WASHINGTON — President Reagan admitted today that he discussed secret Saudi contributions to the contra rebels in a private meeting with King Fahd in 1985, but said the monarch raised the subject.
"My diary shows I never brought it up," Reagan said.
"I expressed pleasure that he was doing that," Reagan said of Fahd's contributions to the contra cause, made at a time when U.S. assistance was banned by Congress. But, the President added, "There was no solicitation that I know of, or anything of the kind."
By commenting to reporters on the subject, Reagan took the extraordinary step of discussing in public what he had jotted down in private, handwritten diaries.
He has allowed congressional investigators to examine but not copy typed excerpts from the diaries. The excerpts chosen for release to the probers were selected by the White House.
Congressional hearings into the Iran-contra scandal have delved deeply this week into whether Administration officials solicited Saudi aid to the contras during a congressional ban on direct or indirect American aid. Reagan has insisted he was unaware of any such activity.
Questioned at the start of a meeting with Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo, Reagan took issue with reports--based on testimony by former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane--that he had raised the issue of contra aid during Fahd's state visit.
McFarlane had suggested on Monday that Reagan might have discussed the Saudi contributions in his meeting with Fahd. On Tuesday, he said that based on his knowledge of Reagan's diary jottings, he had not meant to imply that the President had raised the issue.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said today that top White House officials "have no idea" who discussed the contents of Reagan's diaries with McFarlane.
Asked whether the White House had leaked to McFarlane material from Reagan's diary to reinforce the President's statements about not soliciting aid from third countries for the contras, Fitzwater said, "That's not true."
He said Reagan had not spoken to McFarlane since the former aide was hospitalized in early February following a suicide attempt.
Earlier, Reagan told reporters, "My diary shows that I never brought it up. It shows that the king, before he left, told me that he was doing that and that he was going to increase the aid."
Reagan added, "There was no solicitation that I know of, or anything of the kind. I did know . . . (was) informed that he was helping . . . but I never brought it up."
"The subject was never broached until he was leaving, told me what he was doing," Reagan said, adding that "I expressed pleasure that he was doing that."
Saudi officials have denied giving aid to the contras, or that Reagan and the Saudi king ever discussed the subject. But congressional investigators have said that Saudi Arabia gave a total of $32.5 million to the contras in 1984 and 1985.