Dear Mr. Vice President: It was good of you to write. I very much appreciate your answering the questions about the Iran-contra controversy put to you in this space two days ago. You had asked to be asked, and I was glad to oblige.

I hope you will not think me less grateful when I tell you that I am more obliged than enlightened. Your answers prompt more questions, I regret to say.

For instance, in response to my request to detail the "mistakes" you say were made, you cite the absence of "a formal NSC {National Security Council} meeting on the Iran initiative where all risks and benefits could be aired by all the participants at the same time."

What makes an NSC meeting "formal," and why does it matter if the principals are all there? You say that you were not at the Dec. 7, 1985, meeting -- we all know that you were at the Army-Navy game that day. I was talking about Jan. 7, 1986, in the Oval Office, when Secretary of State George P. Shultz says he all but pounded the table in expressing outrage over the idea of sending arms to Iran.

You say your records indicated that you "probably" attended. Surely, if Shultz, who is a pretty composed human being, spoke as forcefully as he says he did, it would stick in your mind.

In a way, it's not important whether you were there or who said what. You had more years of foreign policy experience than anyone in the room. Surely you did not have to hear Shultz -- or then-Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, who was also opposed -- to reach an independent judgment that this was a terrible idea.

You were aware of the grisly reports about Khomeini's mass torture and executions, his silencing of dissent with firing squad and gallows.

As a practicing politician, you knew how the public, not just the crazy left, felt about the ayatollah. Does your acquiescence indicate a feeling that a vice president owes a president loyalty more than common sense?

I understand your inhibitions about revealing your private conversations with the president. That relationship may be in the doctor-patient or lawyer-client class of confidentiality. But you make a statement that releases you from the bond. You say that "in settings with others present, I expressed the concerns stated above" and you add, "There were apparently others who shared those concerns."

I feel invited to ask you what the "settings" were, who the "others" were and what concerns you expressed. Were they related to the lack of "formal NSC meetings" or did they go to the heart of the matter -- the folly of selling arms to a terrorist nation, for whatever reason? Did you warn the others about the danger of the secret getting out? Did you express any doubts that there were "moderate" Iranians still walking around with their heads on?

You say in your letter that "there are people in Iran more responsible than Khomeini." This seems a sub-minimum standard. The government of the United States does not deal with elements who may be marginally less bloodthirsty than the ayatollah. And besides, you knew from Amiram Nir that you were not dealing with "moderates." After the Rev. Lawrence Jenco's release, Nir told you that we were in touch with "radicals" who could "deliver."

In answer to my question about the irresistible connection between arms and hostages, you say, "I have said over and over again that the original proposal was not presented as an arms-for-hostage swap."

Well, you can say it again, and I'm afraid it won't make any difference. The fact that "the president has so stated many times" doesn't change anything either. He once said the opposite. In a speech to the nation after the hearings, he declared that in an argument between his head and his heart over whether it was arms for hostages, his head -- which said it was -- won.

You were perhaps gratified to see that Sen. Robert J. Dole said he doesn't think "the Iran-contra affair is an issue." You and I know better. Dole doesn't decide for the voters -- or the press -- what the issues are.

Your role in the Iran-contra affair tells us a lot about what kind of a vice president you are. Your explanations tell us even more about what kind of a president you would be. That is why your reply to a question about Oliver L. North's document-shredding is striking. I asked whether you thought it was "reprehensible." You say: "The question of whether documents were improperly destroyed is a matter for investigators and ultimately a court to decide."

If you will excuse me, that is another question you should be able to answer without help. If you are going to be that indulgent with subordinates who destroy evidence, people are going to ask why.

As I said, thank you for your response. I look forward to hearing from you again.