Arms dealer in talks with US officials about Iran
By Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps in Washington
August 9, 2003
Pentagon hard-liners pressing for change of government in Iran have held secret, unauthorised meetings in Paris with an arms dealer who was a main figure in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Administration officials said at least two Pentagon officials working for the Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Douglas Feith, have held "several" meetings with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian middleman in United States arms-for-hostage shipments to Iran in the mid-1980s.
The officials who disclosed the secret meetings said the talks with Mr Ghorbanifar were not authorised by the White House and appeared to be aimed at undercutting sensitive negotiations with Iran's Government.
A senior Administration official said the US Government had learned about the unauthorised talks by accident.
The senior official and another Administration source said the ultimate objective of Mr Feith and a group of neo-conservative civilians inside the Pentagon is change of government in Iran.
The immediate objective appeared to be to "antagonise Iran so that they get frustrated and then by their reactions harden US policy against them".
The official confirmed that the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, complained directly to the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, several days ago about Mr Feith conducting missions that went against US policy.
A spokesman for Mr Feith's Near East, South Asia and Special Plans office, which sources said played a key role in contacts with Mr Ghorbanifar contacts, ignored an emailed inquiry about the talks.
The senior Administration official identified two of the defence officials who met Mr Ghorbanifar as Harold Rhode, Mr Feith's top Middle East specialist, and Larry Franklin, a Defence Intelligence Agency analyst on loan to the undersecretary's office.
Mr Rhode recently acted as a liaison between Mr Feith's office, which drafted much of the Administration's post-Iraq planning, and Ahmed Chalabi, a former Iraqi exilegroomed for leadership by the Pentagon.
Mr Rhode is a protege of Michael Ledeen, who was a National Security Council consultant in the mid 1980s when he introduced Mr Ghorbanifar to Oliver North, a NSC aide, and others in the opening stages of the Iran-Contra affair.
It is understood Mr Ledeen reopened the Ghorbanifar channel with Mr Feith's staff.
Mr Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who backs change of government in Iran, would neither confirm nor deny that he arranged meetings with Mr Ghorbanifar.
"I'm not going to comment on any private meetings with any private people," he said. "It's nobody's business."
Mr Ghorbanifar, who is said to live in Paris,
was a link man to Tehran in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan administration officials diverted cash from secret sales of arms to Iran to bankroll Nicaraguan guerillas at a time when such aid was forbidden by Congress.
The senior Administration official said he was puzzled by the resurfacing of Mr Ghorbanifar after so many years. "It would be amazing if anybody in government hadn't learnt the lessons of last time around," he said. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/08/1060145871467.html