Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, who served as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, claims in a new book that an Israeli official in mid-1985 proposed the assassination of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The proposal, McFarlane contends, was part of a joint plan by Israel and its presumed allies among influential Iranian "moderates" who hoped to succeed Khomeini.

To gain Reagan administration support for their takeover efforts and as proof of their capabilities, the Iranians offered to help free American hostages then being held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian terrorists, McFarlane writes.

The July 3, 1985, White House meeting between McFarlane and David Kimche, then a ranking Israeli foreign ministry official, has always been looked upon as the starting point for the Iran-contra affair, the worst political scandal in the Reagan administration.

McFarlane's newly published memoir, "Special Trust," is the first time Reagan's national security adviser has provided details of what transpired during that meeting. It also contains new criticisms and allegations about Oliver L. North, his former subordinate in the White House who is now running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia; former president George Bush; and Reagan Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

In the book, McFarlane says that at the July 1985 meeting Kimche told him the U.S. hostages would be released as "evidence" the Iranians with whom Israel was dealing "indeed possessed a level of influence in Tehran. There was no request for arms or quid pro quo," according to McFarlane. All the Iranians wanted, according to Kimche, was to know where the administration thought the hostages should be delivered.

In an interview to be broadcast on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" program tonight, McFarlane expands on the book saying Kimche told him "there was a way of gradually infusing poison, that {Khomeini} would consume presumably in food."

McFarlane says he told Kimche the U.S. government "cannot engage with you in an enterprise in which anyone's purpose is to assassinate the Ayatollah." He says that ended the assassination part of the plan and, therefore, he never told anyone else about it.

In response to McFarlane's book, Kimche has denied he discussed a plot to kill Khomeini, according to tonight's CBS broadcast. But McFarlane insists during tonight's interview that the proposal was "clear and unambiguous."

In his book, McFarlane traces for the first time how the original no-strings offer by the Iranians to free the U.S. hostages was turned around to require sale and shipment of arms by the Reagan administration to show its good faith. The Iranians, who included supporters of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man who eventually assumed power in Iran after Khomeini's death from natural causes four years later, wanted the arms to curry favor with the Iranian military in an internal power struggle, McFarlane writes.

McFarlane writes that the introduction of the arms idea focused internal White House discussions on problems with arms-for-hostage negotiations. He also writes that Reagan originally turned down the arms idea, but later reversed himself because of his deep concern for the hostages.

McFarlane describes a series of high-level meetings in August and September 1985 with Bush, Shultz, Weinberger and others in which the problem of such arms-for-hostage shipments was discussed.

Focusing on Schultz and Weinberger, McFarlane writes: "Later, when the Iran initiative became public and turned to scandal, both these men would deny having this discussion or having known the details of the Iran initiative as it developed. Of course it became evident -- as recorded in Weinberger's handwritten notes and the notes of Shultz's executive assistant Charles Hill ... that they had both deceived the Congress under oath concerning the fact that they had been fully informed."

North, who responded Friday to what McFarlane says in the prerecorded "60 Minutes" interview, comes in for more criticism in the book.

McFarlane points out that it was North who thought up the idea of bringing a cake shaped like a key on the May 1986 trip the two men made to Tehran. "It was the sort of sophomoric prank Ollie would enjoy," McFarlane writes.

McFarlane, who like North served in the Marines, reports that in 1985 he discussed North leaving the White House and returning to the Marines with the then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. P. X. Kelly. He said he was told that North would never make it to a general's rank because of the psychiatric problems and hospitalization North went through in the mid-1970s and because some of his associates thought North had trouble telling the truth. In June 1986, after North told him he had diverted profits from the Iranian arms sales to support the contra rebels in Nicaragua, McFarlane says he wrote to then-national security adviser John M. Poindexter to urge him "to relieve North of his duties and send him back to the Marines."

McFarlane also describes North's decision to take the Fifth Amendment before Congress and not testify without immunity as "behaving in a way that Marines do not behave, evading responsibility, seeking shelter." North was eventually tried and found guilty on three felony counts, but an appeals court set aside the convictions and the case eventually was dismissed.

McFarlane testified without immunity and pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors in Iran-contra. Although he never sought a pardon, he was one of six who President Bush pardoned in December 1992. In a letter thanking Bush, McFarlane described Iran-contra as a "tawdry episode" in which Reagan refused "from lack of intellectual and moral fiber to defend his point of view" and failed "to support or even acknowledge the truthfulness of those who acted in his behalf."