WASHINGTON — President Reagan today answered questions for the first time from a three-member panel investigating the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and other programs undertaken by the White House's National Security Council staff.
"In the course of the meeting the President answered all of the panel's questions," a White House statement issued afterward said.
"The wide-ranging review included the development of policy in relation to Iran, the factual history of the President's role in the Iran initiative and the U.S. foreign policy process in general," the statement said.
It said that Reagan invited the panel to meet again and that such a session was likely. It said today's meeting lasted 76 minutes.
No Verbatim Transcript
White House officials said Reagan's comments at the meeting will not be released. Nor will a verbatim transcript or recording be made of the discussion, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said last week. He said the commission believed that it would be "somewhat beneath the dignity of the office" to take a transcript.
Accompanied by two aides, Reagan met in the Oval Office with the panel he appointed last Nov. 26 after disclosing that profits from the arms sale had been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels. The NSC played a central role in what has become the most serious crisis of Reagan's presidency.
For the interview, Reagan was joined by White House counsel Peter Wallison and Charles Brower, the deputy to David M. Abshire, the President's point man on the Iran- contra scheme.
Despite heavy snow in Washington, all three commission members attended: former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser in the Ford Administration. Two committee staff members also were present.
Hostages Said Secondary Goal
Reagan has maintained that his chief motivation in the Iran arms dealing was an attempt to reopen U.S. dealings with a strategically important nation and that gaining the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon was only a secondary goal.
Reagan has made no public mention of the Iran-contra affair since before Christmas and has not answered any questions about it since a news conference Nov. 19.
Meanwhile, congressional sources said the Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing a report that says freedom for American hostages was one of the main goals motivating Reagan's approval of arms sales to Iran.
The Senate report is being prepared by the staff of the Democratic-controlled committee and will be circulated to panel members later this week, said the sources, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The conclusion that freedom for the hostages held by Iranian-influenced groups was a major goal is similar to statements made by legislators who have looked at the evidence. But the report would be the first time that an investigating body has concluded that freedom for the hostages was a high priority.