Special Report: To understand why U.S. foreign policy is floundering in the Middle East, one must go back to the pivotal 1980 election when President Carter's hopes for a second term hinged on getting Iran to release 52 U.S. hostages and Republicans went behind his back, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Embedded in the historical question of whether Republicans sabotaged President Jimmy Carter's Iran-hostage negotiations before Election 1980 is a curious incident involving two of Ronald Reagan's future National Security Advisors -- Richard Allen and Robert McFarlane -- who played key roles in arms shipments to Iran after Reagan won.
On Jan. 20, 1981, the Iranians released the 52 American hostages exactly as Reagan was being sworn in as President. Allen moved into the White House as Reagan's first National Security Advisor. McFarlane was appointed Counselor to the Secretary of State, from which he pushed to let Israel sell arms to Iran, an issue that was referred to Allen at the National Security Council, according to recently disclosed documents from the National Archives.
The documents also reveal that McFarlane pressed to put himself in charge of future U.S. policy toward Iran and arranged a top-secret conduit for collaboration with the Israeli government on Iranian issues without the knowledge of other U.S. officials. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's " How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast ."]
So, the curious incident in 1980 -- a meeting with an Iranian emissary at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington about one month before the Nov. 4 election -- suddenly deserves additional attention. The meeting also involved a third prominent Republican, Laurence Silberman, a neoconservative foreign policy expert who would later become an important judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Yet, beyond the fact that the L'Enfant Plaza meeting took place, the three Republicans have offered wildly divergent accounts of what happened, and congressional investigators, who looked into the incident years later, never tried very hard to get the trio to explain the discrepancies.
Allen, Silberman and McFarlane all acknowledged a discussion with an Iranian emissary at the hotel, which is situated between the Washington Mall and the Potomac River. But none of them claimed to remember the person's name, his nationality or his position -- not even McFarlane who purportedly arranged the meeting.
A Testy Interview
In a testy interview with me in 1990, Allen said the L'Enfant Plaza meeting occurred after McFarlane called Allen "several times in an attempt to get me to meet with someone about the Iranian problem." Allen said he was leery about such a meeting because he had been burnt by the controversy over the Richard Nixon's Vietnam peace-talk interference in 1968. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's " LBJ's X-File on Nixon's "Treason. '"]
"Knowing what I'd been through in 1968 on this very problem, I was highly reluctant to do it," Allen said. "But McFarlane was working for [Texas Sen.] John Tower; John Tower was a friend of mine. McFarlane is not a particular friend, an acquaintance, nothing more than that. He was quite insistent that I do this."
Allen said he asked Silberman, a lawyer working on Reagan's foreign policy team, to join him at the meeting. "I want a witness in this meeting because I don't want it to turn into anything that could run against us. And I won't meet in this office. I will not have anybody say that he came to my office.
"So Larry Silberman and I got on the subway and we went down to the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel where I met McFarlane and there were many people milling about. We sat at a table in the lobby. It was around the lunch hour. I was introduced to this very obscure character whose name I cannot recall. "
"The individual who was either an Egyptian or an Iranian or could have been an Iranian living in Egypt -- and his idea was that he had the capacity to intervene, to deliver the [American] hostages to the Reagan forces. Now, I took that at first to mean that he was able to deliver the hostages to Ronald Reagan, candidate for the presidency of the United States, which was absolutely lunatic. And I said so. I believe I said, or Larry did, "we have one President at a time. That's the way it is.'
"So this fellow continued with his conversation. I was incredulous that McFarlane would have ever brought a guy like this or placed any credibility in a guy like this. Just absolutely incredulous, and so was Larry Silberman. This meeting lasted maybe 20 minutes, 25 minutes. So that's it. There's no need to continue this meeting. "