November 19, 1986 – President Reagan News Conference – Iran-Contra: The Gift That Kept On Giving
November 19, 1986 – As news of illegal arms sales to Iran surfaced, and as questions persisted over who-knew-what/when, it became imperative that President Reagan come forth and at least attempt to explain what was going on. So on this day, President Reagan held his first News conference since August of 1986, in an effort to answer questions and slow the ever-speeding runaway train of allegations, heading ominously towards the dumpster fire of discoveries:
President Reagan: Good evening. I have a few words here before I take your questions, some brief remarks. Eighteen months ago, as I said last Thursday, this administration began a secret initiative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our purposes were fourfold: to replace a relationship of total hostility with something better, to bring a negotiated end to the Iran-Iraq war, and to bring an end to terrorism and to effect the release of our hostages.
We knew this undertaking involved great risks, especially for our people and for the Iranian officials with whom we dealt. That’s why the information was restricted to appropriate Cabinet officers and those officials with an absolute need to know. This undertaking was a matter of considerable debate within administration circles. Our policy objectives were never in dispute. There were differences on how best to proceed. The principal issue in contention was whether we should make isolated and limited exceptions to our arms embargo as a signal of our serious intent. Several top advisers opposed the sale of even a modest shipment of defensive weapons and spare parts to Iran. Others felt no progress could be made without this sale. I weighed their views. I considered the risks of failure and the rewards of success, and I decided to proceed. And the responsibility for the decision and the operation is mine and mine alone. As Mr. Lincoln said of another Presidential decision, “If it turns out right, the criticism will not matter. If it turns out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right will make no difference.”
I understand this decision is deeply controversial and that some profoundly disagree with what was done. Even some who support our secret initiative believe it was a mistake to send any weapons to Iran. I understand and I respect those views, but I deeply believe in the correctness of my decision. I was convinced then and I am convinced now that while the risks were great, so, too, was the potential reward. Bringing Iran back into the community of responsible nations, ending its participation in political terror, bringing an end to that terrible war, and bringing our hostages home-these are the causes that justify taking risks.
In foreign policy the presence of risks alone cannot be reason enough not to act. There were risks when we liberated Grenada, when we went into Lebanon, when we aided the Philippines, and when we acted against Libya. So, we’ll continue our efforts. However, to eliminate the widespread but mistaken perception that we have been exchanging arms for hostages, I have directed that no further sales of arms of any kind be sent to Iran. I have further directed that all information relating to our initiative be provided to the appropriate Members of Congress. There may be some questions which for reasons of national security or to protect the safety of the hostages I will be unable to answer publicly. But again, all information will be provided to the appropriate Members of Congress.
And now I’ll take your questions. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?
And so, the free-for-all begins. Here is that complete News conference as broadcast live by CBS Radio on November 19, 1986.