SHANGHAI — In their first public remarks on the Tower Commission report on the Iran- contra scandal, Cabinet Secretaries George P. Shultz and Caspar W. Weinberger Thursday rejected criticism that they had distanced themselves from the affair.
Secretary of State Shultz, who was traveling in China, disputed the conclusion of the commission, headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), that he had intentionally avoided learning details of the U.S. arms shipments to Iran and the diversion of profits to Nicaragua's rebels to protect himself from possible criticism.
Secretary of Defense Weinberger, who was making an appearance at Harvard University in Boston, also disputed conclusions of the report. He called the Tower panel's criticisms of him "naked conclusions" not supported by the evidence, according to wire service reports.
Argued Against Deal
At a press conference at Harvard's annual Model Congress for high school students, Weinberger declared that both Cabinet members had argued against the Iran arms deal.
"I am perfectly confident and content with the fact that I presented many, many times to the President all of the arguments that I could think of, as did George Shultz, both together and separately, as to why this shouldn't be done," he said.
At a press conference in Shanghai, Shultz declared: "I do not agree that my actions were designed somehow or other to make a record to protect myself. I don't operate that way."
But he confirmed that he had told the White House staff that he and other State Department officials should be told no more about the arms sales to Iran than they needed to know to perform their other duties.
Shultz said that the reason he did not want to be told all of the details of the secret operations was to avoid being accused of having leaked the information if it should become public.
"There was . . . about that time a lot of concern about leaks and even lie detector tests (were proposed to apprehend those who leaked information) and so on," Shultz said. "So, as there was to be some activity conducted with respect to Iran and, obviously, it was to be kept secret, I took the position that I wanted to know what I needed to know and the department should know what it needed to know in order to do our job."
Shultz had refused to comment on the report of the commission until after President Reagan made public his own reaction.
Listened to Radio
The secretary of state listened to the Voice of America broadcast of Reagan's speech Thursday morning, China time, holding a portable shortwave radio receiver close to his ear as he rode by train from Qufu, the hometown of the sage Confucius, to the closest airport for the flight to Shanghai.
"I, also, like the President, was misled," Shultz said.
Shultz praised Reagan's conclusion that the proper reaction to the scandal was to "take your knocks, and then you move on." The secretary of state said he was determined to "move on with our (foreign policy) agenda."
He objected most strongly to the commission's conclusion that he and Weinberger had "simply distanced themselves from the program. They protected the record as to their own positions on this issue."
NSC Actions Cited
Shultz said the report itself shows that "there were numerable instances when the (National Security Council) staff people involved went out of their way to see to it that something did not come to our attention."
Weinberger, in remarks published in an interview in the Thursday Baltimore Sun, called the Tower panel's contention that he and Shultz had sat by and let the President down "unjustified and unwarranted and not supported by any evidence."
The secretary of defense, who had called the arms deal absurd, insisted that he had done all he could to oppose it. He told the newspaper that he has stood by that assertion "repeatedly and to the point of giving offense" within the Administration.
But Weinberger told the newspaper that he was "kept out of meetings and conversations and discussions" by former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane and then-National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter.
Didn't Know of Meetings
The defense secretary said he "obviously" did not know about the meetings at the time. "There were a lot of misstatements made and a lot of systematic exclusion of both George Shultz and me, and that's because people didn't want opposing views presented in various meetings," Weinberger was quoted as saying.
The Iran-contra scandal haunted Shultz during the five days of his visit to China. He flies to South Korea and Japan today on his way home.
Although senior State Department officials said Shultz's trip showed that he was keeping his pledge to get on with the job, they conceded that his absence from Washington at the time of the Tower Commission report was awkward.