Iran-Contra Figure Killed in Plane Crash
MORELIA, Mexico (AP) _ An Israeli counterterrorism expert who briefed Vice President George Bush on secret arms sales to Iran died in a plane crash in a remote area of Mexico while traveling under an assumed name, officials said.
The Cessna T210 crashed Wednesday at a ranch 110 miles west of Mexico City, killing the Israeli, Amiram Nir, 37, and the pilot. Three other passengers were badly injured, including Adriana Stanton, 25, of Canada.
Nir was traveling under the name Pat Weber, Isauro Gutierrez Fernandez, a spokesman for the Michoacan state attorney general, said Thursday.
Israel’s ambassador to Mexico, Dov Schmorak, said in an interview broadcast today on Israel’s armed forces radio that he did not know why Nir was in Mexico or why he used that name.
Gutierrez said engine failure was the probable cause of the crash.
But Schmorak told the radio that Mexican authorities said preliminary information that suggested the crash was caused by a violent rain storm.
A Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem who spoke on condition of anonymity told the radio Nir was on private business.
Nir, a former adviser on counterterrorism to two Israeli prime ministers, was an important liaison in secret arms deals involving the sale of U.S. weapons to Iran, according to testimony given to U.S. congressional investigators.
Former White House aide Oliver North, who was deeply involved in the U.S.-Iranian arms transactions, suggested during congressional testimony that the Contra link - diverting funds from U.S. arms sales to Iran to Nicaraguan rebels - was Nir’s idea. Israel denied it.
Nir was sought for questioning by Special U.S. Prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh. Israel insisted Nir be granted immunity from prosecution.
Schmorak told the radio Nir apparently missed a regularly scheduled flight and hired a private plane.
Gutierrez said Nir arrived Sunday in Mexico City and traveled to Uruapan, 190 miles west, to stay with friends.
″It appears he had some possible business involving shipments of products from Latin America to Europe,″ Gutierrez said. He refused to elaborate.
A state attorney general’s statement identified the dead pilot as Pedro Espinoza Hurtado, 34, and the others injured as Guillermo Joaonde Amezqua, 35, and Ester Areaga, 23.
An airport official in Uruapan said the Cessna was bound for Mexico City.
The plane, belonging to Aerotaxis of Uruapan, took off Wednesday afternoon from Uruapan and crashed 30 minutes later near Ciudad Hidalgo, the statement said.
Nir was a close associate of Shimon Peres, now foreign minister of Israel. Peres, prime minister from 1984-86, appointed Nir adviser on counterterrorism in 1985 and assigned him to serve as liaison with North.
In January 1986, Nir met in Washington with North and Adm. John Poindexter, the National Security adviser, and proposed to renew arms shipments to Iran.
Nir also met with North in Israel and Europe, discussing U.S. arms sales to Iran through Israel and the diversion of profits to the Contras, despite a congressional ban on military aid to the rebels.
Nir also traveled to Tehran, Iran, in May 1986 with North and former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to discuss the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian extremists in Lebanon in return for the supply of anti-aircraft Hawk missiles.
Nir briefed Bush on the program involving U.S. weapons sales to Iran in Jerusalem on July 27, 1986. Bush has said he does not remember much about the briefing, but his aide Craig Fuller attended the meeting and took notes.
Nir, a former journalist, remained on after Yitzhak Shamir succeeded Peres as prime minister in October 1986, and the Iran-Contra affair exploded that November. He resigned this year.
Israeli leaders admitted selling weapons to Iran but only in cooperation with the United States. Israel also denied any knowledge of the Contra connection.