The Carter administration yesterday successfully stalled any congressional inquiry into U.S. involvement in Iran until after the presidential elections.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee shelved a resolution of inquiry by voice vote after a State Department letter, on behalf of the White House, opposed the resolution because "the situation in Iran is extremely delicate at this time."
The resolution, introduced by Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark Jr. (D-Calif.), asked the White House to furnish within 30 days a copy of the "Iran Papers," a State Department report consisting of 60,000 pages of documents and a 500-page summary on four decades of U.S. involvement in Iran. The documents are said to include sensitive communications between U.S. officials and highly classified government reports which could, like the Pentagon Papers, raise serious questions about the U.S. foreign policy of many presidents including Carter.
"We believe the national interest would not be served by furnishing the information at this time," Assistant Secretary of State J. Brian Atwood said in his Sept. 29 letter to Committee Chairman Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.).
Stark's resolution called for the White House to produce a variety of other documents and records containing criticisms of national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's handling of the revolution by the former U.S. ambassador to Iran, William He. Sullivan.
Zablocki asked the White House for comment.
The White House referred the response to the State Department, suggesting that it be answered on Friday, after Congress' expected recess. Since Congress will not reconvene until the second week in November, the effect would be to delay any congressional inquiry until after the presidential election. The White House said the choice of date was a clerical error and not to ploy.
The State Department congressional relations office reminded the White House that the committee's last meeting before the recess would be today and sent a letter opposing any release of the papers.
According to Robert A. Flaten, a deputy assistant secretary of state, the administration's decision not to cooperate with any injury was a routine "policy decision to try to avoid getting the issue into political debate until the hostages are freed."
Sources familiar with the "Iran Papers" study have also said that Carter and Brzezinski refused request by the study task force for specific documents describing their role in events leading up to the revolution.
According to administration sources, the White House is particularly concerned that additional details about the president's role in U.S. policy toward Iran before the hostages were taken last November might damage his reelection effort. At the same time, a frank admission of the U.S. involvement in Iran -- including Carter's role -- would help secure the safe release of the hostages rather than impede it, these sources insist.
"Public reports about the content of any particular document, accurate or inaccurate, in or out of context, could have an adverse impact on governmental or public opinion in Iran," Atwood's letter to Zablocki said.
This "could affect the safety or return of our hostages or the restoration of peace and normal economic and political relations in the Persian Gulf area."
"The Iranian parliament recently began its consideration of what it will do about the American hostages and the coming weeks could be critical in determining the hostages' fate.
"The outbreak of fighting between Iran and Iraq adds a new and very serious element of instability to the situation," Atwood wrote.
"Information on this subject will be provided to the Congress in appropriate channels at an appropriate time after the hostages are freed," the letter said.
Before the vote, Zablocki reportedly said Stark agreed to have his resolution tabled.
Stark apparently felt the White House opposition meant no inquiry would be even debated in the House unitl after the election, according to his office.