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Context of 'Late January 1984: US Official Meets with Iraqi Foreign Minister to Discuss Details of US Arms Deals'

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Iran conducts a limited air strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, after being publicly exhorted to do so by Israel’s chief of Army intelligence. The Osirak reactor is at the same site as the Iraq Nuclear Research Center, in al-Tuwaitha, where Israeli intelligence believes the first Arab atomic bomb will be assembled. The strike is part of a larger strike by Iran against a conventional electric power plant near Baghdad. The strike inflicts only minor damage, and the plant is quickly repaired and brought back online. Iran will not conduct any further air strikes against Iraqi nuclear facilities throughout the entire Iran-Iraq War. In fact, it is not clear whether the Iranian strike is a pre-planned bombing raid by Iranian war planners, or an air strike by two pilots with a chance at a target of opportunity. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for National Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In June 1981, Israel will obliterate the Osirak facility (see June 7, 1981).

Entity Tags: Israeli Field Intelligence Corps

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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

Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin calls televangelist and nascent political ally Jerry Falwell (see 1980) and says: “Tomorrow you’re going to read some strange things about what we’re going to do. But our safety is at stake. I wanted you, my good friend, to know what we are going to do.” Israel is preparing to use US-provided F-16s to destroy Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (see June 7, 1981). Begin is concerned that the US will object to Israel’s use of the aircraft for non-defensive purposes. Falwell tells Begin, “I want to congratulate you for a mission that [makes] us very proud that we manufactured those F-16s.” Many Reagan officials are not happy that Israel violated the agreement with the US over use of the warplanes, but even though Vice President Bush and Chief of Staff James Baker both believe that Israel should be punished, Begin has provided himself cover on the Christian right. [Unger, 2007, pp. 109-110]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, George Herbert Walker Bush, James A. Baker, Jerry Falwell, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Osirak nuclear facility.Osirak nuclear facility. [Source: GlobalSecurity.org] (click image to enlarge)On the order of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and after heated debate among Israeli leaders, Israeli warplanes strike the Osirak (also spelled Osiraq) Tammuz I nuclear plant at al-Tuwaitha near Baghdad, destroying it and dealing a severe setback to Iraq’s nuclear program. Israel claims it fears Iraq is building a nuclear weapon with which to strike it. Osirak is a French-made nuclear reactor, which is near completion but lacks any nuclear fuel, thereby raising no danger of any radioactive link. Ariel Sharon, concurrently Defense Minister and a proponent of the strike, later says, “This was perhaps the most difficult decision which faced any [Israeli] government during all the years of the state’s existence.” The Israeli government states after the strike, “The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing, whether from enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.… Under no circumstances will we allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people.” The reactor is slated to be completed by September, 1981, though it would be years before it could produce any nuclear-grade fissionable material. Iraq denies the reactor is developed to produce nuclear weapons, though the construction of the plant gives credence to claims that Iraq is more interested in building a weapon than generating electricity. (After the strike, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says, “Any state in the world which really wants peace… should help the Arabs in one way or another to acquire atomic bombs,” giving further credence to suspicions that Hussein wanted to build a nuclear weapon.) The Israeli strike follows up a September 1980 raid on the Osirak facility by Iranian warplanes (see September 30, 1980). Publicly, Iran and Israel are dire enemies, but Israel has begun secretly selling US-made arms to Iran as a way to counterbalance the threat posed by Iraq (see 1981). [BBC, 7/7/1981; New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Institute for Strategic Studies, 5/1995] In 1984, Brookings Institution fellow Lucien Vandenbroucke will write, “Ironically, Israel’s raid may prove to be a brilliant tactical success achieved at the expense of the country’s long-term interests. Certainly, the attack set Iraq’s nuclear program back several years. But the strike also ushered in a de facto Israeli claim to nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, a move that in the long run generally promises to encourage the larger Arab world on the nuclear path.… In the decision-making process, Israeli fears and the propensity to rely on worst-case analyses seem to have prevailed. The advocates of the strike focused on the unreasonable, rather than the reasonable, aspects of Iraqi behavior, and thus even a limited prospect that Iraq might soon acquire a nuclear bomb became more of a risk than they were prepared to accept.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 10/1984]

Entity Tags: Brookings Institution, Saddam Hussein, Lucien Vandenbroucke, Menachem Begin

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The official Iranian news agency claims that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces along the northern section of the Iran-Iraq border. [Vallette, 3/24/2003] By the end of the decade, some 100,000 people will die as a result of chemical warfare waged by the Iraqis. [New York Times, 2/13/2003]

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

According to some accounts, Iraq begins using chemical weapons against Iran at this time. However, Iran claims that Iraq’s use of these weapons began in 1981 (see August 13, 1981). [Shultz, 1993, pp. 238; Jentleson, 1994, pp. 48; Cole, 1997, pp. 87]

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Vice-President George H.W. Bush becomes involved in the Reagan administration’s covert arming of Iraq, an operation which eventually comes to be known as “Iraqgate.” There is no evidence to show that Bush knew about the Pentagon’s efforts to arm Iraq through third parties (see October 1983), but subsequent aspects of the operation go through the National Security Planning Group, of which Bush is a member. According to participants in the group’s meetings, Bush is a strong advocate of the Aqaba pipeline project (see January 14, 1984) and other aspects of the Reagan administration’s covert tilt towards Iraq. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Herbert Walker Bush

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

Richard Murphy.Richard Murphy. [Source: Richard W Murphy.org]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy writes a potentially explosive classified memo about arming Iraq. Murphy, along with his boss George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, are strong proponents of supporting Iraq in its war with Iran (National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and two of his staffers, Howard Teicher and Oliver North, support arming Iran; the argument is causing deep divides within the administration). Murphy’s memo is so sensitive that its recipients are ordered to destroy it and to keep records of its destruction. Murphy suggests that the US can arm Iraq with “dual use” items—nominally civilian items that also have military use, such as heavy trucks, armored ambulances, and communications gear. Murphy also advocates helping Iraq build a new oil pipeline that will pump oil to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, on the Israeli border, which will allow Iraq to circumvent the Iranian blockade of Iraq’s Persian Gulf ports. Murphy also mentions the State Department’s desire to fund a number of projects in Iraq through the US Export-Import bank (EXIM), chaired by Reagan appointee William Draper. Murphy writes, in part: “Liberalizing export controls on Iraq: we are considering revising present policy to permit virtually all sales of non-munitions list dual use equipment to Iraq…. Egyptian tank sales: in the context of recommending ways to improve our relations with Iraq, Egypt has suggested that we provide it additional M-60 tanks beyond those we are now providing under FMS [Foreign Military Sales]. Egypt would use the additional M-60s to replace used Soviet T-63s, which it would sell to Iraq…. EXIM financing: [Under-Secretary of State Lawrence] Eagleburger has written EXIM director Draper to urge EXIM financing of US exports to and projects in Iraq…. Such major EXIM financing could boost Iraq’s credit rating, leading to increased commercial financing for Iraq. However, EXIM does not favor involvement in Iraq.” Murphy warns that Congress might begin sniffing around the State Department’s secret policy of arming Iraq. He advocates fobbing off Congress with background briefings that emphasize “our efforts to deter escalation and bring about a cessation of hostilities.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Oliver North, Export-Import Bank, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Lawrence Eagleburger, US Department of Defense, Robert C. McFarlane, William Draper, Howard Teicher, US Department of State, Richard W. Murphy

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Tariq Aziz.Tariq Aziz. [Source: BBC]Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, the author of a secret policy memo detailing the administration’s new and covert military support for Iraq (see January 14, 1984), meets with Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, in Baghdad. Murphy later describes Aziz as wearing olive-green fatigues, clenching a Cuban cigar between his teeth, and sporting a pearl-handled revolver. Aziz welcomes the covert arms supplies from the US, and is particularly interested in the proposed construction of an oil pipeline to run from Iraq to Jordan, very near the Israeli border. However, mindful of the recent destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak by the Israelis (see June 7, 1981), Aziz insists that the US help finance the pipeline, both with government funds and private participation. Murphy agrees that the project is invaluable both in a geopolitical and an economic sense, and says he will so inform his Washington superiors. Murphy gingerly raises the question of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops (see 1982), but Aziz denies any such usages. Murphy doesn’t press the issue, but says that Iraq must, according to Murphy, “eliminate doubts in the international community by making their positions and explanations as clear and understandable to the international public as the allegations have been.” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Tariq Aziz, Richard W. Murphy

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

On June 12, Charles Hill, the executive secretary to Secretary of State George Shultz, sends a confidential memo to Vice President George Bush. The memo suggests that Bush telephone William Draper, the chairman of the US Export-Import Bank, and press for the bank to agree to finance the construction of an oil pipeline from Iraq into Aqaba, Jordan (see January 14, 1984). The bank had previously refused to extend any credit to Iraq for the pipeline, holding that the war-ravaged nation could not meet the bank’s legal requirement of providing a “reasonable assurance of repayment.” Bush went to Yale with Draper; that and his position in the White House makes him an ideal person to influence Draper. Bush is to use the “talking point” prepared for him, that the loan affects the US’s vital interests, and the US’s primary goal in the Iran-Iraq War is “to bring the war to a negotiated end in which neither belligerent is dominant.” The pipeline is key to accomplishing a negotiated peace, Bush is told to argue: “At present time, Iran is the intransigent party, unwilling to negotiate in part because it believes it can win in a war of attrition. We must therefore seek a means to bolster Iraq’s ability and resolve to withstand Iranian attacks as well as to convince Iran that continuing hostilities are useless.” Bush makes the call, and Draper immediately reverses his position on financing the pipeline. Because of an inability to obtain insurance, the pipeline will never be built, but Bush’s pressuring of Draper may be his first active role in the covert US policy of supporting Iraq. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: William Draper, Export-Import Bank, George Herbert Walker Bush, Charles Hill

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

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

Tensions between the pro-Iran and pro-Iraq factions in the White House (see January 14, 1984) come to a head after Robert McFarlane’s National Security Council staff drafts a presidential directive advocating that the US help Iran obtain weapons. The opposing faction, led by Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, protest angrily, with Weinberger calling the proposal “almost too absurd to comment on….” But the arms-for-hostage deal will go forward over Shultz’s and Weinberger’s objections (see July 3, 1985). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Robert C. McFarlane, George Shultz

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

George H.W. Bush.George H.W. Bush. [Source: George Herbert Walker Bush.net]CIA Director William Casey meets with Vice President George Bush (himself a former CIA director). Casey is a hardline conservative, nominally at odds with the more traditional, moneyed conservatism of Bush, but Casey has learned to trust Bush’s abilities. “Casey knew there was nobody in government who could keep a secret better,” a former CIA official will observe. “He knew that Bush was someone who could keep his confidence and be trusted. Bush had the same capacity as Casey to receive a briefing and give no hint that he was in the know.” Casey wants Bush to run a secret errand to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, as part of a scheme Casey has concocted to force the hand of Iran (see July 23, 1986). Specifically, Casey wants Bush to have Hussein step up his bombing of Iranian territory. Bush is already going to the Middle East to, as Bush told reporters, “advance the peace process.” Casey’s idea is to force Iran’s hand by having Hussein escalate his air strikes into the heart of that nation; in return, Iran would have to turn to the US for missiles and other air defense weapons. That would give the US leverage in negotiating with Iran for the release of the US hostages it holds. Two Reagan administration officials later say that Casey is also playing two rival policy factions within the administration (see January 14, 1984). Bush complies with Casey’s request; in doing so, Bush, as reporters Murray Waas and Craig Unger will write in 1992, puts himself “directly in the center of action—in a role at the very point where a series of covert initiatives with Iraq and Iran converge[s].” [New Yorker, 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 pdf file; MSNBC, 8/18/2002]

Entity Tags: William Casey, Central Intelligence Agency, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says in a speech delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s annual dinner that Saddam Hussein “is busily at work on a nuclear weapon” and that “it’s simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.” His assertion is based on information that was provided to him personally by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza. According to Perle, Hamza said that after the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 (see June 7, 1981), Iraq built some 400 uranium enrichment facilities all over the country in order to protect its nuclear program from future attacks. “Some look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You’ll never find them. They don’t turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Neoconservative Influence

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