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George Shultz Secretary of State

From 1982 until 1989, a period that covered the entire Iran-Contra Affairs, George Shultz served as secretary of state. From the beginning, Shultz and other State Department officials attempted to prevent arms sales to Iran, often by stating their opposition vigorously. When Congress held its 1986 hearings on the matter, Shultz testified to this opposition and stated that he was often kept in the dark as a result. As Walsh recalled, Shultz became the “hero” of the Affairs.

However, the discovery of notes in 1990 and 1991 belonging to Department of State Executive Secretary Nicholas Platt, Shultz’s executive assistant M. Charles Hill, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger raised doubts about whether Shultz was kept in the dark. Major components of his testimony were shown to be false.

Shultz testified about the information he had been receiving, which can be understood in three distinct phases:

  1. From June to November 1985, he knew that officials considered selling arms but never knew any had been consummated.
  2. From December 1985 to May 1986, he thought that the U.S. was refusing to sell any arms despite its efforts to build a relationship with Iran.
  3. From May to November 1986, he received no information about the sales at all.

Despite his testimony, evidence shows that between June and November of 1985, Shultz did know arms were sold. Although Shultz testified that he only knew of proposals to sell Israeli TOW missiles in August and September and Israeli HAWK missiles in November, Platt’s and Hill’s notes indicate that Shultz also knew of their consummation. As Platt wrote after the release of hostage Reverend Benjamin Weir that September, “Polecat [his code for the sales] is beginning to pay off—Weir has been released.” Hill also wrote that Shultz recounted to him that he told National Security Adviser John Poindexter in a December conversation, “This is paying for hostgs [hostages]—so we have broken our principles.'' This bolsters National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane’s claim that he kept Shultz informed about the sales.

Moreover, from December 1985 to May 1986, Shultz knew officials were willing to sell arms, much to his dismay. After Poindexter met with an Israeli official in January, Hill wrote that Shultz complained to Poindexter of “3300 TOWS for hostg [hostages],” a policy that would raise “[the] same probls [problems] as before. A payment. Blows our policy.” Similarly, Weinberger’s notes show that the defense secretary, at a February lunch with Shultz and CIA Director William Casey, discussed a chronology for arms sales and the resultant release of hostages. The notes show that Shultz was there at that time. That same month, Weinberger wrote that Shultz had been appalled to read a report explaining that on a trip to Iran in the near future, U.S. officials would offer to sell “240 types of spare parts” that Iran had requested.

Finally, from May to November 1986, Shultz knew arms-for-hostage sales continued. Hill wrote of a discussion with Shultz, “…Polecat moves again? 1800 EDT delivery of hostg [hostage] in Beirut set for Thursday. (119th such prediction).” When Father Lawrence Jenco was released that July, Hill and Platt both wrote in their notes that this was the result of arms sales. Platt and Department of Defense official Richard Armacost, who also knew of the deals, both spoke with Shultz around this time, but both testified that although it was probable they told Shultz about the reason for Jenco’s release, they did not actually recall having done so.

Ultimately, Walsh did not feel he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Shultz had given intentionally false testimony. While certainly unlikely that Shultz had forgotten the details of such controversial events, “none of the contemporaneous notes created in November and December 1986 suggest that Shultz in fact remembered more or different information than that to which he testified.”

(Go to Shultz's Hearings Page)