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The Iran–Contra affair (Persian: ماجرای ایران-کنترا‎, Spanish: Caso Irán–Contra), popularized in Iran as the McFarlane affair,[1] the Iran–Contra scandal, or simply Iran–Contra, was a political scandal in the United States that occurred during the second term of the Reagan Administration. Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.[2] The administration hoped to use the proceeds of the arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Under the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.

The official justification for the arms shipments was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, for the United States to resupply Israel, and for Israel to pay the United States. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages.[3][4] The first arms sales authorized to Iran were in 1981, prior to the American hostages having been taken in Lebanon.[5]

The plan was later complicated in late 1985, when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council diverted a portion of the proceeds from the Iranian weapon sales to fund the Contras, a group of anti-Sandinista rebels, in their insurgency against the socialist government of Nicaragua.[3] While President Ronald Reagan was a vocal supporter of the Contra cause,[6] the evidence is disputed as to whether he personally authorized the diversion of funds to the Contras.[3][4][7] Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on 7 December 1985 indicate that Reagan was aware of potential hostage transfers with Iran, as well as the sale of Hawk and TOW missiles to "moderate elements" within that country.[8] Weinberger wrote that

The Iran–Contra affair (Persian: ماجرای ایران-کنترا‎, Spanish: Caso Irán–Contra), popularized in Iran as the McFarlane affair,[1] the Iran–Contra scandal, or simply Iran–Contra, was a political scandal in the United States that occurred during the second term of the Reagan Administration. Senior administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.[2] The administration hoped to use the proceeds of the arms sale to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Under the Boland Amendment, further funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.

The official justification for the arms shipments was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, for the United States to resupply Israel, and for Israel to pay the United States. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages.[3][4] The first arms sales authorized to Iran were in 1981, prior to the American hostages having been taken in Lebanon.[5]

The plan was later complicated in late 1985, when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council diverted a portion of the proceeds from the Iranian weapon sales to fund the Contras, a group of anti-Sandinista rebels, in their insurgency against the socialist government of Nicaragua.[3] While President Ronald Reagan was a vocal supporter of the Contra cause,[6] the evidence is disputed as to whether he personally authorized the diversion of funds to the Contras.[3][4][7] Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with Iranian ties connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The plan was for Israel to ship weapons to Iran, for the United States to resupply Israel, and for Israel to pay the United States. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of the hostages.[3][4] The first arms sales authorized to Iran were in 1981, prior to the American hostages having been taken in Lebanon.[5]

The plan was later complicated in late 1985, when Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council diverted a portion of the proceeds from the Iranian weapon sales to fund the Contras, a group of anti-Sandinista rebels, in their insurgency against the socialist government of Nicaragua.[3] While President Ronald Reagan was a vocal supporter of the Contra cause,[6] the evidence is disputed as to whether he personally authorized the diversion of funds to the Contras.[3][4][7] Handwritten notes taken by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on 7 December 1985 indicate that Reagan was aware of potential hostage transfers with Iran, as well as the sale of Hawk and TOW missiles to "moderate elements" within that country.[8] Weinberger wrote that Reagan said "he could answer to charges of illegality but couldn't answer to the charge that 'big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free the hostages.'"[8] After the weapon sales were revealed in November 1986, Reagan appeared on national television and stated that the weapons transfers had indeed occurred, but that the United States did not trade arms for hostages.[9] The investigation was impeded when large volumes of documents relating to the affair were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials.[10] On 4 March 1987, Reagan made a further nationally televised address, taking full responsibility for the affair and stating that "what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages".[11]

The affair was investigated by the U.S. Congress and by the three-person, Reagan-appointed Tower Commission. Neither investigation found evidence that President Reagan himself knew of the extent of the multiple programs.[3][4][7] In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal.[12] The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been Vice President at the time of the affair.[13]

The United States was the largest seller of arms to Iran under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the vast majority of the weapons that the Islamic Republic of Iran inherited in January 1979 were American-made.[14]:213 To maintain this arsenal, Iran required a steady supply of spare parts to replace those broken and worn out. After Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage, U.S. President Jimmy Carter imposed an arms embargo on Iran.[14]:213 After Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, Iran desperately needed weapons and spare parts for its current weapons. After Ronald Reagan took office as President on 20 January 1981, he vowed to continue Carter's policy of blocking arms sales to Iran on the grounds that Iran supported terrorism.[14]:213

A group of senior Reagan administration officials in the Senior Interdepartmental Group conducted a secret study on 21 July 1981, and concluded that the arms embargo was ineffective because Iran could always buy arms and spare parts for its American weapons elsewhere, while at the same time the arms embargo opened the door for Iran to fall into the Soviet sphere of influence as the Kremlin could sell Iran weapons if the United States would not.[14]:213 The conclusion was that the United States should start selling Iran arms as soon as it was politically possible to keep Iran from falling into the Soviet sphere of influence.[14]:213 At the same time, the openly declared goal of Ayatollah Khomeini to export his Islamic revolution all over the Middle East and overthrow the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other states around the Persian Gulf led to the Americans perceiving Khomeini as a major threat to the United States.[14]:213

In the spring of 1983, the United States launched Operation Staunch, a wide-ranging diplomatic effort to persuade other nations all over the world not to sell arms or spare parts for weapons to Iran.[14]:213 At least part of the reason the Iran–Contra affair proved so humiliating for the United States when the story first broke in November 1986 that the US was selling arms to Iran was that American diplomats, as part of Operation Staunch had, from the spring of 1983 on, been lecturing other nations about how morally wrong it was to sell arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran and applying strong pressure to prevent these arms sales to Iran.[14]:213

At the same time that the American government was considering their options on selling arms to Iran, Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua. Almost from the time he took office in 1981, a major goal of the Reagan administration was the overthrow of the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua and to support the Contra rebels.[15]:965 The Reagan administration's policy tow

A group of senior Reagan administration officials in the Senior Interdepartmental Group conducted a secret study on 21 July 1981, and concluded that the arms embargo was ineffective because Iran could always buy arms and spare parts for its American weapons elsewhere, while at the same time the arms embargo opened the door for Iran to fall into the Soviet sphere of influence as the Kremlin could sell Iran weapons if the United States would not.[14]:213 The conclusion was that the United States should start selling Iran arms as soon as it was politically possible to keep Iran from falling into the Soviet sphere of influence.[14]:213 At the same time, the openly declared goal of Ayatollah Khomeini to export his Islamic revolution all over the Middle East and overthrow the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other states around the Persian Gulf led to the Americans perceiving Khomeini as a major threat to the United States.[14]:213

In the spring of 1983, the United States launched Operation Staunch, a wide-ranging diplomatic effort to persuade other nations all over the world not to sell arms or spare parts for weapons to Iran.[14]:213 At least part of the reason the Iran–Contra affair proved so humiliating for the United States when the story first broke in November 1986 that the US was selling arms to Iran was that American diplomats, as part of Operation Staunch had, from the spring of 1983 on, been lecturing other nations about how morally wrong it was to sell arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran and applying strong pressure to prevent these arms sales to Iran.[14]:213

At the same time that the American government was considering their options on selling arms to Iran, Contra militants based in Honduras were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) revolutionary government of Nicaragua. Almost from the time he took office in 1981, a major goal of the Reagan administration was the overthrow of the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua and to support the Contra rebels.[15]:965 The Reagan administration's policy towards Nicaragua produced a major clash between the executive and legislative arms as Congress sought to limit, if not curb altogether, the ability of the White House to support the Contras.[15]:965 Direct U.S. funding of the Contras insurgency was made illegal through the Boland Amendment,[7] the name given to three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984 aimed at limiting U.S. government assistance to Contra militants. Funding ran out for the Contras by July 1984, and in October a total ban was placed in effect. The second Boland Amendment, in effect from 3 October 1984 to 3 December 1985, stated:

During the fiscal year 1985 no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose of or which may have the effect of supporting directly or indirectly military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, organization, group, movement, or individual.[15]:965

In violation of the Boland Amendment, senior officials of the Reagan administration continued to secretly arm and train the Contras and provide arms to Iran, an operation they called "the Enterprise".[16][17] As the Contras were heavily dependent upon U.S. military and financial support, the second Boland amendment threatened to break the Contra movement and led to President Reagan in 1984 to order the National Security Council (NSC) to "keep the Contras together 'body and soul'", no matter what Congress voted for.[15]:965

A major le

A major legal debate at the center of the Iran–Contra affair concerned the question of whether the NSC was one of the "any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities" covered by the Boland amendment. The Reagan administration argued it was not, and many in Congress argued that it was.[15]:965 The majority of constitutional scholars have asserted the NSC did indeed fall within the purview of the second Boland amendment, though the amendment did not mention the NSC by name.[15]:966 The broader constitutional question at stake was the power of Congress versus the power of the presidency. The Reagan administration argued that because the constitution assigned the right to conduct foreign policy to the executive, its efforts to overthrow the government of Nicaragua were a presidential prerogative that Congress had no right to try to halt via the Boland amendments.[15]:964 By contrast congressional leaders argued that the constitution had assigned Congress control of the budget, and Congress had every right to use that power not to fund projects like attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua that they disapproved of.[15]:964 As part of the effort to circumvent the Boland amendment, the NSC established "the Enterprise", an arms-smuggling network headed by a retired U.S. Air Force officer turned arms dealer Richard Secord that supplied arms to the Contras. It was ostensibly a private sector operation, but in fact was controlled by the NSC.[15]:966 To fund "the Enterprise", the Reagan administration was constantly on the look-out for funds that came from outside the U.S. government in order not to explicitly violate the letter of the Boland amendment, though the efforts to find alternative funding for the Contras violated the spirit of the Boland amendment.[15]:966–967 Ironically, military aid to the Contras was reinstated with Congressional consent in October 1986, a month before the scandal broke.[18][19]

As reported in The New York Times in 1991, "continuing allegations that Reagan campaign officials made a deal with the Iranian Government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the fall of 1980" led to "limited investigations." However "limited," those investigations established that "Soon after taking office in 1981, the Reagan Administration secretly and abruptly changed United States policy." Secret Israeli arms sales and shipments to Iran began in that year, even as, in public, "the Reagan Administration" presented a different face, and "aggressively promoted a public campaign... to stop worldwide transfers of military goods to Iran." The New York Times explains: "Iran at that time was in dire need of arms and spare parts for its American-made arsenal to defend itself against Iraq, which had attacked it in September 1980," while "Israel [a U.S. ally] was interested in keeping the war between Iran and Iraq going to ensure that these two potential enemies remained preoccupied with each other." Maj. Gen. Avraham Tamir, a high-ranking Israeli Defense Ministry in 1981, said there was a "oral agreement" to allow the sale of "spare parts" to Iran. This was based on an "understanding" with Secretary Alexander Haig (which a Haig adviser denied). This account was confirmed by a former senior American diplomat with a few modifications. The diplomat claimed that "[Ariel] Sharon violated it, and Haig backed away...". A former "high-level" CIA official who saw the reports of arms sales to Iran by Israel in the early 1980's estimated that the total was about 2 billion a year. But also said that "The degree to which it was sanctioned I don't know."[5]

On 17 June 1985, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane wrote a National Security Decision Directive which called for the United States Of America to begin a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic of Iran.[14]:213 The paper read: