New Iran-Contra revelations pose threat to Bush

THE IRAN-CONTRA scandal resurfaced last night as a real political threat to George Bush, as two ex-officials involved in the affair flatly asserted that when he was vice-president Mr Bush knew far more about the secret and illegal arms sales to Iran than he has thus far admitted.

The comments from the retired Air Force Major-General, Richard Secord, and the former National Security Council member, Howard Teicher, are the latest additions to the growing evidence that Mr Bush was anything but 'out of the loop' - as he has steadfastly maintained - on the scandal which almost brought down the presidency of Ronald Reagan in late 1986.

Yesterday the Washington Post disclosed the existence of a memo from the former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who in January is due to face trial for his alleged role in the Iran-Contra cover-up, which seems to indicate that Mr Bush was present at a key White House meeting in early 1986 when sales were discussed.

The two former officials, however, went much further last night. Mr Teicher insisted in a television interview that he had briefed Mr Bush 'several times' about the arms initiative. Mr Secord, who is about to publish a book dealing with his role in the affair, asserted that 'the President was in on key decisions. There is simply no question about that.'

The claims were dismissed by the White House. A spokesman for Mr Bush declared that suggestions the President had played down his knowledge of the sales were 'absolutely false'.

But there is no doubt of the potential political perils for the President, as he struggles to close the gap on the Democrat, Bill Clinton, in the five weeks left before election day. At the very least, the renewed Iran-Contra charges undermine his attempts to portray Mr Clinton as untrustworthy and deceitful in his manoeuvring to avoid the Vietnam draft.

Seizing his opportunity with both hands, the Arkansas Governor said the Iran-Contra imbroglio was the reason Mr Bush was avoiding a presidential debate. 'I've answered 100 times more questions on the draft than he has on Iran,' Mr Clinton added.

His campaign director, George Stephanopoulos, said it was time for the President to 'come clean with the American people' - by no accident exactly the words Mr Bush uses about his opponent and Vietnam.