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Iran-Contra affair: 1985-1986

The Iran-Contra affair, a serious blow to the Reagan administration, combines in its name two far removed parts of the world - Iran and Nicaragua, where the Contras are conducting a guerrilla war against the Sandinista regime. What links them is that each is an area where US prohibitions apply. And in each the Reagan administration secretly and illegally flouts the declared restrictions.

It is stated American policy not to bargain with terrorists and not to assist Iran in its long-running war with Iraq. Equally the Boland amendment of 1984 outlaws any further assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua. The government agency which rides roughshod through these restrictions is the National Security Council.

In 1985 several American citizens are being held hostage in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a group of Shi'ite terrorists sponsored ny Iran (see The Shi'as). In the hope that it will secure their release, Robert McFarlane (head of the National Security Council) arranges for the sale of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. For this and subsequent transactions the Iran government pays $48 million.

It is clandestine money and an NSC employee, Oliver North, puts it to another clandestine purpose. With the approval of John Poindexter (McFarlane's successor as head of the NSC) he uses it to subsidize the Contras in their subversive activities against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

These activities come to light in 1986 and cause a furore, resulting in the resignation of Poindexter, a suicide attempt by McFarlane and the eventual criminal conviction of Oliver North - for a cover-up operation (falsifying and destroying documents) rather than for the events themselves.

Poindexter testifies that he never told President Reagan that the proceeds of the arms deal to Iraq were being diverted to the Contras, and Reagan when questioned is able to remember very little of the affair. But as president he accepts responsibility. His approval rating with the public takes a sharp dive.

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