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TEXT: 'Ample Precedent for This Kind of Secret Diplomacy' : Text of Reagan Talk: 'We Have Had a Secret Initiative to Iran'

November 14, 1986|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The text of President Reagan's address to the nation Thursday night on American hostages and U.S. relations with Iran:

I know you have been reading, seeing and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors, unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my Administration. Well, now you are going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.

I wanted this time to talk with you about an extremely sensitive and profoundly important matter of foreign policy.

For 18 months now, we have had under way a secret diplomatic initiative to Iran. That initiative was undertaken for the simplest and best of reasons:

-- To renew a relationship with the nation of Iran;

-- To bring an honorable end to the bloody six-year war between Iran and Iraq;

-- To eliminate state-sponsored terrorism and subversion, and

-- To effect the safe return of all hostages.

Without Iran's cooperation, we cannot bring an end to the Persian Gulf War; without Iran's concurrence, there can be no enduring peace in the Middle East.

For 10 days now, the American and world press have been full of reports and rumors about this initiative and these objectives.

Now, my fellow Americans, there is an old saying that nothing spreads so quickly as a rumor. So I thought it was time to speak with you directly--to tell you firsthand about our dealings with Iran. As Will Rogers once said, "Rumor travels faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth." So let's get to the facts.

Charges Made

The charge has been made that the United States has shipped weapons to Iran--as ransom payment for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, that the United States undercut its allies and secretly violated American policy against trafficking with terrorists.

Those charges are utterly false.

The United States has not made concessions to those who hold our people captive in Lebanon. And we will not. The United States has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons--for the return of American hostages. And we will not.

Other reports have surfaced alleging U.S. involvement. Reports of a sea lift to Iran using Danish ships to carry American arms. Of vessels in Spanish ports being employed in secret U.S. arms shipments. Of Italian ports being used. Of the U.S. sending share parts and weapons for combat aircraft. All these reports are quite exciting; as far as we are concerned, not one of them is true.

During the course of our secret discussions, I authorized the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran. My purpose was to convince Tehran that our negotiators were acting with my authority, to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace the animosity between us with a new relationship. These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane. They could not, taken together, affect the outcome of the six-year war between Iran and Iraq--nor could they affect in any way the military balance between the two countries.

Those with whom we were in contact took considerable risks and needed a signal of our serious intent if they were to carry on and broaden the dialogue.

At the same time we undertook this initiative, we made clear that Iran must oppose all forms of international terrorism as a condition of progress in our relationship. The most significant step which Iran could take, we indicated, would be to use its influence in Lebanon to secure the release of all hostages held there.

Progress Achieved

Some progress has already been made. Since U.S. government contact began with Iran, there has been no evidence of Iranian government complicity in acts of terrorism against the United States. Hostages have come home--and we welcome the efforts that the government of Iran has taken in the past and is currently undertaking.

But why, you might ask, is any relationship with Iran important to the United States?

Iran encompasses some of the most critical geography in the world. It lies between the Soviet Union and access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Geography explains why the Soviet Union has sent an army into Afghanistan to dominate that country and, if they could, Iran and Pakistan.

Iran's geography gives it a critical position from which adversaries could interfere with oil flows from the Arab states that border the Persian Gulf. Apart from geography, Iran's oil deposits are important to the long-term health of the world economy.

For these reasons, it is in our national interest to watch for changes within Iran that might offer hope for an improved relationship. Until last year, there was little to justify that hope.

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