President Reagan told congressional leaders today he will seek $36.25 million in mostly non-lethal aid to Nicaraguan rebels, with $3.6 million of it set aside for arms and ammunition but held in abeyance pending a cease-fire, House Republican leader Robert H. Michel said today.
The $3.6 million in military aid will be held in escrow until March 31 pending a determination by the President that a cease-fire is in place between the rebels and Nicaragua's Marxist-led Sandinista government, Michel said.
If there is no cease-fire, Michel said he assumed, the military portion, including shoulder-fired Redeye missiles, will be released to keep pressure on the Sandinistas for a settlement.
Michel said the package is designed to cover a four-month period.
Before today's announcement by Michel, Administration sources had said Reagan would request $40 million or less for renewed Contra aid. (Story, Page 6.) Michel said he believed that the aid figure he disclosed today could prevail in Congress now that it has been scaled down from earlier suggestions of figures as high as $270 million over 18 months.
No 'Overwhelming Win'
"We have got good grounds to sell the members," the Republican leader said. "I am counting on it." He added, however, "It is not going to be an overwhelming win."
But Democratic leaders said the package will not meet objections in the House and were optimistic they could defeat it.
"It isn't going anywhere," said the party's whip, Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced). "It's just a political ploy to gather a few more votes."
Michel said Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, the President's national security adviser, assured the Republican leaders who met with the President that there will be consultation with leaders of Central American democracies and that their views would "have a bearing" on Administration actions.
Other factors in the President's certification would include a determination whether agreements between the Central American leaders are being fully complied with, Michel said.
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) had offered to consider the escrow proposal but said the mechanism for releasing the aid is critical. He suggested that an international body should decide whether the money should be released and suggested that the Administration cannot be trusted to make an objective judgment of the situation in Nicaragua.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today in an interview with CBS that Wright's idea for an international body to decide whether the money should be released is a "very bad" one.
"This is U.S. money, and we don't just turn it over for other people to decide these things. U.S. interests are at stake," Shultz said.