Britain's secret links with Oliver North revealed

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One of Britain's most senior diplomats, now an adviser to the Foreign Secretary, has confirmed that Britain was in close contact with Oliver North when he was attempting to sell arms to Iran in return for hostages. The admission will fuel discussion over possible British involvement in the illegal project.

Mrs Thatcher told the House of Commons, after the Iran-contra scandal was exposed in 1987, that Britain had not been directly involved, but she refused to deny categorically that there had been any contact between the governments. Irangate documents, previously made public in the US, contain no explicit reference to British involvement.

A book published in the US this week claims that Britain played a central role in supplying arms to Iran and that a British arms dealer and intelligence agent named Leslie Aspin worked for the Reagan White House in shipping arms to Ayatollah Khomeini's regime in 1984 and 1985. The authors allege Mr Aspin reported to the late Ian Gow, at one time private parliamentary secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Aspin was not the only contact between Colonel North and the British, according to the book. The authors obtained a confidential memorandum, under Freedom of Information Act legislation, which shows that Colonel North was meeting Andrew Green, counsellor at the UK Embassy in Washington DC.

The 11 May, 1984 memo records a telephone message left for Colonel North in which Mr Green is reported as saying: 'We certainly intend that the meeting be confidential, but just in case it should leak, the kind of defensive line we should take is as follows: 'We have said in Parliament that we intend to consult our partners on measures to combat terrorism . . . we keep in regular touch with the US as well'. ' Other documents refer to Colonel North having 'meetings (with) Thatcher'.

Mr Green, formerly British Ambassador to Syria, and now assistant under-secretary (Middle East) at the Foreign Office, confirmed he had probably telephoned North with the message. He said: 'I don't recall the particular meeting of course. We did have consultations with the US government . . . did hold regular consultations on the subject of terrorism.

Oliver North was one of the people involved in those conversations.

'The meetings at the time were very confidential. The purpose of (the suggested leak defence) was to (protect their confidentiality). We did discuss the hostage situation in Beirut. I was the man responsibe for that area.'

Mr Green denied, however, discussing Iran-contra or any British government involvement. Asked if he had met Leslie Aspin, he denied having done so.

Britain's fixer? page 21