Contras Aid Vital to U.S., Nixon Says

Times Staff Writer

Former President Richard M. Nixon told a gathering of newspaper publishers Monday that unless the United States aids the rebels fighting the Marxist government in Nicaragua, communism may spill through Central America into Mexico, which he described as “a country waiting for a revolution.”

Without pressure from the Nicaraguan rebels, called contras, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government would be “free to export their revolution,” Nixon told the annual meeting of the American Newspaper Publishers Assn. here. “The shock waves eventually could affect Mexico, and we cannot afford to take that risk.”

For that reason, Nixon said, “Nicaragua is far more important to the United States than even the Philippines, because it is here. It is our neighbor.”

It is better, he said, to “provide aid to the contras now rather than to send American forces later to attack Soviet bases” that might be established in Nicaragua.


Standing Ovation

Nixon, who received a standing ovation from about half of the 1,500 newspaper executives in the audience, acknowledged that the contras cannot overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

But, he said, the contras can force the Nicaraguan government to negotiate with its opposition, hold elections and abide by the guidelines of the Contadora Group--Latin American nations that have banded together to seek a negotiated end to Central American conflicts.

Nixon discounted the view that the United States ought not to support the contras because their ranks include leaders from the regime of the late Nicaraguan strongman, Anastasio Somoza. The new government of President Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, Nixon argued, contains leaders from the ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos regime, and no one questions its right to American support.

Supported Libyan Raid

The former President also said he supports President Reagan’s decision to attack Libya last week, even though in the short term the attack will probably encourage more terrorist activity aimed at Americans.

Over the long term, Nixon said, the United States must recognize that it cannot use any further military action against Libya because “general escalation does not work with fanatics,” and a massive attack against Libya would provoke a worldwide backlash.

The United States instead should attempt to persuade its allies to support economic sanctions against the Kadafi regime.


If that option is unavailable, Nixon suggested the United States consider a blockade against the Gulf of Sidra.

“‘The way to bring down Kadafi,” the former President said, “is to cut off his exports.”