WASHINGTON — Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called on President Reagan to fire national security adviser John M. Poindexter for approving the shipment of U.S. arms to Iran to help free American hostages, Administration officials said Thursday.
But at the same time, according to informed sources, some White House staff members are trying to force the resignation of Shultz because he has publicly opposed the clandestine arms-and-hostages negotiations. And other Administration officials and former officials maneuvered to distance themselves from the Iran program while still proclaiming their support of the President.
Shultz, who has vigorously opposed any weapons shipments to Iran, told Reagan this week that "Poindexter has to go," one official said.
Excluded From Meeting
One reason for the secretary's anger, he said, is that Shultz was excluded from a secret White House meeting in January of this year at which Poindexter's plan for creating the U.S. arms pipeline was approved.
Crowe, who according to Pentagon officials did not know of the arms shipments at all until they were reported in newspaper accounts, has told Defense Department officials that he has lost confidence in Poindexter and does not believe he can continue working with him, the official said.
Crowe, asked Wednesday about reports that he had clashed with Poindexter, replied: "I think those reports are highly overstated. . . . I have worked very closely with Admiral Poindexter for a year now. He is a friend of mine of long standing. I'm a strong admirer of his."
But knowledgeable sources said that in private, Crowe has been bitterly critical of his fellow admiral Poindexter.
Supervision by Poindexter
Poindexter supervised the program, approved by Reagan last January, under which U.S. anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles were sold directly to Iran while Iranian officials worked for the release of Americans held hostage in Lebanon.
Shultz, who opposed any such deal when it was first discussed inside the White House last year, was deliberately excluded from the January meeting that launched the direct U.S. shipments, the officials said.
Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger was present at the January meeting and objected to the shipments, they said. But he was overruled by Reagan, Poindexter and White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, they said.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Thursday night that he did not know whether Shultz had called for Poindexter's ouster. "This is the first I've heard of that," he said. "Obviously, there's nothing I can say about it."
But Shultz has made it clear over the past two weeks that he is deeply unhappy with the way the Iranian negotiations were run. He has authorized the State Department to say that he was "only sporadically informed" about the operation of the secret project.
In return, Shultz himself has become the target of a behind-the-scenes campaign by some White House aides to fix the blame for Reagan's failure to sell the public on his explanation of his Iran policy.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Thursday that Shultz participated in two meetings with the President in which the operation was discussed.
And Robert C. McFarlane, who as Poindexter's predecessor as national security adviser was the architect of the negotiations with Iran, directly contradicted Shultz's claim that he knew little about the operation. "I told him repeatedly and often of every item that went on in this enterprise," McFarlane said.
"They don't know what they're doing over there," said a former senior aide to Reagan who retains close ties to the White House. "But they are united in pointing the finger at George Shultz for disloyalty.
"They say he's the reason you can't engender public and congressional support for the President, that everybody says, 'how can you expect me to support the policy when your own secretary of state isn't on board? ' They're trying to scapegoat Shultz."
That source and two others--a senior White House aide and another former senior aide who maintain close relations with the White House--predicted that Shultz would soon resign of his own accord.
"He'll leave sooner rather than later because he's fed up and has had it and his own credibility can't be repaired," said one of the former aides, who is sympathetic with Shultz.
A senior State Department official said any report that the White House staff is seeking to oust Shultz "is not worthy of comment--I've heard absolutely nothing even remotely like that."
Shultz himself has spoken out strongly against the arms-and-hostages policy and, during a television interview last Sunday, indicated that he had discussed with Reagan the possibility of resigning.
Denies Resignation Talk