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Democrats Say Humanitarian Aid For Contras OK If Cease-Fire Reached With AM-Nicaragua Talks

March 24, 1988

Democrats Say Humanitarian Aid For Contras OK If Cease-Fire Reached With AM-Nicaragua Talks Bjt

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democratic leaders said Wednesday they would act quickly to send food and clothing to Nicaragua’s Contras if the rebels and the leftist Sandinista government reached a cease-fire.

The promise came just hours before the two sides announced they had signed an agreement for a 60-day cease-fire to start April 1, and that the Contras have agreed to accept only humanitarian aid from a neutral organization.

Neither the White House nor the State Department had any immediate comment early Thursday after the cease-fire was announced.

At midday Wednesday, a group of House members, including several moderates regarded as crucial ″swing″ votes on the aid issue, proposed a package of primarily humanitarian aid. The proposal was offered as House Speaker Jim Wright began talking with Republicans about breaking the aid deadlock.

″It is my earnest hope that we can obtain a bipartisan agreement on humanitarian aid so that the bill can be scheduled quickly,″ Wright, D-Texas, told reporters. ″That is the best way to encourage the peacemakers in Central America.″

Wright also had preliminary conversations on the aid issue with House Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., and with White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker.

House Majority Whip Tony Coelho, D-Calif., said such a bill could be approved next week if the cease-fire talks under way in Sapoa, Nicaragua, bear fruit, and if aid would be consistent with whatever agreement is reached by the Contras and the Managua government.

Both Wright and the Reagan administration expressed encouragement at the progress being made by the two sides in their first face-to-face, high-level talks.

″We want to be cautious but we are encouraged,″ said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. ″They do seem to be making progress,″ he said, adding that was ″somewhat surprising″ in view of last week’s Sandinista incursion into Honduras to attack Contra camps.

Meanwhile, Rep. Edward Feighan, D-Ohio, said three officials from the General Accounting Office would leave for Honduras on Thursday to track the disposition of small arms, ammunition, jeeps and other materials that were brought to Honduras by the U.S. troops.

″My concern is that the deployment of American troops and weapons to Honduras could in fact be another diversion of arms to the Contras,″ said Feighan, who requested the GAO investigation.

The aid bill proposed by Rep. Buddy MacKay, D-Fla., and a dozen colleagues would provide $48 million for food, clothing, medicine and shelter for the rebels over the next year. It would allow the CIA to deliver the aid, and to deliver some $2.5 million in previously stockpiled weapons.

The legislation also would guarantee President Reagan that he could seek a quick vote on a new request for military aid sometime in June, but would leave the exact nature of the follow-up aid package up to Congress.

The latter point seemed to meet a standard set by Wright, who said any provision for a future aid vote would have to preserve Congress’ right to control its own legislation. Wright would oppose any bill that includes the delivery of weapons as destructive to peace efforts, an aide said.

MacKay, who in the past has opposed any military aid to the rebels, acknowledged that the package reflected ″a hardening″ of his attitude toward the Sandinistas.

″It reflects a realization that we really can’t walk away and hope that (Nicaraguan President Daniel) Ortega is going to act in good faith,″ MacKay said. ″The guy doesn’t act in a way that is rational, by my standards.″

Several hard-line Contra supporters, most of them Democrats, joined MacKay in sponsoring the aid bill, including Reps. Claude Pepper and Dante Fascell of Florida. Moderate ″swing″ voters supporting it were Reps. Dave McCurdy, D- Okla.; Martin Lancaster, D-N.C.; Mike Andrews, D-Texas, and Jim Cooper, D- Tenn.

Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., who has led pro-Contra efforts for the Republicans, said he also favored the MacKay bill. ″The problem is whether the speaker will let it come to the floor,″ Edwards said. ″He is the obstacle.″

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