WASHINGTON — Taiwan sent $2 million in aid to the Nicaraguan contras in 1985 after a National Security Council aide asked Taiwanese officials to make a contribution, congressional sources said Tuesday.
The aide, Gaston J. Sigur Jr., approached the Taiwanese at the suggestion of then-NSC official Oliver L. North, who was running a secret program to coordinate foreign and private aid for the contras, the sources said.
Congress had prohibited U.S. government aid to the rebels at the time, and Robert C. McFarlane, then President Reagan's national security adviser, publicly promised that his staff would not solicit foreign aid for the contras.
Sigur made a second request for aid in 1986, said a message from North released Tuesday by the House and Senate committees investigating the Iran-contra scandal.
'Time Is Running Out'
"Any thoughts where we can put our hands on a quick $3-5 (million)?" North asked McFarlane in the April, 1986, message, sent on the NSC's internal communications system. "Gaston is going back to his friends, who have given $2 (million) so far, in hopes that we can bridge things again, but time is running out along with the money." It could not be determined whether Taiwan made a subsequent contribution.
The accounts suggest that Sigur made the most direct solicitation known of any foreign country for aid to the contras.
They also suggest that Sigur may have violated McFarlane's orders to his staff in approaching the Taiwanese. McFarlane has testified that he repeatedly told all NSC aides to avoid any direct solicitation of aid for the contras, to avoid breaking the congressional ban on indirect U.S. aid to the rebels.
Another reason for avoiding such solicitation, McFarlane said, is that it would put the Administration secretly in political debt to any government that contributed. "You always have to consider what is it that you may invite by way of reciprocal gesture," he testified on Monday.
$32 Million From Saudis
McFarlane has testified that he helped to arrange contributions totaling about $32 million to the contras from another country, identified as Saudi Arabia, but he has defended his actions as falling short of solicitation.
Sigur, now assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, refused to comment on the report. "He is going to be appearing before the committees and he'll say whatever he has to say up there," a spokesman, Kenneth Bailes, said.
Taiwan's representative office in Washington also refused to comment. Taiwan and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since the Carter Administration recognized the People's Republic of China in 1979, although the United States still sells weapons to Taipei. The Wall Street Journal first reported the Taiwanese contribution Monday.
Sigur, a conservative Asian scholar, took pro-Taiwan positions before he joined the NSC staff and participated in several academic conferences that were jointly sponsored with institutions on Taiwan, colleagues said.
McFarlane, without identifying Taiwan by name, told the committees that Sigur reported his talks with an Asian nation in late 1985. Sigur said North had asked him to contact the country's officials, McFarlane said.
"I was very firm in saying to him: 'Absolutely no participation by you or any other staff member in any kind of approach to this country. If they want to make a gift, that's their business and they must do it bilaterally themselves, not with us.' " McFarlane said.
Nevertheless, North told McFarlane in April, 1986, that Sigur was again approaching the Taiwanese. At the time, McFarlane had resigned from his job as national security adviser but was preparing for his secret trip to Iran to negotiate an arms sale.
In the same message, North said he also was considering asking Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot to contribute money for the contras--but feared that Perot could not keep such an arrangement secret.
"Went to (Central America) to try and reassure our friends--both govts and resistance--that we would get funding (for the contras) thru the Congress," North wrote to McFarlane. "In the four years I have been working on this effort, it was the most depressing session to date. There is great despair that we may fail in this effort and the resistance support acct is darned near broke. . . .
"Have told Dick (retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord) to prepare to sell the ship (the Erria, a freighter bought to ship contra arms) first and then the a/c (aircraft) as a means of sustaining the effort. Where we go after that is a very big question. How about Ross? As you know, have never asked him for help in this regard, believing that he wd be inclined to talk about it. It may now be time to take that risk. Any thoughts?"
" . . . Keep the faith. NORTH."