President Reagan will urge Congress to renew U.S. financial support for Nicaragua's contras for at least several months after a proposed cease-fire takes effect Nov. 7 to make sure the leftist Sandinista government follows through on the democratic reforms it has promised, a senior Administration official said Tuesday.
The official, who talked to a small group of reporters on the understanding that he not be identified, said the Nicaraguan regime almost certainly will renege immediately on the peace agreement it signed Aug. 7 in Guatemala City with the other four Central American governments if the contra fighting force is not kept intact and ready to fight. He said it will take months to test Managua's sincerity.
The statement marked another apparent shift in the Administration's plans for financing the contras after the present U.S. appropriation expires Sept. 30. It was also the darkest assessment of Nicaraguan intentions to come from the Administration since the signing of the Central American peace plan.
The change reflected the strong pressure the Administration is receiving from Reagan's conservative backers to stand by the rebels, despite demands by congressional liberals that no action be taken that might undercut the peace process.
Last week, Frank C. Carlucci, White House national security adviser, said that the Administration would ask for renewed contra funding, but the White House retreated from his comments the next day.
The comments could touch off a bitter battle between the President and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
"There are senior officials in the Administration who are trying to sabotage this (agreement). We know that," California Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), a member of the House leadership, said in an interview.
"Let's quit playing games and let's give peace a chance," he said, adding that he believes the senior Administration official's comments were aimed at "trying to keep the right wing happy."
Coelho said he received an intelligence briefing last Friday indicating that currently available funding will tide the rebels through the Nov. 7 cease-fire date.
The assistant majority leader predicted that, if on Sept. 30 significant progress appears to have been made toward peace in the region, any additional request for military funding will be "a non-player."
But the Administration official, expressing a harder line than any by the Administration in recent weeks, said that the contras will need military aid to sustain them from Sept. 30 to Nov. 7. He said they will require food, clothing and other "non-lethal" supplies for several months after the cease-fire date while waiting to see if the Sandinistas embark on an "irreversible" course of amnesty for former rebels, free speech, free press and free elections.
"The agreement does not say that starting in October we should begin to wind down (the contra force)," the official said. "We will go back to Congress with proposals to maintain the resistance after Sept. 30.
"The worst possible outcome here would be to achieve a good treaty which fails because we do not support the resistance, which is a crucial part of the pressures on Nicaragua which will make them keep their promises," the official said.
The official added that the Sandinistas may renege on their commitment for democratic reform regardless of what happens, but certainly will do so if the contras are disbanded.
"One should begin to ask now whether the agreement has had any impact on the Sandinistas and whether they have any intention of complying," the official said. "Why should the Sandinistas democratize? They don't want to democratize."
The official said that Washington will do all it can to make a success of the peace process. At the same time, he said, the United States will try to make it clear to the world that if the effort fails, the blame should be sent to Managua.
"If it fails despite the strong good faith effort of all four (Central American) democracies . . . and the United States, then everyone will know why it failed and can draw their own conclusions," the official said.
Meanwhile, the senior U.S. diplomats assigned to the four Central American democracies--El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala--returned to their posts Tuesday for meetings in advance of a session today in San Salvador of the Central American foreign ministers. The foreign ministers will try to thrash out the details of the peace plan adopted by the presidents.
The four diplomats, joined by John Moderno, charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, were in Washington on Monday for detailed briefings on the U.S. attitude toward the Guatemala City plan.
"The envoys were told that U.S. policy is to try to make the agreement work and to strengthen it in any way possible," State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said.
The Administration official said that the meeting is intended to make sure the diplomats clearly understand U.S. policy and are able to explain it fully to the Central American governments.
"If any of them think that we are trying to subvert this agreement, it is crucial that they do not think that," the official said.
In an attempt to seize the political high ground for the expected battle with Congress, the official said that the Central American peace process could be compared to the 1973 Vietnam peace treaty signed in Paris by representatives of the United States and North Vietnam. That pact was intended to ensure the survival of a non-Communist regime in South Vietnam, but Hanoi's forces overran the south and united the country under Communist control in 1975.
The official said there was nothing inherently wrong with the 1973 pact, but "the support for our side was withdrawn by Congress."