US confronts broad diplomatic fallout
The United States role in the Middle East peace process is finished - for the moment, at least. Further US support for anticommunist rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government is highly unlikely.Skip to next paragraph
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The Western allies are deeply troubled by the Reagan administration's disarray, and eager to see it end quickly.
The Soviets, meanwhile, are being cautious about exploiting the administration's troubles. While arms control efforts have not been derailed, neither are they enhanced by the turmoil in the Reagan administration.
These are the major elements of the diplomatic fallout from the arms-to-Iran, funds-to-the-contras controversy in which the Reagan administration is embroiled.
Administration officials, diplomats, and other experts say that the longer the controversy drags on, the more damaging it could become.
Here are the effects of the imbroglio in four key areas of the world:
Middle East. News of US arms sales to Iran has already raised serious questions about US antiterrorism policy and - by potentially altering the military balance in the Persian Gulf - the US position regarding the six-year Iran-Iraq war. (US arms shipments enhanced Iran's offensive capability, Page 3.)
The arms deal could also terminate the already moribund effort to find a negotiated solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute over the West Bank and Gaza.
With the weakening of the US's credibility as an impartial broker between competing Arab and Israeli interests and the fueling of Arab hostility toward Israel for abetting the arms-for-hostages deal, the peace process could be put on the shelf at least until after Reagan leaves office.
``The peace process was dead as a doornail,'' says one Washington-based Middle East expert who asked not to be identified. ``The Iranian affair has embalmed it.''
``The incident may ultimately help the State Department get a better grip on US Middle East policy,'' says Philip Stoddard of the Middle East Institute. ``In the meantime, it has left our friends on the Arab side disheartened.''
Central America. The main casualty of the Iran operation could be future US support for Nicaraguan resistance forces.
Chances are ``slim to none'' that Congress will approve new aid to the contras, one committee aide on Capitol Hill speculates.
Confusion over the ultimate objectives of contra aid and allegations that Reagan officials violated congressional restrictions in administering the program have already weakened congressional support for providing funds to the insurgents.
The revelations that National Security Council official Oliver North directed profits from Iran arms sales to contra leaders - profits that may have sustained a secret, perhaps illegal contra resupply operation - may prove the last straw, sources on Capitol Hill say.
Congress could move to block disbursement of the unused portion of a $100 million aid package approved last summer. Alternatively, Congress could simply say no when President Reagan comes back for additional funding next year, as expected.
``The real effect is atmospheric,'' says Susan Benda of the Center for National Security Studies. ``The feeling is that the administration can't be trusted to abide by the spirit of congressional limits. The Iran episode could spell doom and gloom for the [contra aid] policy.''