Ambassador Philip C. Habib, President Reagan's new special envoy to Central America, said today that Reagan's proposal for aid to Nicaraguan rebels has strong popular support in the region and the understanding of political leaders there.
Habib, meeting with Reagan to report on his trip to Central America last week, told reporters that it "just isn't true" that the President's proposal for $100 million in military and economic aid to the contras has little support from Nicaragua's neighbors.
"There's a poll showing that a majority of people in Central America, 90%, support the policy in Central America," Habib said.
Reagan also referred to the poll, noting that former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick mentioned it in her column in the Washington Post today.
Poll Finds Threat
She said the poll, conducted this winter "by the highly reliable Consultoria Interdisciplinaria in Desarrollo reveals that 92% of Costa Ricans, 89% of Hondurans and 63% of El Salvadorans regard Nicaragua as a military threat to their respective countries."
Kirkpatrick said the poll also shows that a majority of Costa Ricans, El Salvadorans and Hondurans want the United States to provide military assistance to the contras.
Habib also expressed irritation over questions about his fact-finding trip that suggested he had reported to Reagan that the Central American leaders did not favor military pressure on Nicaragua to bring the Marxist Sandinistas to the negotiating table.
Words Chosen Carefully
"That's not true," Habib told reporters during a photo session with Reagan in the Oval Office. He said the leaders did support the President's uphill battle for $100 million in arms and supplies to the anti-Sandinista rebels but had to speak carefully.
"These fellas have code words the way we do," Habib said. "I'm saying they are concerned about the situation in Nicaragua, that they are stating their positions quite clearly, that they understand the significance of putting pressure on the Sandinistas in order to bring them to a different approach, a political approach."
Habib last week visited El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala but not Nicaragua.
Reagan, when told by reporters that Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega had said the President has lost his senses on the issue of military aid to the contras, shot back: "Takes one to know one."
Mum on Negotiating
As for negotiating with Ortega, Reagan said: "I'm not going to respond to that."
Reagan conferred with Habib in the aftermath of his nationally televised address Sunday in which he warned of the "mortal threat" to the United States by Soviet-sponsored communism in Nicaragua. (Story, Page 4.)
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said later that the poll cited by Reagan and Habib was commissioned by the U.S. Information Agency. He identified the organization that conducted the survey, Consultoria Interdisciplinaria in Desarrollo, as a "Latin American division of Gallup."