Has Just Begun Contras Aid Fight--Reagan

Times Staff Writer

Invoking the words of naval hero John Paul Jones, President Reagan said Friday that he has just begun to fight in his battle to provide military aid to anti-government guerrillas in Nicaragua.

"I will not rest until freedom is given a fighting chance in Nicaragua," Reagan said at the White House in an address to cheering supporters of his $100-million plan to aid the rebels, known as contras.

Only 24 hours after the House rejected the aid package by a 222-210 vote, the President opened a new campaign to push the proposal through the Republican-held Senate and set the stage for another showdown in the House next month.

Rebel Leaders at His Side

He invited about 200 supporters to the East Room of the White House, where they were joined by three contra leaders, Adolfo Calero, Alfonso Robelo and Arturo Cruz. Reagan, with the Nicaraguan rebels at his side, declared: "We intend to bring this back to the House as many times as it takes to win. And we will win."

The President also said, "To paraphrase another freedom fighter, John Paul Jones: 'We have not yet begun to fight.' "

The President drew loud applause, especially when he told the Nicaraguans: "We're in this together. The future of Central America is not with communism. The future of Central America is with democracy and all those who are fighting for freedom.

"You are the future of Central America. Today, I give you my solemn pledge: I will not rest until freedom is given a fighting chance in Nicaragua. We'll spare no effort and give no ground in supporting the democratic resistance in Nicaragua."

Senate Victory Seen

The Senate is scheduled to begin debating the issue Wednesday, and a vote is likely Thursday. A spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the President's plan has enough support for a narrow victory in the Senate.

Supporters and opponents of the proposal agreed Friday that the Administration had strengthened its chances of eventually winning approval of the package by agreeing that the legislation should be amended to delay delivery of most of the aid for a 90-day period.

"I would say that it will be a very difficult proposition to defeat here in the Senate," said Sen. James R. Sasser (D-Tenn.), one of the chief opponents of the package. "The compromise the President offered the House was nothing more than a fig leaf compromise. Most of the Republicans up for reelection this year will probably be able to hide behind it, but there will still be some defections."

In an effort to save the measure in the House, Reagan offered to issue an executive order withholding $75 million of the $100 million for 90 days after approval while peace efforts are pursued through diplomatic channels.

Concessions Expected

Lugar and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said the Senate would probably write the concessions into the legislation, rather than leaving it to the President to issue an executive order after the package is approved.

Senate Democrats are trying to develop an alternative proposal that would provide for a six-month delay in military aid to allow for negotiations. It would also require a second affirmative vote by the Congress at the end of six months to permit the flow of aid to begin.

But Republicans predicted that such a Democratic alternative would be defeated in the Senate because it would not appeal to either the liberals who want no aid or the conservatives who want no negotiations.

As the battlefront moves to the Senate, the Administration sent Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams to Central America for consultations with instructions to report back to the President next week. White House officials said special envoy Philip C. Habib was attending to personal affairs at home in California and would not return to Central America until after Easter.

Times staff writer Sara Fritz contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World