WASHINGTON — Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Friday that the United States should never make concessions to terrorists to gain release of American hostages, but he refused to talk about reported Administration contacts with Iran because he said the White House has banned all comment.
Talking to reporters on the flight home from meetings in Vienna with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, Shultz made it clear that he was under orders to avoid discussion of secret White House dealings with the Iran. However, Shultz added with apparent annoyance: "I don't particularly enjoy it. I like to say what I think about subjects."
He made his comments as reporters asked repeated questions about reports that the Administration, using an Israeli-operated supply line set up through highly secret negotiations, last year began supplying U.S.-made missiles and weapons parts to Iran in exchange for the Tehran regime's aid in freeing Americans held hostage in Lebanon.
'It Has to Happen Again'
At the White House, President Reagan once again declined to discuss any U.S. effort to free the hostages "because it has to happen again and again before we have them all back." Reagan did not elaborate on this comment, made in response to questions shouted at him after a Rose Garden welcoming ceremony for freed American hostage David P. Jacobsen.
For Shultz, the most outspoken advocate of a firm policy against terrorism, the refusal to comment clearly was an uncomfortable position. Nevertheless, he left little doubt that he opposes any change in the stated U.S. policy of refusing to make concessions to terrorists.
"I don't want to get drawn into this business, but I will say that I think the policy of not negotiating for hostages is the right policy," he said, without saying if it still is the Administration's policy.
For several years, the official U.S. policy has been that the United States would talk to anyone about the safety and welfare of American hostages but would not negotiate deals to obtain their freedom because to do so would only encourage additional terrorist kidnapings.
'Rhetoric Ahead of Action'
The situation "points up the problem of letting your rhetoric get out ahead of your actions," Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Fla.) said, referring to the Administration's frequently declared tough policy toward terrorism. Fascell, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of many members of Congress who have voiced serious concern--if not anger--over the reports.
Some officials continued to argue Friday that the arms shipments could have violated the federal law, enacted after Watergate-era excesses, that requires strict reporting to Congress of secret intelligence-agency actions against foreign nations.
But government sources who insisted on anonymity said the arms-supply operation was based directly within the White House's National Security Council--rather than under the congressionally scrutinized CIA--specifically to sidestep the legal requirement.
"The lesson . . . is that congressional oversight works," one source said, adding that the disclosure law has essentially ousted the CIA as the agency of choice for the nation's most secret intelligence-related operations.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) questioned CIA Director William J. Casey about the extent of intelligence-agency support--if any--given the Iranian arms pipeline, committee spokesman Dave Holliday said Friday. He added that Durenberger has not disclosed what Casey told him and added that no public accounting of any role by the agency is likely soon.
Committee members are "concerned" because they were not informed of the White House link to Iran, Holliday said. But they do not yet know whether the White House action should have been cleared with Congress under laws requiring the disclosure of covert intelligence operations. "That's a good question," he said, "but it depends entirely on what happened."
Although some members of Congress have charged that arms shipments to Iran are prohibited under the Arms Export Control Act, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the Administration's efforts have violated no laws. "Whatever we've done is legal, and whatever we will do is legal," he said.
In addition, Speakes said there has been no change in the Administration's policy against negotiating with terrorists, but he declined to reaffirm the policy.
All Working Together
Reagan insisted Friday that Shultz, as well as Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger have been involved in and support U.S. efforts geared to free the hostages. "We have all been working together," he said.
"Shultz has been involved . . . from the outset," Speakes said, denying that the secretary of state was at any time excluded from the development of the policy. "It is my understanding that this was handled through the normal process, and that the national security community was involved in the development of our policies in this area."