283. Handwritten Talking Points Prepared by the Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State (Hill)1

The problem with the President’s press conference last night was that it was oriented to the past. He needs to correct what has gone wrong in the past and turn to deal with the future.2 He will have to make some sharp decisions. It is good that he said that arms to Iran would be stopped. Now he has to go beyond that. We have to actively discourage arms sales by third countries. Some we can only influence [Page 1236] by our example; others we have some muscle with—Israel. The Israelis need to be convinced that we are serious about this or every Israeli arms transfer to Iran is going to be attributed to us.

Second, the President has to deal decisively with this enormous threat to the achievements of his administration. It is not pleasant to say this, but John Poindexter—an able, admirable, fine man—has been used up by this episode.3—So he has to go. Here is my suggestion:

  • For the next month or so, on a temporary basis, I will sit in as National Security Advisor in addition to my other duties. I will ask Jon Howe to come in as my Deputy. The President knows him, likes him, trusts him. What the NSC can expect is some housecleaning. Not much, but a rearranged set-up is required. Their charter will be to carry out a coordinating function. No operations.

John Poindexter is so outstanding that the Navy certainly will offer him a good berth. We need to tell them that is what is expected of them.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Secretary’s Meetings with the President (11/12/1986 & 11/14/1986 & 11/19/86 & 11/20/86 & 11/16/86); NLR–775–19–11–4–5. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the text from Hill’s handwritten notes specifically for this volume. An image of the document is Appendix C. Shultz’s stamped initials appear in the right-hand corner of the handwritten talking points.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 282.
  3. In remarks made on November 25, the President indicated that Poindexter had “asked to be relieved of his assignment as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and to return to another assignment in the Navy.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1986, Book II, p. 1587) In a personal diary entry for November 25, the President commented: “John P. came in this morning & announced he was leaving the N.S.C. & returning to the Navy. I told him I wouldn’t refuse his resignation but regretted it. I explained that I knew the press would crucify him if he stayed & he didn’t deserve that. What it was all about was that Ed Meese learned that several months ago the Israelis delivered some of our arms to Iran but exacted a higher price then [than] we had asked. They sent us our price then past [passed] the balance in a Swiss bank acct. belonging to the Contras—their way of helping the Contras at a time when Congress was refusing aid to the Contras. John resigned because he had gotten wind of this game but didn’t look into it or tell me. In the old Navy tradition he accepted the responsibility as Capt. of the ship. We broke the story—I told the press what we’d learned. This headed them off from finding out about it & accusing us of a cover up. I’ve asked Ed Meese to continue digging in case there is anything we missed & I’m appointing a commission to review the whole matter of how N.S.C. Staff works. Ed M. stayed with the press & took their Q’s. They were like a circle of Sharks.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. II, November 1985–January 1989, p. 661)