THE nomination of Donald Gregg as US ambassador to South Korea is only one of the remnants still to be tidied up from the Iran-contra scandal. But it is probably the most important. Important, because it gets to the heart of George Bush's assumed role in the illegal attempt by the Reagan administration to circumvent congressional curbs on aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua. Important, because the diplomatic post in question is one of the most sensitive.
A 32-year veteran of the CIA, Gregg was Vice-President Bush's national security advisor. In 1985, he helped an old intelligence agency pal, Felix Rodriguez, get a job with the Air Force of El Salvador - which quickly became a cover for helping the contras. Gregg insists he was kept in the dark (presumably by contra master Oliver North, with whom Mr. Rodriguez worked) for a year and a half. Even when he found out, he says, it was some time before he told his boss, the vice-president.
Democrats in Congress are highly suspicious of Gregg's version of events - especially the part about where his note-taker's reference to ``resupply of the contras'' should have been ``resupply of the copters'' for El Salvador. Senatorial inquisitors are frustrated, however, because they've been denied some important documents and because so much of the four year-old story involves one man's word against another's.
The historical fallout from Iran-contra will continue for President Bush and others. US policy in Central America already has taken an important turn in the right (i.e., diplomatic) direction.
Gregg has had long experience in US-Korean relations. This will be important as South Korea continues its new and delicate moves toward liberalization and democracy. Gregg's CIA background should not be used against him here (it could be a plus) and does not seem to be a problem in Seoul, except with the radical opposition.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to vote on the nomination today. Our view is that unless new evidence against him is forthcoming or unless perjury can be proved, Donald Gregg should be confirmed, warts and all.