Days after the first disclosures of the U.S.-Iran arms deals in November, U.S. and Iranian negotiators meeting secretly in Geneva decided to postpone deliveries of American weapons and medicine to Iran only "until the situation cooled down," according to informed sources.
Under a plan initially worked out in October, the next phase of U.S. deliveries was to involve a shipment of pharmaceuticals to Tehran to be followed quickly by a delivery of 500 U.S. TOW antitank missiles and up to 100 launchers and later by 1,000 more TOWs, according to the October plan. A source familiar with the transactions said that a shipment of pharmaceuticals, obtained through the Central Intelligence Agency, was already positioned in Israel for movement to Iran when the operation was disrupted by the first published reports on Nov. 4 of the U.S.-Iran arms deals.
The plan called for these shipments to closely follow the release of American hostage David P. Jacobsen, who had been freed Nov. 2 in return for an earlier shipment of 500 TOW missiles. Publicity about secret U.S. dealings with Iran interrupted the planned sequence of events.
A "damage control" plan was worked out by then-White House aide Oliver L. North at weekend meetings Nov. 8 and 9 in Geneva with the same Iranian representatives who had helped arrange Jacobsen's release. North and his Iranian intermediaries hoped to preserve the agreement they had reached in October, according to this source.
On Nov. 10, the White House, which had up to that time refused comment on what it described as "speculative stories" about arms sales to Iran, released a statement saying that President Reagan had reviewed the administration's efforts to release all American hostages being held in Lebanon and asked his advisers not to make comments because "hostage lives are at stake." This statement did not mention selling arms to Iran.
During the Oval Office meeting with his top advisers before release of the statement, then-Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, national security adviser at the time, told the group that Marine Lt. Col. North was just back from Geneva and "says might get two more hostages by weekend," according to recently released notes of the meeting. The president also directed his advisers, "We don't talk TOWs, we don't talk specifics."
When Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a vocal opponent of the program, asked the president if there would be more arms sales, Reagan changed the subject, according to the notes.
On Nov. 13, the president gave a nationally televised speech in which he acknowledged for the first time that some arms had been sold to Iran. But he also declared the United States "did not -- repeat -- did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages -- nor will we." It was not until Nov. 17 that the White House announced that Reagan had no plans for further arms shipments to Iran.
North, representing Poindexter, was accompanied to the Nov. 8-9 meeting by George Cave, a CIA specialist who represented then-CIA Director William J. Casey. Also present were retired major general Richard V. Secord, North's principal private sector operative in the Iran and contra operations, and Secord's partner, Albert A. Hakim.
On the Iranian side were representatives of the "second channel," which has been identified as a relative of Iranian parliamentary leader Hashemi Rafsanjani and associates.
Their discussion was based on a nine-point agreement they had drafted on Oct. 8 in Frankfurt.
Confirmation that the deal was still on has come from pilots for Southern Air Transport, which delivered the 500 TOWs at the end of October. Before they left Iran, the pilots were asked by Iranian Revolutionary Guards when they would be returning with "the medical supplies," according to sources. That was the first hint the pilots had that there would be another flight to Tehran.
Because of the press disclosures, the Nov. 8-9 Geneva meeting was devoted mainly to providing the Iranians with what was described as "damage control," rather than on negotiating new steps. However, the source knowledgeable about the negotiations said North did not go to Geneva to break off the operation, but to "preserve it in the face of the difficulties," an objective that he said the negotiators assumed had been approved by Reagan.
During the weeks after the Geneva meeting, the Iranians continued to communicate with North at the National Security Council, using devices provided by Secord. After North left the White House, the Iranians dealt directly with the CIA. According to a memo by Shultz, CIA Director Casey personally took calls from the Iranians.
The next direct contact occurred in Frankfurt on Dec. 13. The Iranians arrived at that meeting with a list of advanced weapons they hoped to acquire.