WASHINGTON — Here is the text of President Reagan's news conference Wednesday night, as released by the White House:
The President: Eighteen months ago, as I said last Thursday, this Administration began a secret initiative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our purposes were fourfold: to replace a relationship of total hostility with something better, to bring a negotiated end to the Iran-Iraq War, and to bring an end to terrorism and to effect the release of our hostages.
We knew this undertaking involved great risks, especially for our people and for the Iranian officials with whom we dealt. That is why the information was restricted to appropriate Cabinet officers and those officials with an absolute need to know. This undertaking was a matter of considerable debate within Administration circles. Our policy objectives were never in dispute. There were differences on how best to proceed.
The principal issue in contention was whether we should make isolated and limited exceptions to our arms embargo as a signal of our serious intent. Several top advisers opposed the sale of even a modest shipment of defensive weapons and spare parts to Iran. Others felt no progress could be made without this sale. I weighed their views. I considered the risks of failure and the rewards of success, and I decided to proceed, and the responsibility for the decision and the operation is mine and mine alone.
As Mr. Lincoln said of another presidential decision, "If it turns out right, the criticism will not matter. If it turns out wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right will make no difference."
I understand this decision is deeply controversial and that some profoundly disagree with what was done. Even some who support our secret initiative believe it was a mistake to send any weapons to Iran. I understand and I respect those views, but I deeply believe in the correctness of my decision.
I was convinced then and I am convinced now that while the risks were great, so, too, was the potential reward. Bringing Iran back into the community of responsible nations, ending its participation in political terror, bringing an end to that terrible war, and bringing our hostages home--these are the causes that justify taking risks.
In foreign policy, the presence of risks alone cannot be reason enough not to act. There were risks when we liberated Grenada, when we went into Lebanon, when we aided the Philippines and when we acted against Libya, so we'll continue our efforts. However, to eliminate the widespread but mistaken perception that we have been exchanging arms for hostages, I have directed that no further sales of arms of any kind be sent to Iran.
I have further directed that all information relating to our initiative be provided to the appropriate members of Congress. There may be some questions which for reasons of national security or to protect the safety of the hostages I will be unable to answer publicly. But again, all information will be provided to the appropriate members of Congress.
And now, I'll take your questions. Helen?
Question: Mr. President, in the recent past, there was an Administration whose byword was, "Watch what we do, not what we say." How would you assess the credibility of your own Administration in the light of the prolonged deception of Congress and the public in terms of your secret dealings with Iran, the disinformation, the trading of (Gennady) Zakharov for (Nicholas) Daniloff? And I'd like to follow up.
Answer: Well, Helen, let me take the last one first. I know you--some persist in saying that we traded Zakharov for Daniloff. We did not. We said that we would have no dealings with the Soviet Union, even on going to Iceland, until Daniloff was in our hands.
But to bring it up to date on this, there was no deception intended by us. There was the knowledge that we were embarking on something that could be of great risk to the people we were talking to, great risk to our hostages. And, therefore, we had to have it limited to only the barest number of people that had to know.
No Law Was Broken
I was not breaking any law in doing that. It is provided for me to do that. At the same time, I have the right under the law to defer reporting to Congress, to the proper congressional committees, on an action and defer it until such time as I believe it can safely be done with no risk to others.
And that's why I have ordered in this coming week the proper committees will be briefed on this. And we--there are still some parts of this that we cannot go public with because it will bring to risk and danger people that are held and people that we have been negotiating with. We were not negotiating government to government. We were negotiating with certain individuals within that country.
Q: You don't think your credibility has been damaged? And are you prepared now to disavow the finding which let you make end runs around the Iranian arms embargo? Are you going to tear it up?