Vice President George Bush admitted on Saturday that the secret sale of American arms to Iran was a mistake that he did nothing to stop.
"I think the arms for Iran was wrong," the Republican presidential candidate told CBS Saturday night."If I, in my infinite wisdom, had seen that this would turn out to be as it was, arms for Iran, I believe I would have walked down to the president and said you shouldn't do that. But I didn't do it," Bush said.
But he added that the original intentions of the deal were appropriate. "I think the reaching out to moderates in Iran was correct, and I take great pride in having defended and articulated a policy on the Persian Gulf that now makes it look like there might be peace."
The interview was taped on Thursday and broadcast Saturday night.
On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis has charged Bush remained silent while the arms deal was being debated within the administration.
In a separate CNN interview, Bush, who will receive the Republican presidential nomination at a party convention starting here on Monday, said that if he were president he would be willing to meet with Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega.
"If I thought that a meeting with Daniel Ortega would make him keep his commitment to the Organization of American States, I would meet with him tomorrow," Bush said.
"That commitment was for freedom of the press, freedom of elections, certifiably free elections and freedom of religion," Bush said. "And I'd meet with him in (an) instant if I thought the result of that meeting would be democracy and freedom for Nicaragua."
Bush appeared to break with Reagan administration policy against meeting with Ortega, whom the administration has opposed with military aid to Nicaraguan rebels.
Only last week, Secretary of State George Shultz and Ortega were pres-ent at the inauguration of the new president of Ecuador, but Shultz refused to meet with him.
Bush refused to criticize former national security aide Oliver North, who with former national security adviser John Poindexter has been indicted for their role in the Iran arms deal and the subsequent diversion of profits to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Bush told CBS that if the allegations that North was involved in diverting funds are proven true, "that is wrong."
"But I'm not going to jump on Ollie North when this matter is in the courts to be determined," he said.
He also said he is not in favor of a presidential pardon for North before his trial starts. "No, I hope he's found innocent," Bush said.
Dukakis interrupted a weekend on Cape Cod for a news conference that included a tribute to Bush's courage and patriotism. A day earlier, Bush's account of being shot down in World War II was questioned by a gunner who witnessed the episode.
"I don't think that kind of thing has any place in a campaign," Dukakis said. "He served this country. He served it with tremendous courage. You don't fly 58 missions without enormous courage and tremendous patriotism."
Dukakis continued to link the jump in the prime lending rate to 10 percent this past week to the Reagan administration's deficit spending.
"I'm very concerned, and I think all Americans are concerned, about what's happening to our economy," he said. "This increase in interest rates is every bit as much a tax as a legislated tax."
The Dukakis campaign also started broadcasting a television commercial in California and Texas that touted his record as governor of Massachusetts and said the state's prosperity "wasn't a miracle, it was leadership."
In the CNN interview, Bush hinted that there had been secret U.S. plan to remove Panamanian military ruler Manuel Antonio Noriega but it had to be aborted after it leaked out.