LONDON -- The United States negotiated secretly with Iran to secure the release of American hostage David Jacobsen in a deal allowing shipments of military equipment to Iran, the Times of London reported Wednesday.
In a dispatch from Cyprus, the newspaper outlined a complex array of negotiations involving release of American hostages in Lebanon, an agreement to let Iranian Jews travel to Israel and an end to Iranian support of terrorism. The newspaper said the negotiations stretched back months with Syria as a key go-between.
'An Arab diplomat who has served in Iran told the Times that the Iranians had been instrumental in securing ... Jacobsen's release,' the newspaper said.
Jacobsen, administrator of the American University of Beirut hospital, was freed Sunday after he was held more than 17 months in Lebanon by the pro-Iranian fundamentalist extremist group Islamic Jihad.
Two other Americans are held by the Islamic Jihad, which is Arabic for Holy War, and three are held hostage by other groups in Beirut.
The Reagan administration has said it would not negotiate for the hostages' release because it does not negotiate with terrorists.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, responding to reporters questions Tuesday, said: 'As long as Iran advocates the use of terrorism, the U.S. embargo (on arms shipments) will continue.'
The United States has had no formal diplomatic ties with Tehran since extremists backed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stormed the U.S. Embassy Nov., 4, 1979 and took 66 hostages, 52 of whom were held for 444 days.
The Times said a series of secret negotiations has been under way between the United States and Iran for some months over the Lebanon hostages and they apparently peaked when the United States allowed military spare parts and ammunition to be delivered to Tehran.
It did not specifically say the United States provided the equipment, although much of the Iranian military's hardware is U.S.-manufactured, dating back to the days when the United States had strong ties with the shah of Iran. Some of that equipment reportedly is in disrepair after heavy use in the 6-year-old Iran-Iraq war.
One such shipment arrived in western Iran in September 1985 from Spain, the Times said. The shipment came from Israel via Spain, was sanctioned by the United States and was part of a deal to let Iranian Jews travel to Israel, the newspaper said.
'Aircraft carrying military spare parts and ammunition for the Iranian Army in its war with Iraq have flowed to Iran with U.S. permission,' the Times said. It said the airlifts were allowed 'reportedly in return for Iranian concessions over the hostages and an end to Iranian involvement in international bombings and assassinations.'
The United States has blamed Iran for many worldwide acts of terrorism.
The Times report also said a senior Syrian diplomat, identified as Iyad Mahmoud, acted as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran and America managed to exploit a power struggle within the Iranian clergy by offering the weapons.
The Times report came one day after the official Iranian news agency IRNA described the alleged detention and deportation of former U.S. National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane in Iran. IRNA quoted Iranian Parliament speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying McFarlane and four other Americans flew to Tehran posing as aircraft crewmen with fake Irish passports.
Rafsanjani said the McFarlane contingent brought with them a Bible signed by President Reagan, a key-shaped cake and five handguns as gifts to offer the leadership of Iran in exchange for more friendly relations between the two nations.
The overture was not accepted by Khomeini, IRNA said, and the five men were held in a Tehran hotel five days before they were allowed to leave the country. McFarlane and Reagan administration officials have refused comment on the report.