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Context of 'May 1985: ’Fuller Memo’ Codifies US Policy Towards Arming Iran'

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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

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

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

After Hezbollah takes two more Americans hostage in Lebanon, Ronald Reagan angrily charges that Iran (the sponsor of Hezbollah) is a member of what he calls a “confederation of terrorist states… a new, international version of Murder Incorporated.” He asserts, “America will never make concessions to terrorists.” But unbeknownst to the public, a group of senior White House officials are working to begin providing military aid to Iran (see May 1985). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Hezbollah

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

Albert Hakim.Albert Hakim. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]During a morning intelligence briefing, President Ronald Reagan signs the authorization for the US to allow Israel to sell Iran 4,000 US-made antitank missiles (see January 7, 1986). As they have consistently done before, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz register their opposition to the arms deals with Iran. National Security Adviser John Poindexter notes in a February 1986 e-mail that Vice President George Bush supports the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, writing that the “President and VP are solid in taking the position that we have to try.” The reasons the various administration officials have for agreeing to sell arms to Iran are complex. Reagan is motivated by his belief that supporting Iran thwarts Soviet plans for Middle East domination (see May 1985), and by his own personal sorrow over the plight of the hostages. Others have more overtly political motives primarily fueled by the upcoming midterm elections. If, as in 1980, the American hostages currently held by Islamist radicals can be freed before the elections, the Republicans would likely reap the political benefits. Iranian-born arms merchant Albert Hakim, who is involved in the arms deals, will later tell Congress’s Iran-Contra committee, “We had to meet a deadline in releasing hostages, because the elections were coming up.” Even National Security Council aide Oliver North, one of the chief facilitators of the deals with Iran, will admit to the committee, “There are political concerns.” The US insists that before it deliver any of the antitank missiles, all of the hostages must be released. Iran refuses, and a deadlock ensues that will last for months. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: John Poindexter, Caspar Weinberger, George Herbert Walker Bush, Iran-Contra Committee, National Security Council, Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, Oliver North

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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