President Reagan's White House staff, rekindling the rancor of the 1980 election campaign, denounced former President Jimmy Carter on Friday for criticizing Administration policy in a speech in Cairo.
"We are deeply disappointed by his comments," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. "If he wants to be helpful in the area of foreign affairs, he might want to forgo criticism of U.S. leaders while he's on foreign soil."
According to news service accounts, Carter told a group of American businessmen in Egypt on Thursday that Reagan has neglected the Middle East peace process and opportunities for diplomatic negotiations in Central America while relying on the use of force--for example, sending the Marines to Lebanon and supporting anti-government rebels in Nicaragua.
Uses Military Strength
"President Reagan has not been inclined to use negotiation and diplomacy as a means to achieve our nation's goals nearly so much as have his Democratic and Republican predecessors," Carter said. "He's more inclined to exert America's military strength, either the actual use of it or the threat of it."
Fitzwater, in remarks that a White House aide said reflect Reagan's thinking, although they were not specifically approved in advance by the President, said that Carter was wrong in his analysis of Administration foreign policy.
"We're working on several fronts with the problem in Central America," Fitzwater said. "One is military resistance and trying to keep (up) pressure for change inside Nicaragua. Another one is the negotiating process and the peace process."
Fitzwater insisted that the Administration is active in pursuing Middle East diplomacy, although he conceded that there have been no breakthroughs to rival Carter's Camp David negotiations involving Egypt and Israel, which led to the 1979 peace treaty between the two longtime foes.
'Simply Not True'
"It is simply not true that this Administration has neglected diplomatic channels in the Middle East," Fitzwater said. "When you talk about the peace process in the Middle East, you talk about gains that come in inches and not miles, and there have been a lot of gains. There have also been setbacks."
Reminded that the Israeli-Egyptian treaty mediated by Carter was a substantial gain, Fitzwater said: "What's wrong with that? I congratulate them on that. That's outstanding. I don't mean to detract from that in any way. I'm simply saying, it is not right to say that we have not been pursuing the peace process in the Middle East.
"The point is, we keep trying," he added. "I didn't suggest there had been any breakthroughs--there haven't been."
Carter, who has been on a personal fact-finding tour of the Middle East that will also take him to Syria, Jordan and Israel, said he was reluctant "to criticize my own government" while abroad. Nevertheless, he said, Washington had failed to provide the necessary leadership to bring opposing factions together, either in Central America or the Middle East.
His Beef Is Criticism
Fitzwater was asked if his chief complaint about Carter was that the former President was making his comments on foreign soil.
"My beef is that he criticized Ronald Reagan," Fitzwater said.
Asked if Reagan planned to apologize to Carter for Reagan's stinging past criticism of the Carter Administration, Fitzwater said, "That's pretty tough."