Following are excerpts from testimony yesterday by Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who began his appearance before the House and Senate committees with a statement.

As the attorney general of the United States, it is . . . one of my responsibilities to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. In that capacity, I . . . assist the president in making sure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed . . . . I am assigned the responsibility of creating legal advice and opinions to the president . . . {and am} a member of the president's cabinet and, thus, . . . {am} one of the general advisers to the president and the executive branch.

My exposure to the Iran-contra matter was not confined to any one of those areas of responsibility, but, from time to time, has touched them all . . . .My first exposure was . . . brief. I recall on {Jan. 7, 1986} being asked to attend a meeting with the president in the Oval Office along with other members of the cabinet and certain members of the White House staff . . . . {Rear Adm. John M.} Poindexter and {CIA} director {William J.} Casey raised the proposed Iran initiative. As described, the initiative involved overtures to more moderate elements in Iran and the cultivation of a relationship that could, in the future, be to the geopolitical advantage of the United States . . . . {It} was also seen as a means for decreasing Iranian sponsorship of terrorism, for stalling Soviet designs on the area and gaining Iranian assistance for the release of the Americans then being held hostage in the Middle East.

. . . The meeting included a brief discussion that a presidential finding would be necessary because of the proposed involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency. I believe there was also a discussion of the necessity of notifying Congress and the legality of delaying that notification because of the extreme hazard to the hostages and others. I do not recall anyone at the meeting arguing in favor of immediate notification . . . . The president decided that the project was worth pursuing and directed Adm. Poindexter and director Casey to proceed.

. . . After reviewing the statute, I concurred with the Central Intelligence Agency's advice that notification to Congress could, in the circumstances, be postponed due to the imminent danger facing the hostages.

. . . I was among those not kept advised of the Iranian initiative after rendering {this} advice . . . .

. . . In early November of 1986, events occurred which were of great consequence to the Iranian initiative. On or about {Nov. 4}, following publication of the story in a Middle Eastern journal, American newspapers began to print widely varying accounts of this matter.

. . . I believe that because the Iranian initiative had been such a highly sensitive matter and because it had been so rigidly compartmentalized, no one seemed to have all the facts . . . .

It was for this reason that I went to see the president {on Nov. 21}. The president agreed totally with my assessment and directed me to commence an immediate review . . . . The essential point to keep in mind is that our purpose was not to conduct a criminal investigation. Indeed, on {Nov. 21}, there was no hint that criminal activity was in any way implicated in the Iranian arms transactions . . . .

John W. Nields Jr., chief counsel for the House select committee, then began questioning Meese.

Q: Did anyone make any reference to any of the prior history of this initiative at {the Jan. 7, 1986} meeting?

A: No, at that meeting I do not remember any reference to the prior history of the initiative. I thought afterwards that it's possible some people might have made allusions to it, but I would not have had the background to pick up the allusion if they had . . . .

Q: Did anyone tell you during any of these meetings that the president had one month earlier {Dec. 5, 1985} signed a finding in connection with this initiative which called for postponed notification to Congress?

A: No, sir. I cannot recall any mention of that at all . . . .

Q: . . . During the week of {Nov. 3, 1986}, some newspaper reports appeared making reference to this initiative?

A: That's correct.

Q: And I think that the record reflects that initially the president indicated publicly that these were without foundation, or words to that effect. But the articles continued, and there was a meeting of various members of the National Security Council on {Nov. 10, 1986}. Do you have a recollection of that meeting?

A: . . . Yes . . . .I'm looking now at my notes to refresh my recollection. I see a note that I took that says, "Washington, D.C., too much talk," which may have to do with the press accounts. And I see here my note that says, "Lives of those with whom we deal, for example in Iran, could be jeopardized," which I'm sure was at least possibly in reference to how this should be handled in the news media. I don't have any other notes, but I am sure that at least a part of that meeting was involved with how this should be handled with the press.

Q: What was the president's position on that subject at that meeting?

A: . . . {The president's} position, as best I can recall, was that we should be very careful in statements to the press for a variety of reasons . . . . I believe the principal concern that the president had in regard to the way in which this is treated by the news media was to do nothing that would endanger either the hostages or the people in Iran.

Q: There's another set of notes that relates to this meeting, which is Exhibit 19. They are Mr. {Alton G.} Keel {Jr.}'s notes. . . . It is attributed to the president, "We don't talk TOWs, don't talk specifics." Is that consistent with your recollection of the position that the president took at the meeting?

A: . . . I don't have any recollection one way or the other whether he said that specifically. I do know that with the more details that were given, such as TOWs, the more danger there would have been to the people in Iran and presumably to the hostages as well. So that that would not be inconsistent with what I recall as the general tenor of the meeting.

Nields asked about President Reagan's Nov. 19 news conference on the sale of arms to Iran.

Q: Did you listen to the press conference?

A: Yes. I was working late that night, and so I listened to a part of it in the car going home {and watched most of the remainder on television at home}.

Q: Did you hear anything that caught your attention or needed further attention?

A: Yes, I had heard or seen . . . that the president had . . . mentioned that there had been no third countries involved, or words to that effect.

Q: And did you do something as a consequence?

A: Yes. Actually, my feeling at the end of the news conference was that I felt the president had not been properly briefed based upon all the information even that was discussed at our prior meeting on {Nov. 10} because the president is very good with facts and with details if he's received the proper information. And so I was concerned that . . . the answers he had given on {Nov. 19} were not consistent with him . . . having been thoroughly briefed for that news conference, including particularly this matter of no third country being involved . . . .

I called Adm. Poindexter. It was primarily the reference to the third country, but this also was a question. And I was . . . concerned about all of the answers that they didn't seem to be the usual crisp, clear way that the president has when he's in possession of all the facts. And so I called Adm. Poindexter and . . . Adm. Poindexter said that the White House was issuing a clarification or a correction within a few minutes on the third-country aspect.

On the evening of Nov. 22, 1986, after Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds found a memo in the office of National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North indicating that profits from the sale of arms to Iran might be diverted to the contras in Nicaragua, Meese met with CIA Director Casey at Casey's home.

Q: Well, you had just read a memorandum from Col. North's files that contemplated money from the Iranian arms sales going to the contras. Did you mention that to Mr. Casey?

A: No, I didn't, and for very good reason. I felt that while this was some preliminary information that we had gotten, I didn't know where it would go or what it involved until we talked to Col. North. . . . Incidentally, I didn't know this came from Col. North's files. It came from the documents that had been presented to us by the National Security Council staff, so I didn't know what the origin was. But . . . I felt it was not appropriate to discuss this with anyone, even as good a friend as Mr. Casey, until after I'd found out what it was all about.

Rep. Bill McCollum Jr. (R-Fla.) later questioned the attorney general.

Q: Let's talk about some of the misleading things that occurred {on the weekend of Nov. 22 and 23}. I think some of that needs to be laid out. . . . You had {discussions} . . . with {former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane}, several small chit-chats with Adm. Poindexter, a long discussion with Col. North and a couple of discussions with Mr. Casey. And during all of that time, . . . Adm. Poindexter . . . never volunteered to you, nor did he in any way come forward and say, "We had a finding, Ed, . . . we had a finding back in December, and here's a copy of it. Maybe this will help you." He never did that, did he?

A: At no time did Adm. Poindexter produce the finding that you're referring to.