WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT., JAN. 14 -- Vice President Bush strongly implied today that he discussed his reservations about the secret Iran arms deals at President Reagan's regular morning meetings and that former White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan was among those who heard his concerns.
A spokesman for Regan confirmed that the former staff chief recalled Bush's statements of reservations. The vice president's advice and attitude toward the worst foreign policy failure of the Reagan administration has become a key issue in the presidential campaign, with his opponents and others calling on him to be more forthcoming about the role he played and what advice, if any, he offered to any of the administration's key figures as the decisions were made and the operations failed.
Bush did not offer a direct answer to reporters' written questions asking to whom he had expressed his reservations and when. Through his campaign communications director, Peter Teeley, he said only, "Everybody knows who is in the 9:30 a.m. meeting. The person most often there was Don Regan."
The issue resurfaced today because on Wednesday, the vice president had delivered written answers on the Iran affair to Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory that had for the first time described concerns about the policy that went beyond those he had stated over the last year about the role of Israel. Bush had said he was also concerned about U.S. credibility, loss of life and "how will it be interpreted if the cover is blown?"
Bush wrote to McGrory that he spoke up in the presence of others, but did not identify them. Today, pressed for the identity of those who heard his concerns, he delivered the two-sentence answer on the 9:30 meeting that Reagan routinely holds with the chief of staff, vice president and sometimes others.
Regan recalls that the vice president "expressed concerns about the initiative in terms of its nature as a covert operation," a spokesman for the former chief of staff said yesterday.
The vice president raised it at the regular morning meeting Bush and Regan had with with president in early January 1986, the spokesman said. Those sessions preceded the regular national security briefings which at that time would have included national security adviser John M. Poindexter and a deputy who took notes.
Regan, through his spokesman, said it was also possible that Bush "more than once" raised those concerns and others about the leverage gained by the Israelis through their participation in the clandestine program.
The spokesman added that Regan believed Bush spoke out about his concerns around the time of the Jan. 7, 1986, Oval Office meeting where Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger expressed their opposition to the secret arms-to-Iran operation.
Records show Bush was at that meeting but he has denied knowing about the opposition of Shultz and Weinberger. Others have testified to the congressional Iran-contra committees that neither Bush nor Regan spoke out at the Jan. 7 meeting.
In New Hampshire today, Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), cochairman of the Senate Iran-contra investigating committee, said he believes Bush has answered all the questions about his role in the scandal except for his advice to the president and said Bush was right to stay mum on that subject.
Rudman told The Post that, so far as he knew, there were no more documents or transcripts in the committee's files bearing on Bush's role. In an interview, Rudman said, "No one can say that George Bush's role, other than the advice he gave the president, is not known."
Rudman said it was clear Bush "was aware of the arms sales . . .and had to be aware of all the back and forth that was going on about arms and hostages." Rudman is New Hampshire campaign chairman for Sen. Robert J. Dole, but split from Dole and other Republicans who had been pressing Bush to disclose his advice to the president, which he has refused to do. "I'm not sure he's wrong," Rudman said of Bush. "That is a very confidential relationship. I am reasonably sure he is right."
Staff writers David S. Broder and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.