WASHINGTON — Here are excerpts from former President Ronald Reagan's testimony as a defense witness in the Iran-Contra trial of his former national security adviser, John M. Poindexter . Richard W. Beckler, Poindexter's lead attorney, questioned Reagan about internal Administration meetings on the "Iran initiative":
Question: Maybe you could tell the jury a little bit about what you recall about those meetings and the fact that there was disagreement and so on?
Answer: Yes. I do recall that word had come back from our people dealing with the Iranians that they wanted something, some evidence, that would make them confident that they were meeting with people who had access to the top levels of government in our country.
And the thing that the Iranian representative had suggested was a single shipment of TOW anti-tank missiles to be sold to them, not given . . . .
And my word back to our people was that we had a policy that we did not do business with a government that supported terrorism.
The answer that came back was that these individuals did not support terrorism, and there was some documentation to the effect that they had shown an opposition to terrorism wherever they had an opportunity . . . .
And I made the decision that there was one thing upon which we could base selling them this single order of TOW missiles that could be transported in a single--in one airplane, and that was that we had some nine hostages being held by the Hezbollah, which had a kind of philosophical relationship with Iran, and that, if they would use their efforts to get our hostages freed, yes, we would make this sale.
They agreed that they would do that. And so the shipment was sent. And I can't place the timing, but very shortly thereafter, we had received two of the hostages, not together--one at a time--and were told that two more would be available within probably 48 hours.
And it was at about this time that the little weekly newspaper in Beirut printed an erroneous story that we were doing business directly with the Khomeini and trading arms for hostages.
If you want the disagreement that occurred between our people, some of the people said that this would--they didn't say that it was trading (arms) for hostages 'cause it wasn't. My answer--they said it would be made to appear that way if it ever came to light. My answer to that was that, if I had a child kidnaped and held for ransom, and if I knew of someone who had perhaps the ability to get that child back, it wouldn't be dealing with the kidnapers to ask that individual to do that. And it would be perfectly legitimate for me to reward that individual for doing this.
Q: Mr. President, perhaps you could explain to the members of the jury whether the Contra support, the freedom fighter support, was one of--was a very important issue that concerned you during your tenure as President?
A: Yes, it was very important. Here was one of the countries in the Americas that had evidently been picked for becoming a Soviet satellite. The Sandinistas, the revolution to overthrow the dictator, the Sandinistas were a part of the revolutionary group. The revolution was also made up of other people and citizens of Nicaragua.
And the Sandinistas and the revolution sent to the Organization of American States a request that they urge Somoza, the dictator, to step down and end the killing in that revolution. And the Organization of American States asked for a report as to what were the aims of the revolutionaries who were making this request. And they gave those aims, and it was multiple parties. It was freedom of choice. It was freedom of press. It was all the things we believe are pure democracy.
And so the organization asked Somoza, and he said: "If it will save killing more people, I will step down." And he did.
Then the Sandinistas were the only organized group in the revolution. They seized power. They even exiled some of the leaders of the revolution, jailed some of them, and they took over the government. They announced that the revolution would not stop at their borders, that they were going to carry it on to other countries. They made it very plain that they were going to create what they had created, a communist government.
And the people of Nicaragua began trying to revolt, but they would wind up herded into jail. I was visited in Washington by two clergymen, neither one of whom had any ears. The Sandinistas had cut his ears off. And not a word of that had ever appeared in our public press, even though I introduced one man to a great group of the press in the East Room of the White House.
And they had a great disinformation campaign, which divided the people outside Nicaragua as to who should get support--the Sandinista government, or the group that had seized the government, or the Contras, who were freedom fighters, who wanted to have what we have in our own country and that the result of the revolution would be a democracy.