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Shultz Says U.S. Has Moral Duty To Support Contras

March 4, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State George Shultz told a House panel Tuesday the United States has a moral duty to supply aid to Nicaraguan rebels trying to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government.

In an appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Shultz painted the situation in Central America in stark and simple terms, calling the Contras ″the good guys,″ and the Sandinistas ″the bad guys″ and ″a very undesirable cancer in the area.″

He said the administration believes it has a moral imperative to ″support those people ... willing to fight for freedom and independence.″

Although the administration’s request for $100 million in aid to the Contras is its immediate priority, Shultz’ appearance before the subcommittee was mostly to lobby for the administration’s overall forein aid budget.

The panel chairman, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., told Shultz that Congress will not approve President Reagan’s request for a $15.5 billion foreign aid budget and directed him ″back to the drawing board.″

Obey said the proposal for fiscal 1987 is 16.2 percent above actual foreign aid spending for fiscal 1986.

The proposed military aid package to the Contras is already intensely controversial and Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia on Tuesday named a group of 11 senators, headed by Sen. James Sasser, D-Tenn., to help form a Democratic policy on the issue.

In the House, Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. called on the administration to reopen negotiations aimed at producing a peaceful solution to the problems rather than rely on ″military firepower.″

In response to questions from the appropriations subcommittee, Shultz acknowleged that the administration has had problems delivering to the Contras $27 million in so-called non-lethal logistical aid already approved by Congress.

He said all of the money now has been committed and that initial problems in sending the assistance through such countries as Costa Rica and Honduras have been resolved.

However, Shultz acknowleged that only $10 million of the assistance actually has been delivered so far.

Obey asked how the administration can justify asking for $100 million in direct military aid when it has had difficulty delivering a far smaller amount of non-lethal assistance.

Shultz said there should be little future difficulty in providing the aid. He blamed past problems on the fact that Congress insisted the past assistance be provided overtly rather than secretly.

Obey said he has serious doubts as to whether the administration’s aid program for the Contras will achieve its goal of destabilizing the Sandinista government.

Instead, he said the result is likely to put the United States on ″the slippery slope″ of direct military involvement.

″It will be enough to keep a bloody civil war going, but will it be enough to produce change?″ Obey asked. ″The question is not whether the bad people are doing bad things but whether your policies will do something about it.″

Meanwhile, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, witnesses from various organizations took positions both for and against Contra aid.

Wayne Smith, former top American diplomat in Cuba who is now at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said ″rarely has any policy failed so totally as this one″ of aiding the Contras. He contended the Reagan approach has hindered the search for a diplomatic solution.

John R. Silber, presidentt of Boston University and a member of the Kissinger Commission on Central America, said he did not think any diplomatic solution is possible as long as the Sandinistas are in power and that he thought the United States should be providing at least $200 million in aid to the Contras.

Robert S. Leiken, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Contras have been too heavily influenced by former members of the National Guard of ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza, but could rally opponents to the Sandinistas and would be deserving of American aid if the Somoza elements were removed.

Peter D. Bell, also senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Contra effort has failed and giving it more support ″will led to more direct U.S. military intervention in Nicaragua.″

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the committee chairman, reiterated his support for the administration aid request.

But at a news conference, Rep. Michael Barnes, D-Md., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, said of the lobbying campaign for the Contras: ″I haven’t heard of any of my colleagues shifting on the issue. The House has voted this down five times and it would take a signficant shift to change that now.″

In other developments:

-Hundreds of religious protesters, including nearly two-dozen bishops of major denominations, formed a human cross on the Capitol steps memorializing Nicaraguan war dead and accusing the Reagan administration of lies in support of terrorism and killing.

The group’s declaration, signed by about 200 church leaders and Jewish rabbis, formally declared opposition to Reagan proposed aid to the Contras.

″Exaggeration, misinformation and outright falsehood form the heart of the Reagan administration’s case against Nicaragua,″ the statement said.

The statement was not formally endorsed by the denominations’ national bodies, but Moore and Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, said it was consistent with U.S. Catholic and Episcopal leaders’ stands.

-Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, sought to portray U.S. support for the Contras as part of a broader human rights policy.

In a speech sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, he maintained that there is consensus that the United States played a positive role in assisting the ouster of repressive governments in Haiti and the Philippines.

″Consensus does not exist over Nicaragua, and that’s the curiosity,″ he said. ″After all, the goal is the same - to assist the forces which are struggling for democracy, to help the establishment of a peaceful democratic order in that country.″

He called congressional and public opposition to the Contra aid package ″an exception to U.S. human rights policy.″

-Americas Watch, a private human rights group, asserted that Nicaragua’s leftist government, the Contra rebels and the Reagan administration share blame for a ″worsening human rights situation″ in Nicaragua over the past year.

Americas Watch accused government forces of a dozen murders, a crackdown on dissent and curtailment of religious freedom. The Contra rebels committed about 90 murders, often mutilating bodies of government supporters, the New York-based group said in a 145-page report.

Americas Watch added that the Reagan administration shares responsibility for the Contra atrocities because it has tried ″to explain away those abuses″ by providing false information to the Congress and the American public.

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