Former Israeli intelligence officer Ben-Menashe, in his book and in sworn testimony, said the ultimately successful channel was one involving both former and current CIA officers, working with French intelligence for the security of a final meeting in Paris -- and with Israelis who were given the task of delivering the payoff in weapons shipments and money to Iran.
The key meeting allegedly occurred on the weekend of Oct. 18-19, 1980, between high-level representatives of the Republican team and the Iranians. Ben-Menashe said he was part of a six-member Israeli support delegation for the meeting at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.
In his memoir, Ben-Menashe said he recognized several Americans, including Republican congressional aide Robert McFarlane and CIA officers Robert Gates (who had served on Carter's NSC staff and was then CIA Director Turner's executive assistant), Donald Gregg (another CIA designee to Carter's NSC) and George Cave (the agency's Iran expert).
Ben-Menashe said Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi, then a top foreign policy aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, arrived and walked into a conference room. "A few minutes later George Bush, with the wispy-haired William Casey in front of him, stepped out of the elevator. He smiled, said hello to everyone, and, like Karrubi, hurried into the conference room," Ben-Menashe wrote.
Ben-Menashe said the Paris meetings served to finalize a previously outlined agreement calling for release of the 52 hostages in exchange for $52 million, guarantees of arms sales for Iran, and unfreezing of Iranian monies in U.S. banks. The timing, however, was changed, he said, to coincide with Reagan's expected Inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981.
Though the alleged participants have denied taking part in such a meeting, the alibis cited by the Americans have proved porous. For instance, Gregg produced a photograph of himself in a bathing suit on a beach with the processing date stamped on the back, "October 1980."
There have been others reasons to doubt their innocence. An FBI polygrapher working for Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's investigation asked Gregg in 1990, "were you ever involved in a plan to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1980 Presidential election?" Gregg's negative answer was deemed deceptive. [See the Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, Vol. I, 501]
Meanwhile, other evidence has surfaced supporting Ben-Menashe's testimony. For instance, Chicago Tribune reporter John Maclean, son of author Norman Maclean who wrote A River Runs Through It, confirmed that he was told by a well-placed Republican source on that weekend in October 1980 that Bush was flying to Paris for a clandestine meeting with a delegation of Iranians about the American hostages.
David Andelman, the biographer for Count Alexandre deMarenches, then head of France's Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage (SDECE), testified to the House task force that deMarenches told him that he had helped the Reagan-Bush campaign arrange meetings with Iranians on the hostage issue in summer and fall of 1980, with one meeting in Paris in October.
Andelman said deMarenches insisted that the secret meetings be kept out of his memoir because the story could otherwise damage the reputations of his friends, William Casey and George H.W. Bush.
The allegations of a Paris meeting also received support from several other sources, including pilot Heinrich Rupp, who said he flew Casey from Washington's National Airport to Paris on a flight that left very late on a rainy night in mid-October 1980.
Rupp said that after arriving at LeBourget airport outside Paris, he saw a man resembling Bush on the tarmac. The night of Oct. 18 indeed was rainy in the Washington area. Also, sign-in sheets at the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, placed Casey within a five-minute drive of National Airport late that evening.
A French arms dealer, Nicholas Ignatiew, told me in 1990 that he had checked with his government contacts and was told that Republicans did meet with Iranians in Paris in mid-October 1980.
A well-connected French investigative reporter Claude Angeli said his sources inside the French secret service confirmed that the service provided "cover" for a meeting between Republicans and Iranians in France on the weekend of October 18-19. German journalist Martin Kilian had received a similar account from a top aide to intelligence chief deMarenches.
As early as 1987, Iran's ex-President Bani-Sadr had made similar claims about a Paris meeting.