WASHINGTON — Closing a brief but contentious debate over President Bush's role in the Iran-Contra scandal, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday approved the nomination of Donald P. Gregg to be ambassador to South Korea, despite lingering questions about his relationship with former White House aide Oliver L. North.
By a vote of 12 to 7, the panel recommended that the full Senate confirm the nomination of Gregg, who served as then-Vice President Bush's national security adviser during most of the Ronald Reagan Administration.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) had charged that Gregg, a former CIA officer, was involved in North's secret efforts to provide aid to Nicaragua's Contra rebels during the period when Congress had prohibited such funding.
Cranston also accused Gregg of "misleading" the committee by denying that he knew anything about North's covert operations in Central America during 1985 and 1986.
But Gregg insisted that despite several meetings with North and others involved in the operation--and documents from those meetings that referred to supplies for the Contras--he did not realize what was going on until news reports of the activities at the end of 1986.
"We are being asked to reward a man many of us do not believe has been straight with us while under oath," Cranston said. "We are being asked to promote a man to a crucial diplomatic post whose judgment--by his own admission--has been so flawed that he twice offered to resign from then-Vice President Bush's staff."
"Mr. Gregg has not been straight with us," Cranston repeated. "The implications for Mr. Gregg--and for the President--are not pleasant ones."
But Cranston failed to sway any of the panel's nine Republicans. Three Democrats--Sens. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) and Terry Sanford (D-N.C.)--also voted in favor of Gregg's confirmation.
'Benefit of Doubt'
"I have concluded that Mr. Gregg and the President should be given the benefit of the doubt," said Pell, the committee's chairman and a liberal Democrat.
Robb, a Southern moderate, said that he considers Gregg's account "as reasonable and believable as I think we could expect under the circumstances."
Cranston's evidence included two 1986 memos from Gregg to Bush setting up a briefing on "resupply of the Contras" and a 1985 entry in North's personal notebook that appears to record a meeting with Gregg to discuss the Contras' logistical needs. Gregg said that he did not know how the term "resupply of the Contras" had landed in his memo and denied that the briefing covered that issue. He also denied attending the meeting that was described in North's notebook.
Meanwhile, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said that he would attempt to block three of President Bush's other ambassadorial nominees on grounds that their only qualifications appeared to be large contributions to Republican political campaigns.
He said he would fight the nominations of Joseph Zappala to be ambassador to Spain, Melvin F. Sembler to be ambassador to Australia, and Della M. Newman to be ambassador to New Zealand.
Newman was asked by a New Zealand newspaper after her nomination if she could name the country's prime minister--David Lange--and could not. Her husband, Wells McCurdy, was a fund raiser for Bush's presidential campaign.
"It's one thing, on occasion, to have to hold your nose and approve a nomination like this, but we're being asked to do it again and again and again," Sarbanes complained.