287. Editorial Note

On December 8, 1986, Secretary of State George Shultz testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding the sale of arms to Iran and the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras. Shultz indicated that while he would inform the Committee of “everything” he knew about the sale, he was not prepared to do so in an open [Page 1244] hearing due to the classified nature of much of the information, noting the possibility that his testimony “could well interfere with ongoing criminal investigations, would improperly reveal intelligence sources and methods, and would expose privileged communications.” The Secretary continued that he remained prepared “to tell the full truth” in keeping with his “legal and ethical responsibilities” within the context of “a closed session.” Shultz then specified that the statement he would provide during the current hearing would begin with the “future relations” of the United States vis-a-vis the Persian Gulf: “The Persian Gulf is important to the United States, and for many of our key friends and allies as well. A quarter of the free world’s oil flows through the Persian Gulf, and an even higher percentage sustains the economies of our allies in Europe and Japan. It is vital that Western access to that oil continues.

“The region is a strategic focal point—one in which the Soviet Union has long sought to expand its presence and control. We have an important stake in denying to them such an expansion. We have major political interests with individual gulf states, both in their own right, and because of their influence on events in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

“Therefore, we want the states of the gulf to enjoy a peace and political stability free from threats of Soviet intimidation, external aggression, or internal subversion. We wish to sustain productive relations with these states of the region, in part so that the supply of oil to the West can continue unabated.

“But our strategic, economic and political interests in the gulf have been and continue to be challenged from a number of quarters—by war and political instability in the region, by the Soviet Union’s brutal occupation of Afghanistan and persistent efforts to expand its influence, and by terrorism. And Iran has come to be a most important element in all of these considerations.

“The Iran-Iraq war, now in its seventh year, shows all too clearly how a continuation of regional conflict and instability can threaten not only our interests, but those of many states friendly to us as well. And for that reason, the United States has consistently worked for an early end to that conflict, under terms which provide for the territorial integrity and independence of both belligerents.

“In meeting the threat of escalating terrorism, we must also deal with the problem of Iran. The current Iranian Government continues to believe that terrorism is a legitimate instrument of foreign policy. It has been prepared to employ that instrument when and where it suited its needs. It is in our interest to see that it stop.

“As the President has said, he authorized the transfer of some arms to Iran to send a signal that the United States was prepared to [Page 1245] replace the animosity between us with a new relationship. That signal has been sent.

“No further arms shipment will be made to Iran by the United States, and we will exert all our influence to discourage arms sales to Iran by others. The reason is that it is Iran which refuses to end the gulf war, and it is the capability of Iran to continue the war that we must address. Iran cannot expect a better relationship with us until it acts to end the war, ceases its support for terrorism, and uses its influence with those who hold our hostages to achieve their freedom.

“Our dealings with Iran are shaped by a strategic dilemma. We have a ‘Northern’ concern—to keep Iran free of Soviet influence; and a ‘Southern’ concern—to keep Iran from dominating its gulf neighbors. Because Iran continues to resist Soviet influence, but threatens the gulf, our near-term priority must be to reassure gulf Arab states of our support and stand fast on our antiterrorism and arms embargo polices.

“Meanwhile we must use alternative channels to bolster Iranian resistance to Soviet influence and focus on shared interests such as Afghanistan. Similarly, stability in the gulf will affect our efforts to encourage meaningful movement in any peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“Therefore, we have a legitimate interest in better relations with Iran, and the President determined last year that we should respond to approaches from elements within Iran to see whether Iranian leaders were prepared to shift their policies in a more positive direction.

“Last Saturday the President reiterated our purposes: ‘to end the war in the Middle East, to prevent Soviet expansionism, to halt terrorism and to help gain release of American hostages.’

“Mr. Chairman, I fully support every one of these purposes. I am sure that you and this committee likewise support them.

“The problems created by recent events were not caused by these purposes, but by the way they were implemented in this once instance, and by certain unauthorized actions of officials on whom the President had relied to implement his policy. Facts being revealed have made clear, as the President has forthrightly stated, ‘that the execution of these policies was flawed and mistakes were made.’

“The policies the President has reaffirmed are his own. He has made clear that it was neither his intent nor his policy to trade weapons for hostages, nor to undercut our stand against terrorism.

“I fully support him and his policies. As a Nation, we must remain opposed to terrorism in every form. All terrorism, whether directed against Americans or others, is unacceptable and must be eliminated. That principle is central to our efforts to encourage broader international cooperation against state-sponsored terrorism.

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“Therefore, we must continue to speak out and take action against all acts of terrorism. However much we share the anguish of the families involved, we must oppose concessions or ransom for the release of hostages. To do otherwise would encourage the taking of additional hostages and would raise the value in the eyes of the hostagetakers of those already held.

“And we must continue to strengthen our efforts with friends and allies in such areas as intelligence exchange and security measures to thwart terrorism and its attendant violence and to isolate states which sponsor and support terrorism.

“With respect to Iran, the President has noted: ‘The Iranian revolution is a fact of history; but between American and Iranian basic national interests, there need be no permanent conflict.’

“He has also reaffirmed that it was not his intent to do business with the Khomeini regime as along as its policies threaten the peace and stability of the region. Here again, I fully agree.

“We must continue to encourage an end to regional hostilities and peaceful relations between all of the gulf states. We seek a negotiated resolution of the Iran-Iraq war that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region.

“In working for the stability of the gulf, we will continue to support the cooperative efforts of moderate and friendly states of the region to ensure their own security and stability. We will oppose Soviet encroachment in the region and seek an early end to its occupation of Afghanistan.

“Finally, we must put recent events into proper historical perspective. The President has been here for 6 years. When he took over, the Nation was neither as secure nor as confident as it should have been.

“Where do we stand after 6 years of President Reagan’s leadership in foreign affairs?

“Working with Congress and with the broad support of the American people, President Reagan’s policies have brought us to the threshold of a new and remarkably different world, a world in which America’s interests, America’s pride, and America’s ideals are flourishing.

“What is this different world? Why is it cause for renewed confidence and hope for the future?

“Because we can glimpse now, for the first time, a world in which the incessant and pervasive fear of nuclear devastation is reduced. The threat of nuclear conflict can never be wholly banished, but it can be vastly diminished by careful but drastic reductions in offensive nuclear arsenals and by creating an ability to defend against them. It is just such reductions—not limitations in expansion, but reductions—and [Page 1247] just such defenses, that is the vision President Reagan is working to make a reality.

“Only a few years ago the democracies of the world were believed to be an embattled, shrinking handful of nations. Today people struggling under oppressive regimes of the right and the left can see democracy as a vital force for the future. Vital but nonviolent movements toward more open societies have succeeded. The failure of closed, command economies is more evident every day. A new wind of change is blowing.

“People who are ready to stand up for freedom and have no choice but to fight for their rights now know that communism’s march is not inevitable. President Reagan is a freedom fighter, and the world knows it. And I stand with President Reagan.

“Strong defenses, sound alliances, and support for the free economic and political development of peoples everywhere, that is what President Reagan stands for. His policies are not the policies of a party; they are the policies of all the American people. They are inevitable policies if our country is to remain the best and greatest on Earth and the hope of humanity everywhere.

“Let us show the strength of our free institutions by a full investigation of every detail of this Iran episode. But as we do so, let us unite, pull ourselves together and keep this country moving ahead to meet the dangers and the opportunities of this moment.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.” (The Foreign Policy Implications of Arms Sales to Iran and the Contra Connection: Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Ninth Congress, Second Session, November 24; December 8, 9, 1986, pages 58–62)

For Shultz’s recollections of the hearing see Turmoil and Triumph, pages 846–847.