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Reagan Pursues Iran Contacts to Free 2 Hostages

November 12, 1986|United Press International

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, choosing to endure a storm of criticism rather than abandon hope, is pursuing secret contacts with Iran to free two American hostages in Lebanon, Administration officials said today, and hopes for their release "within a week or so."

Reagan, departing a ceremony in the Rose Garden today honoring the New York Mets as the World Series champions, was asked by a reporter if he would "give Congress the facts about Iran or are you going to stonewall like the Democrats charge?"

The President replied, "I never talk about a no-hitter until it's over." He did not elaborate.

Release Could Come Soon

One Administration official, speaking anonymously, said the decision to press on with the controversial Iranian connection, exposed by elements of the Iranian government, was rooted in a belief that the hostages could be set free "in another week or so."

At the same time, however, some Administration officials expressed concern that exposure of the covert overtures to Iran--involving swaps of military hardware for the hostages--had jeopardized chances for further progress.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes, seeking to contain the furor over an apparent shift in U.S. policy, again asserted that "a lot of speculation" about the Iranian operation "is misinformed" and could damage any channels now open.

Patience Urged

"We're not at liberty to explain some of the actions we have taken," he said, "and until we are and until all the facts come out, I would caution the press, the Congress and others not to jump to conclusions and not to base judgments on the basis of what they may have read or heard."

Amid repeated assertions by the Administration that its actions to win release of the hostages broke no laws, Speakes also acknowledged that White House lawyer Peter Wallison has reviewed legal issues surrounding the matter.

Much of the legal guidance has come from the Justice Department and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, who attended a top-level meeting Monday where Reagan discussed the hostage situation with his senior national security advisers.

White House officials said Reagan decided at that meeting that there was sufficient chance of securing the release of hostages Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland to warrant continuation of the Iranian contacts in the face of embarrassment and criticism here and abroad.

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