NEW YORK — An Israeli businessman charged with plotting to smuggle $2 billion worth of arms to Iran moved in federal court Thursday to subpoena Vice President George Bush and two key White House aides on the grounds that the Reagan Administration secretly sanctioned the deal.
In papers seeking the subpoena, Guriel Eisenberg, 31, one of the defendants in the arms case, charged that "the highest levels of the Reagan Administration had approved the proposed sale."
In addition to Bush, Eisenberg sought to subpoena former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane; Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, the current national security adviser, and Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North Jr. of the National Security Council staff.
Proceedings in the case against Eisenberg and 16 other defendants charged with violating the U.S. embargo on arms shipments to Iran came amid growing controversy over disclosures that the Reagan Administration set up a covert arms pipeline to Iran last year as part of an effort to free U.S. hostages and influence policy in that Middle East nation.
The defendants are accused of conspiring to illegally ship arms, including anti-tank missiles and jet fighters, to Iran. The case grew out of a "sting" operation in which an informant attempted to set up the deal while working for federal authorities.
"Tape recordings furnished to defense counsel by the government suggest that the defendants believed that the sale of arms was being considered and would be approved by Vice President Bush," the court papers alleged. "The testimony of the vice president is necessary in order to establish that defendant Eisenberg's belief was reasonable."
In Washington, two aides to Bush used identical phrases to deny that the vice president had any role in the arms scheme. "The allegations of the vice president's involvement are really nonsense," said Boyden Gray, Bush's counsel. "There's nothing to talk about."
Marlin Fitzwater, Bush's press secretary, said, "The allegations are nonsense."
Bush's advisers said the subpoena request will be handled by the Justice Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorna G. Schofield, the prosecutor in the case, had no comment on the subpoena attempt. Judge Leonard B. Sand gave no indication when he might rule on the motion.
In the court papers, Eisenberg sought to pin Bush and the White House aides firmly to the scheme that led to the indictment.
U.S., Israeli Roles
"One of the defenses in this case is that the defendant entered into negotiations for the sale of armaments to the Republic of Iran in the belief that such sales were entirely lawful," Eisenberg's court papers asserted. "Insofar as he believed that the governments of Israel and the United States had or would approve of the sales, he lacked specific intent to commit a crime."
In an interview with The Times, Jonathan Marks, Eisenberg's lawyer, contended that the Israeli government "was actively encouraging the sale of arms to Iran."
"This wasn't simply a case of the Israeli government acquiescing," the lawyer said. He said that Israel was eager to deal with Iran in order to obtain leverage in freeing Israeli soldiers held in Lebanon.
At the heart of Eisenberg's contentions are 200 tape recordings made by undercover agents and turned over to the defense by the government.
In a key section of a conversation on Feb. 7, Samuel Evans, the London-based American lawyer who is charged with being a middleman, gave an update to Cyrus Hashemi, an Iranian businessman who said he was seeking U.S.-made arms for his country, but who turned out to be a U.S. government informant.
'Green Light . . . Given'
Evans told Hashemi that he had spoken to Bernard Veillot, a Frenchman who also was indicted but has not been arrested. "The long and short of it, according to him (Veillot) is that the green light now finally has been given, that Bush is in favor, (Secretary of State George P.) Shultz against, but nonetheless they are willing to proceed," Evans said.
Also in February, John de la Roque, who said he was a former army colonel now living in France, also told Hashemi, the government informant, that Shultz opposed the arms sale to Iran but that Bush favored it, so the plan would move ahead.
"My understanding is the following: It will move from the vice president through the President," De la Roque said. "The vice president--and he's his own man at this point, he's for it and you know, what the final decision will be, I can't tell you . . . . "
"Now it's as far as it can go. And the man that has it now says it's good. You know who he is. He used to be the head of the CIA so he knows what he's doing."
Vice President Bush is a former director of the CIA.