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Context of 'July 23, 1986: CIA Director Casey Plots to Break Stalled Arms-for-Hostages Deal'

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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

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

Ronald Reagan secretly authorizes Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, in an attempt to induce the Iraqis to make more effective use of their air force against the Iranians. Reagan officials also encourage the Saudis to provide Iraq with British fighter planes. Saudi Arabia shortly transfers 1,500 MK-84 bombs to Iraq, but the Iraqis will, in the US view, fail to use them effectively. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

Robert McFarlane.Robert McFarlane. [Source: Shelly Katz / Time Life / Getty Images]A delegation secretly sent to Iran by the White House to break the arms-for-hostages deadlock (see November 3, 1986) returns to Iran. The two countries have been at an impasse since January, when President Reagan authorized the sale of 4,000 antitank missiles to Iran but US officials insisted that all of the American hostages held by Hezbollah be freed before the missiles would be delivered, a condition the Iranians have refused (see January 17, 1986). The US delegation—actually the third such delegation to secretly visit Tehran—includes former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; McFarlane’s longtime supporter and current National Security Council member Oliver North; CIA expert George Cave; and North’s NSC colleague, Howard Teicher. Israel, which will facilitate the arms transfer, sends Amiram Nir, a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Shimon Peres. [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992] McFarlane and North bring with them more spare parts for Iran’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. They attempt, and fail, to persuade the Iranians to facilitate the release of all American hostages. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] The delegation’s mission has borne no fruit, as the Iranians insisted on “sequencing,” or releasing the hostages two at a time as arms shipments were delivered. Part of the problem surrounds the Iranians’ belief that they are being charged outrageous prices for the missiles, a perception given credence by the fact that profits from the weapons sales are being used to fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebel movement. [Time, 11/17/1986; New Yorker, 11/2/1992]
Unusual Negotiation Tactics - Part of the negotiations involves North, the NSC staffer who coordinates the administration’s dealings with the Contras, offering the Iranians a Bible signed by President Reagan and a chocolate cake. In response, the Iranians stall. Hezbollah will release a few US hostages and take others hostage, maintaining the status quo. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
Explicit Briefing of President, Vice President - McFarlane later briefs both Reagan and Vice President Bush on the arms-for-hostage negotiations (see May 29, 1986).

Entity Tags: Shimon Peres, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Hezbollah, George Herbert Walker Bush, National Security Council, Amiram Nir, George Cave, Howard Teicher

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

CIA Director William Casey introduces a plan to break the stalled arms-for-hostages deal with Iran that has been moribund for over a month (see Late May, 1986). Like his boss President Ronald Reagan, Casey has a powerful Cold War mentality and a love of covert operations; like Reagan, Casey believes that building relations with Iran is a way to counter Soviet expansionism. Casey’s plan appears on the agenda of a meeting of the Contingency Pre-Planning Group (CPPG), an inter-agency committee consisting of mid-level representatives of the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. The meeting focuses on Iraq’s failures in its long, dismal war against Iran. Casey believes that if Iraq escalates its air attacks on Iran, Iran will need more and more arms from the US, and that will force it to conclude the stalled arms-for-hostages deal on favorable terms. And Casey, ever the espionage aficionado, is playing the two opposing factions—one pro-Iran, one pro-Iraq—within the administration (see January 14, 1984) against one another, according to two CIA aides who work closely with him. Those aides, who speak to reporters in 1992 after leaving the agency, will say he even keeps some White House officials ignorant of the “double nature of his plan.” In furthering his own murky strategies, Casey is also enlisting the support of State and Defense Department officials who fear an imminent Iranian victory. Casey believes that the war will continue as a stalemate for several years, but he deliberately slants his intelligence assessments to paint a graver picture of Iraq’s imminent defeat (Iraq’s fortunes in the war are grim enough to require little embellishment).
CPPG Unable To Find Solutions for Iraq - The CPPG is tasked with shoring up the US’s commercial and financial relationships with Iraq, a chore for which the group cannot find an immediate solution. The CPPG has also considered using Jordan as a conduit for arms to Iraq, similar to the way Israel has served as a conduit for US arms to Iran (see 1981), but the group rejects that idea because, according to a memo from the meeting, “any such transfer has to be notified to the Congress and thus made public.”
Iraq's Antiquated War Strategies - The group finally discusses a matter that plays into Casey’s plan, Iraq’s failure to fight the war in a modern fashion. Iraq uses its powerful air force extremely poorly, at times seemingly afraid to commit planes on missions that might put a single aircraft at risk. Former ambassador Richard Murphy will say of Iraq, “The Iraqis were fighting the way Germans might have in the First World War. They were good at holding a defense line, which is useful in holding back the human waves of Iranians. But when it came to their air force they were inept. On bombing missions, in particular, the Iraqis were so afraid to lose planes that they often didn’t undertake missions, and when they did they did only things that were safe.” Reagan has already issued secret authorizations for Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, to induce it to use its air force more effectively (see February 1986), to little avail. Now the CPPG says that Vice President George Bush might help out; Bush is making a trip to the Middle East as Reagan’s “peace envoy” (see July 23, 1986). The CPPG decides that Bush might suggest to Jordan’s King Hussein and Egypt’s President Mubarak that the two “sustain their efforts to convey our shared views to Saddam regarding Iraq’s use of its air resources.” The CPPG is not sanguine about the likelihood of Bush’s success, considering the distrust Saddam Hussein maintains for the US. The CPPG recommends that the White House send “a senior US emissary” to confer directly with Hussein; the CPPG is apparently unaware that Casey has already spoken privately with Bush and asked him to meet in secret with Hussein (see July 23, 1986). [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Hosni Mubarak, George Herbert Walker Bush, Contingency Pre-Planning Group, Central Intelligence Agency, Hussein bin Talal, National Security Council, US Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of State, William Casey, Richard W. Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s, Iran-Contra Affair

Richard Secord.Richard Secord. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Ali Hashemi Bahramani, a high-ranking officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, meets secretly with NSC official Oliver North. Bahramani has a shopping list of arms Iran wants to buy from the US, particularly weapons and other material to defend the country against the recent escalation of Iraqi air strikes (see July 23, 1986). The plan to force Iran to trade US hostages for arms (see July 23, 1986) seems to be working. But for the US the plan has a fatal flaw: as hostages are released, Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group controlled by Iran, simply kidnaps more Americans (see September 9-12, 1986). North’s assistant, Richard Secord, later states that it is evident the Iranians negotiating the release of the hostages are the same ones responsible for ordering the new kidnappings. But North, his boss John Poindexter, and CIA Director William Casey continue with the Iranian initiative regardless. One driving factor, Secord will note, is that by this point, $3.8 million in profits from the Iranian arms sales has been diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras. [New Yorker, 11/2/1992]

Entity Tags: William Casey, John Poindexter, Oliver North, Richard Secord, Ali Hashemi Bahramani

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

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