Iran-contra affair

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Iran-contra affair,

in U.S. history, secret arrangement in the 1980s to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran. The Iran-contra affair was the product of two separate initiatives during the administration of President Ronald ReaganReagan, Ronald Wilson
, 1911–2004, 40th president of the United States (1981–89), b. Tampico, Ill. In 1932, after graduation from Eureka College, he became a radio announcer and sportscaster.
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. The first was a commitment to aid the contras who were conducting a guerrilla war against the SandinistaSandinistas,
members of a left-wing Nicaraguan political party, the Sandinist National Liberation Front (FSLN). The group, named for Augusto Cesar Sandino, a former insurgent leader, was formed in 1962 to oppose the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
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 government of Nicaragua. The second was to placate "moderates" within the Iranian government in order to secure the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon and to influence Iranian foreign policy in a pro-Western direction.

Despite the strong opposition of the Reagan administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress enacted legislation, known as the Boland amendments, that prohibited the Defense Dept., the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or any other government agency from providing military aid to the contras from Dec., 1983, to Sept., 1985. The Reagan administration circumvented these limitations by using the National Security Council (NSC), which was not explicitly covered by the law, to supervise covert military aid to the contras. Under Robert McFarlane (1983–85) and John Poindexter (1985–86) the NSC raised private and foreign funds for the contras. This operation was directed by NSC staffer Marine Lt. Col. Oliver NorthNorth, Oliver Laurence,
1943–, American military officer, b. San Antonio, Tex. Raised in Philmont, N.Y., he entered the U.S. Marines, graduated from Annapolis (1968), served in the Vietnam War, and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.
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. McFarlane and North were also the central figures in the plan to secretly ship arms to Iran despite a U.S. trade and arms embargo.

In early Nov., 1986, the scandal broke when reports in Lebanese newspapers forced the Reagan administration to disclose the arms deals. Poindexter resigned before the end of the month; North was fired. Select congressional committees held joint hearings, and in Dec., 1986, Lawrence E. Walsh was named as special prosecutor to investigate the affair. Higher administration officials, particularly Reagan, Vice President BushBush, George Herbert Walker,
1924–, 41st President of the United States (1989–93), b. Milton, Mass., B.A., Yale Univ., 1948. Career in Business and Government
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, and William J. Casey (former director of the CIA, who died in May, 1987), were implicated in some testimony, but the extent of their involvement remained unclear. North said he believed Reagan was largely aware of the secret arrangement, and the independent prosecutor's report (1994) said that Reagan and Bush had some knowledge of the affair or its coverup. Reagan and Bush both claimed to have been uninformed about the details of the affair, and no evidence was found to link them to any crime. A presidential commission was critical of the NSC, while congressional hearings uncovered a web of official deception, mismanagement, and illegality.

A number of criminal convictions resulted, including those of McFarlane, North, and Poindexter, but North's and Poindexter's were vacated on appeal because of immunity agreements with the Senate concerning their testimony. Former State Dept. and CIA officials pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information about the contra aid from Congress, and Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary under Reagan, was charged (1992) with the same offense. In 1992 then-president Bush pardoned Weinberger and other officials who had been indicted or convicted for withholding information on or obstructing investigation of the affair. The Iran-contra affair raised serious questions about the nature and scope of congressional oversight of foreign affairs and the limits of the executive branch.


See B. Woodward, Veil (1987); T. Draper, A Very Thin Line (1991).

References in periodicals archive ?
2 Irangate Members of the Reagan administration thought they had found a brilliant way of securing the release of hostages held by Hezbollah and fund the right-wing Contras fighting in Nicaragua - alas, it involved facilitating the breaking of an arms embargo against Iran.
Reporters have had too many stories like Watergate and Irangate to cover.
The Irangate affair was only a small part of that story.
Whenever there's a scandal they always use the word 'gate' afterwards to describe it - as in Irangate, Watergate, and Southgate - and it was a scandal how many chances Spurs missed against Reading last week.
Mr Merriman said that, between 1986 and 1990, Mr Khashoggi made repeated promises to pay up, but explained that he was having financial difficulties and was involved in the US in a congressional hearing over the Irangate affair and criminal proceeding against him and Imelda Marcos.
Khashoggi, who was involved in the Irangate affair, claims because the arrangement he had with casino bosses was illegal, they cannot force him to give the cash back.
Thus members of the emperor's council, ever trying to find the right "spin" (yes, they use the term) to explain Rome's execution of Jesus, are able to conjure up Watergate and Irangate to show that theirs is not the only bumbling empire around.
If anything has changed from Watergate to Irangate, it is that the perpetrators have learned to better protect themselves and to provide deniability, and one foresees in their actions the frightening possibilities of private cadres with official blessings doing the work of the Argentinian or the Chilean death squads.
In the same year that the group released their fifth album with Island Records, Terry Waite had been kidnapped in Beirut, Irangate was unfolding in Washington and Margaret Thatcher was discussing disarmament with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
Khashoggi, who was involved in Irangate, claims because the arrangement he had with casino bosses was illegal, they cannot force him to give the cash back.
Among the most serious was Irangate, the revelation that the Reagan administration planned to sell arms to Iran to raise funds for the Contra rebels it backed in Nicaragua.

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