Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter, President Reagan's former national security adviser, testified last week that he was "very nervous" and even "alarmed" when he learned that Reagan had confidentially confirmed the existence of the secret Iran initiative for us more than a year ago.

Poindexter's first admission came during adroit questioning by Rep. James A. Courter (R-N.J.). The 45-year-old former prosecutor and Peace Corps volunteer, now in his fifth term, has become an influential member of the Iran-contra committee and the House as a whole.

Courter led Poindexter carefully through a series of the admiral's own statements that Reagan was concerned with a strategic opening to Iran, "not just hostages for weapons," as Courter summarized it. The congressman then said:

"Finally, I would like to say that it would be nice -- it would be just wonderful if we had a tape recording of the president of the United States very early in 1986, and a transcript of same, stating what the president's real intentions were with the Iranian initiative way back in February 1986.

"The point I'm trying to make is, we have precisely that. We have a contemporaneous interview with the president of the United States and a nationally syndicated columnist, Dale Van Atta, who works with Jack Anderson."

Courter then displayed the transcript and read excerpts from our tape-recorded interview, which took place in the Oval Office on Feb. 24, 1986. Courter called the date "quite significant -- it is between the first two shipments {of weapons directly} from the United States to Iran."

As a matter of fact, the interview comprises the only taped comments by Reagan in the early stages of the initiative that tell why he was doing what he was doing.

In the interview, Reagan addressed mainly the strategic reasons for negotiations with Iran: the need to establish a "relationship" with Tehran, recognizing that "we do not want to make enemies of those who . . . could be friends."

After Courter read from the transcript, which the president had required us to keep off the record until recently, Poindexter responded:

"I would just simply like to confirm that, indeed, the president did say those things . . . . I frankly was very nervous that {the president} had told Mr. Van Atta an awful lot of information. And I just hoped it would remain quiet -- as it did, in fact. They held to their word."

Entreated by the White House, we did hold the story -- until April 28, 1986, after the U.S. bombing of Libya in retaliation for its alleged terrorist activities. Convinced that a dangerous disinformation campaign was in progress, we began revealing pieces of the secret Iranian initiative -- and finally stated it flat-out in a column on June 29, 1986.

"We can now reveal that the secret negotiations over arms supply and release of American hostages have involved members of the National Security Council and a former official of the CIA," the column reported.

It remained for an obscure Lebanese magazine and a top Iranian official to confirm our story last November.