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Reagan Turns Up the Heat in Contras Aid Campaign

Times Staff Writer

President Reagan turned up the decibel level Monday on his campaign for a $100-million aid package for the Nicaraguan rebels, telling a group of foreign affairs specialists and corporate leaders that the United States is running out of time to reverse the Communist takeover of Nicaragua.

“The Communists have made their decision,” Reagan declared. “Now we must make ours. The choice is stark; the choice is unavoidable.”

The House is expected to vote on the controversial aid package sometime during the week of June 23. The Republican-approved Senate passed the plan to assist the contras , as the rebels are known, more than two months ago.

If the House votes down the measure, Reagan said, “the final outcome is only too predictable.” He painted a scenario of “a second Cuba--indeed, a second Libya,” threatening American interests.

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“We can be certain that tens of thousands of Nicaraguan refugees will seek to inundate our Southern states,” Reagan said.

While the threat of a Communist Nicaragua to the national security has not been an especially effective argument on Capitol Hill, the fear of a new wave of refugees competing for jobs and government benefits has galvanized Southern congressmen in the past.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that the Administration has “a good chance of winning” the contras aid fight, and he accused the Democratic-controlled House of unnecessarily delaying the vote. Opponents of the measure, he said, appear to be “a little bit afraid to step up to the batter’s box.”

The President made his comments in an address at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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“Our goal is not a military solution,” Reagan said, arguing that military assistance for the contras is the leverage needed to bring the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua to the bargaining table to produce a political settlement.

Administration officials regard the continuing failure of the Contadora Group--Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and Colombia--to get Nicaragua and its non-Communist neighbors to agree on a peace treaty as evidence that negotiations cannot succeed without military pressure.

To make his case that the time has come for the United States to act, Reagan sought to tie the Nicaraguan regime to the Soviet Union, Cuba, the Palestine Liberation Organization and Libya. “Just as the men and women of the resistance have decided what they must do, so too have (Soviet leader Mikhail S.) Gorbachev, (Cuban leader Fidel) Castro, (PLO chief Yasser) Arafat and (Libyan leader Moammar) Kadafi,” he said.

Cuban Troops in Managua

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He repeated charges that hundreds of Soviet military advisers operate in Nicaragua, that the ruling Sandinistas operate Soviet-built attack helicopters, that “Cuban troops swarm the streets of Managua” and that the PLO maintains an embassy in the Nicaraguan capital.

Over the weekend, the Administration disclosed intelligence information that a Soviet ship from the military port of Nikolayev had docked in Nicaragua and was unloading military goods. The shipment was apparently the first in more than a year sent directly to Nicaragua by the Soviet Union. Soviet freighters typically use Cuba as an intermediary to ship guns and ammunition.

Democratic opponents of the contras aid bill accused the Administration of withholding information about the Soviet ship to influence the coming House vote. Speakes confirmed that officials had known about the shipment for a month, but he hotly defended their right to control the timing.


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