19. SYRIAN OFFERS TO FREE HOSTAGES IGNORED BY THE
Despite a promise to "leave no stone unturned,"
the Reagan administration failed to pursue a series of Syrian offers to help get
American hostages out of Lebanon, according to a confidential Pentagon memo and
sources involved in the affair.
The Syrian overture centers around Robert D. Ladd, an American businessman
with CIA contacts. According to the memo, Ladd, in the summer of 1985,
was introduced (through an associate) to Fasih Mikhail Achi, a visiting
judge from Syria's inspector general's office. Achi claimed that "The
Syrians were prepared to assist in the release of the hostages if the
U.S. president (Ronald Reagan) called Syrian President Hafez al-Assad
and requested his support. After a call from the U.S. president, the
Syrians would facilitate the release and transfer of the hostages without
any quid (pro quo) from the U.S."
to Ladd, he arranged for the Syrian to be interviewed in Washington by representatives
of the DIA and the CIA, and that Achi was interviewed three separate times over
two days in July 1985. In the interviews Achi said that he spoke for Gen. Ghazi
Kenaan, the head of Syrian military Intelligence in Lebanon. A former Pentagon
official told the Examiner that a subsequent identity check of Achi by the CIA
and the DIA verified his identity as an aide to Kenaan.
After a month passed
with no answer from the Americans, Ladd says he brought the Syrian offer to Lt.
Col. Oliver North of the NSC, but North's promised follow up never materialized.
Achi contacted Ladd again in February 1987 to renew Syria's offer.
Ladd, in turn, attempted to persuade U.S. officials to have a meeting
in Paris, at which Achi could prove that his overture was both genuine
and feasible. "They told me there wasn't enough substance from
Achi to run it upstairs," said Ladd, "But Achi was willing
to provide the substance in Paris. They wouldn't even meet him for that."
A former Pentagon official familiar with the affair, and speaking on
condition of anonymity, agrees with Ladd, 'That part should have been
followed through. There was no reason not to -- we meet all the time
with "walk-ins" who have less than what Achi had."
Ladd says U.S. intelligence officials
reluctantly agreed to meet Achi in Paris late summer of 1989, but CIA canceled
the meeting without explanation. Despite the cancellation, Achi called Ladd yet
again and said the hostages would be delivered if Ladd would come to Damascus
for them. In early August, American intermediaries were finally ready to fly to
Damascus when Achi called to withdraw the offer. An internal tug-of-war had developed
over the hostages.
Although Associated Press ran a summary of the Examiner's
story on July 22, not one national media outlet picked it up.
RESEARCHER: RACHAEL KINBERG
SOURCE: SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, 110 Fifth Ave., San Francisco, CA 94103,
TITLE: "Hostage Offer Ignored By U.S."
AUTHOR: Jonathan Broder
SOURCE: EXTRA!, 130 West 25th St., New York, NY 10001,
DATE: September/October 1991
TITLE: "Bush, Syria and the Hostages"
AUTHOR Jane Hunter
COMMENTS: Author Jane Hunter noted that the issue was ignored
by the mass media "even after AP picked it up from the San Francisco
Examiner." She added that the general public would benefit from
more coverage about the Syrian hostage offer since it would help the
"Iran-contra affair" shrink into "the far larger, more
scandalous picture of secret foreign policy activity during the Reagan-Bush
Hunter, who is also
the editor of Israeli Foreign Affairs, rhetorically asked, "What if George
Bush, as vice president, had made another offer of arms for hostages -- not to
Iran, but to Syria? What if he and other Reagan administration officials later
rebuffed Syrian offers to free those hostages? Wouldn't a congressional investigation
into allegations of such events be worth front-page headlines and network news
Noting that although the story appeared in the Washington
Jewish Week, on June 27, 1991, and the San Francisco Examiner, on July 21, and
portions of it later were carried on the Associated Press wire, Hunter charged
"it didn't even register with most of the press corps. For most national
media outlets, the story didn't exist."
Hunter went on to say the television
networks and the leading national newspapers missed the story. "Although
Associated Press ran a summary of the Examiner's story on July 22, not one of
the national media outlets picked up on it. ... According to editors and reporters
at a number of national media outlets contacted by EXTRA!, the story was probably
lost in the shuffle of vacations and breaking news concerning the Iran-contra
affair, the Gates nomination to the CIA and the 1980 October Surprise. Most said
they were not familiar with the story."