporting Iraq: the US must counter one covert policy with another (see Early 1982). The pro-Iranian coalition within the administration gives scant consideration to the hostage-taking of seven Americans by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militant group with strong ties to Iran’s theocratic regime. On May 20, Fuller circulates a second memo, called a “Special National Intelligence Estimate” (SNIE), that is only read by a handful of senior White House officials (Ronald Reagan is one of the recipients; George Bush is not). Fuller’s memo is written almost entirely for Reagan’s benefit, and in its arguments, becomes a basis for renewed arms sales to Iran and the resulting Iran-Contra scandal. Fuller evokes one of Reagan’s favorite themes, the trouncing of the Soviet Union in the global arena: “We know that the USSR views Iran as ‘the prize’ in the Gulf. Moscow will improve relations when and where it can… until it gains major influence in that state. The disturbing possibility is that the USSR is far more likely than the US to be first in finding opportunities to improve its ties to Iran.” Interestingly, in 1991, during Robert Gates’s Senate hearings on becoming the director of the CIA, it is learned that Fuller’s memo contradicts the views of career Soviet analysts at the agency, who believe that the Soviet Union has no real hope of making inroads into the Iranian regime. The USSR is the chief arms supplier for Iraq, Iran’s bitter enemy and current opponent in a long and bloody war. Iran is arming the Afghan mujaheddin, the Islamist resistance fighters viewed as a threat by Saddam Hussein. Several CIA analysts will later testify that they believe Fuller deliberately slanted his memo for political reasons. In 1992, Fuller himself will admit that he was wrong, but will deny any politicization. Regardless, Fuller’s memo becomes a critical document shaping the Reagan policy to arm Iran. It is not clear whether Vice President Bush ever saw the memo, but whether he did or not, beginning in 1985 he takes part in numerous White House meetings where the arming of Iran is discussed. If he has objections to the policy, he never voices them. [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, William Casey, Robert M. Gates, Oliver North, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, George Herbert Walker Bush, Graham Fuller, Central Intelligence Agency, Howard Teicher, Caspar Weinberger, Hezbollah, George Shultz

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

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