JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, one of the Clinton administration's harshest critics of Conoco's $1 billion contract with Iran, said yesterday he has cut himself off from all consideration of the deal because his former law firm represents the U.S. oil company.
Mr. Christopher said he decided to recuse himself from the controversy because of his conservative position on conflict-of-interest matters, choosing to avoid even the suggestion of impropriety.
U.S. officials said Mr. Christopher learned Thursday night that the Los Angeles firm O'Melveny & Myers had been retained by Conoco in connection with the project to develop an offshore oil field in the Persian Gulf. The pact, which surfaced last week, is the first deal of its type between a U.S. company and Iran since the United States broke off relations with Iran in 1980.
Mr. Christopher, a former chairman of O'Melveny & Myers, said he will take no part in administration consideration of possible steps to block the Conoco deal.
Mr. Christopher will not be briefed or shown memos and other papers on the subject, a senior aide said.
A few hours before he learned of his former firm's connection, Mr. Christopher had denounced the project, which he said could help finance Iran's support of international terrorism.
"Wherever you look, you find the evil hand of Iran in this region," Mr. Christopher said Thursday in Tel Aviv, Israel.
When asked if he believes Conoco retained his former firm in order to silence him, Mr. Christopher replied, "Absolutely not." Nevertheless, the agreement has that effect.