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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.”

According 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.


SOURCE: SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, 110 Fifth Ave., San Francisco, CA 94103, DATE: 7/21/91

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 administrations.”

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 coverage?”

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.”