Knut Royce
Secret meetings held about Iran
Sat Aug 9 14:59:01 2003

Secret meetings held about Iran

By Knut Royce and Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday, 08/09/03,1,3679117.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

WASHINGTONž Pentagon hard-liners pressing for regime change in Iran have held secret and unauthorized meetings in Paris with a controversial weapons dealer who was a major figure in the Iran-contra scandal, according to administration officials.

The sources said at least two Pentagon officials working for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith have met several times with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in U.S. arms-for-hostage trades to Iran in the mid-1980s.

The administration officials who disclosed the secret meetings to Newsday said the talks with Ghorbanifar were not authorized by the White House and appeared to be aimed at undercutting current sensitive back-channel negotiations with the Iranian regime.

"They [the Pentagon officials] were talking to him [Ghorbanifar] about stuff which they weren't officially authorized to do," said a senior member of the administration. "It was only accidentally that certain parts of our government learned about it."

The official would not identify the agencies, but a former intelligence official said they are the State Department, the CIA and the White House.

The senior official and another administration source said that the policy objective of Feith and a group of neo-conservatives civilians inside the Pentagon is regime change in Iran.

This second official said, "United States policy officially is not regime change, overtly or covertly," but to engage Iranian officials in dialogue over contentious issues, such as their nuclear program and to press the regime to extradite Al Qaeda operatives.

He said that the immediate objective of the Pentagon hard-liners appears to be to "antagonize Iran so that they get frustrated and then by their reactions harden U.S. policy against them."

He confirmed that Secretary of State Colin Powell complained to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld several days ago about Feith conducting missions that countered U.S. policy.

During a news conference in Crawford, Texas, on Friday, Rumsfeld confirmed that a Pentagon official had met with a source on the Iranian situation "more than a year ago."

"My understanding is that . . . one or two Pentagon people were approached by some people who had information about Iranians that wanted to provide information to the United States government," he said.

Rumsfeld said the resulting meeting did not yield any useful information and the matter was dropped.

A spokesman for Feith's Near East, South Asia and Special Plans office, the controversial intelligence office that sources said played a key role in the Ghorbanifar contacts, did not respond Thursday to an e-mailed inquiry about those sessions.

The senior administration official identified two of the Defense officials who met with Ghorbanifar as Harold Rhode, the top Middle East specialist for Feith, and Larry Franklin, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst on loan to the undersecretary's office.

Rhode recently acted as a liaison between Feith's office, which drafted much of the administration's post-Iraq planning, and Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi exile disdained by the CIA and State Department but groomed for leadership by the Pentagon.

Rhode is a protege of Michael Ledeen, a neo-conservative who was a National Security Council consultant in the mid-1980s when he introduced Ghorbanifar to Oliver North, an aide on the security council, and others in the opening stages of the Iran-contra affair during the Reagan administration.

A former CIA officer who was involved in some aspects of the Iran-contra scandal said current intelligence officers told him it was Ledeen who reopened the Ghorbanifar channel.

Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an ardent advocate for regime change in Iran, would neither confirm nor deny that he arranged the meetings, saying "It's nobody's business."

Ghorbanifar could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Ledeen once described him as "one of the most honest, educated, honorable men I have ever known." But the CIA, noting Ghorbanifar had failed four polygraph tests administered during the arms-for-hostages deals, warned its officers not to deal with him.

The senior administration official said he was puzzled by the resurfacing of Ghorbanifar after all these years.

Immunity for Iraqi Oil Dealings Raises Alarm,0,4076489.story

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