Warns on Central America : Reagan Snubbed Again--Networks Refuse Air Time
President Reagan, denied a speech podium in the House, received a second snub today when the three major television networks denied him live air time to argue his case for sending $100 million in aid to guerrillas seeking to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
In a last-ditch plea from the Oval Office aimed primarily at House members who are to vote on the aid proposal Wednesday, the President warned that the danger of a Soviet base near America’s borders worsens daily as “we debate and debate and debate.”
“Do we want to be the first elected leaders in U.S. history to put our borders at risk?” the President asked.
Reagan had hoped to speak before the House, but his bid was refused Monday by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who said such a presidential appearance in the chamber would be an “unprecedented” attempt to lobby for legislation. (Story, Page 10.)
O’Neill told White House officials Reagan could speak only if the President agreed to answer questions or spoke to the House and Senate at the same time, proposals the White House rejected. Instead, Reagan delayed for one day his departure for a California holiday to deliver the address and continue last-minute lobbying for the aid.
But in a second rebuff, a White House request for live television coverage of the speech today was turned down by three large commercial networks--ABC, CBS and NBC--and the President, somewhat hoarse because of allergies, had to content himself with the audience provided by CNN, the all-news TV cable operation; SIN, a Spanish-language network, and radio coverage.
Central America ‘Vital’
“Central America is vital to our national security,” Reagan said, “and the Soviet Union knows it.” Pointing to “strategic sea lanes and vital choke points” the Soviets could control from Caribbean and Pacific Nicaraguan ports, he said:
“I know that no one in Congress wants Nicaragua to become a Soviet military base. My friends, I must tell you in all seriousness, Nicaragua is becoming a Soviet base every day that we debate and debate and debate, and do nothing.”
Pledging his willingness to accept any diplomatic settlement that ensures “real democracy” in Nicaragua, Reagan asserted that the contra rebels are a military force that “can win,” and acknowledged some “intolerable” abuses of human rights by the rebel forces--abuses he vowed to eliminate.