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North Sought Taiwan Aid During Textile Bill Debate

May 15, 1987|KAREN TUMULTY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — While the Reagan Administration and Congress were locked in an intense struggle in 1985 over a bill that would have restricted Taiwanese textile imports, White House aide Oliver L. North secretly was asking Taiwan to contribute to Nicaragua's contras , testimony to the congressional committees investigating the Iran-contra affair revealed Thursday.

There are no signs that the $2 million Taiwan eventually gave the contras influenced President Reagan's decision to veto the textile bill, said Rep. Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.), a member of the committee who raised the issue. But the secret dealings, Jenkins said, are "extremely dangerous from a perception standpoint."

The Georgia Democrat led the effort to win passage of the textile bill, which he hoped would save jobs in his home state. Because he had also been among the few Democrats who supported the Administration's efforts to secure aid for the contras, he said that he was "disturbed, disappointed, shocked" to learn of the secret solicitation from Taiwan.

Jenkins and other committee members, probing the Administration's efforts to secure donations to the contras from other countries, said that the actions put the White House on questionable legal ground and may have raised foreign expectations of favors in return.

Former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, ending four days of testimony, denied a Washington Post report that he personally had asked Saudi Arabia's King Fahd to make a contribution in February, 1985, at a time when Congress had banned government intelligence agencies from giving direct or indirect aid to the contras. The Saudis ultimately gave what has been estimated to have been more than $30 million to the contras.

"I remember no such meeting," McFarlane said flatly. Reagan said Wednesday that the subject of Saudi contributions to the rebels had come up during a White House meeting with the king, but insisted that "there was no solicitation that I know of or anything of the kind."

However, those who worked for Reagan were actively encouraging donations to the contras from foreign countries, testimony showed.

McFarlane Reveals Doubts

McFarlane also said he faults himself for "not having the guts" to tell Reagan that he did not think the Administration's contra policy would effectively combat Soviet influence in Central America.

He said he feared that if he voiced his doubts, he would have been called "some kind of a commie."

While Soviet involvement in Central America was a grave problem that required some action, he said, "we didn't choose the right instrument to do it."

" . . . Succinctly put, where I went wrong, was not having the guts to stand up and tell the President that. To tell you the truth, probably the reason I didn't is because if I'd done that, (CIA Director) Bill Casey, (U.N. Ambassador) Jeane Kirkpatrick and (Defense Secretary) Cap Weinberger would have said I was some kind of a commie, you know."

Describes North's Efforts

Gaston J. Sigur Jr., now assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, who followed McFarlane, told the committees that while he was working at the White House in 1985 as the National Security Council's East Asian policy specialist, he assisted North in efforts to secure money and arms for the contras from at least three countries.

None of the identities of the countries was disclosed during testimony, but sources identified two of them as Taiwan and South Korea.

Sigur said that he approached what sources identified as a Taiwanese official at North's suggestion that the country "might have an interest in giving some assistance, financial assistance, in the humanitarian area to the contras."

Ridicules Stated Motives

Dismissing the idea that the money went toward such humanitarian ends as medical supplies and food, Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) interjected: "Let the record show that several million dollars from (Taiwan) was transferred into the Swiss bank account of that great world humanitarian organization, Lake Resources (which financed military supplies for the contras and which) has not been known for buying much rice or wheat."

After some back and forth, Taiwan--identified during testimony only as "Country No. 3"--finally agreed to contribute $1 million in the fall of 1985 and added another $1 million at North's request several months later.

Sigur said that North also pressed him in mid-1985 for an introduction to an official from "Country No. 5," which sources said was South Korea. He said he gave North the official's phone number, and vice versa, but added: "I have no idea whether they ever saw each other, or ever got together. Neither one of them ever spoke to me about it again."

In a third instance, Sigur said he arranged a lunch in November, 1984, at which North and an official from another country talked about "the possibility of arms sales by this particular country . . . to countries in Central America."

Receives North's Reassurances

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