Jockeying for compromise on Central America

Congress remains deeply divided over US actions in Central America in the wake of President Reagan's major foreign-policy address. Even critics are praising the new ''conciliatory'' tone of the speech given Wednesday night, but congressional leaders hold out little hope that the President will win all of the military aid he seeks for the embattled nation of El Salvador.

If Mr. Reagan wants the full $60 million more he has requested for the Salvadorean military, ''he's going to be disappointed,'' says Rep. Clarence D. Long (D) of Maryland, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. The Long panel recently agreed to a $30 million increase, and the chairman points out that Mr. Rmagan would have trouble winning even that amount.

Meanwhile, the House Select Committee on Intelligence has delayed, but only for a few days, a threat to the Reagan policy in another Central American country. Meeting in secret on Thursday, the committee postponed until May 3 a vote to cut off funding for American ''covert'' actions in Nicaragua.

The bill, proposed by committee chairman Edward P. Boland (D) of Massachusetts, would replace money for secret operations with $30 million to $50 million for ''overt'' operations to halt the shipment of arms in Central America.

Although not a complete rejection of the Reagan policy in the area, it would be a rebuke to the administration, which is widely reported to be sending secret aid to guerrilla opponents of the leftist Nicaraguan government.

''There're sufficient v es on my side to pass the bill out,'' Representative Boland told reporters, but he explained that members of his own party want to offer amendments, so he agreed to give them more time.

Asked if the presidential speech made a difference, Boland said, ''I'm sure it had effect on the minority side.'' He said that Republicans were seeking a delay on the committee vote on the ''covert action'' bill.

Debate on US aid to guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua will probably extend to the House floor, since Boland is asking for a secret session late next week to give classified information about the bill. ''The members are entitled to know'' the facts surrounding the issue, he said.

President Reagan's call for bipartisanship on Central America appears to be only partly heeded here. On Boland's committee and other panels, the Democrats are the chief opponents, the GOP, the supporters. Moreover, the Democrats took the unusual action of giving a televised response, by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, to a foreign policy address.

The message of Senator Dodd and other Democratic objectors is essentially that Reagan seeks guns for Central America, while they see the need for more butter and for human rights.

Dodd said, ''If Central America were not racked with poverty, there would be no revolution.'' He said of the Reagan administration, ''Its policy is ever-increasing military assistance, endless military training, even hiring our own paramilitary guerrillas.''

Evoking the Vietnam memory, he added, ''The American people know that we have been down this road before and that it only leads to a dark tunnel of endless intervention.''

But Dodd clearly did not speak for all of his party. At the speech Wednesday night, Republicans led apparently orchestrated cheers at various points during the speech, while most Democrats sat with hands folded. However, a sizable number of Democrats, including House majority leader Jim Wright of Texas and Southern conservatives, stood up and cheered, too.

''I think the President pretty much tried to moderate the partisanship of his message,'' a Democratic House leadership aide says. ''The tone was more moderate than expected.''

''There'll be some in both parties who support him,'' Senate minority leader Robert C. Byrd (D) of West Virginia said Thursday. ''He's asking for more aid. He'll get some of it.''

Majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee held that some wavering senators may have been swayed in the Reagan administration's direction by the speech. ''I already perceive a change in attitude toward the danger in Central America.''

Among critics of the US Central America policy, several are finding some solace because the speech, while hitting hard at the communist threat on the nation's doorstep, also mentioned the need for ''negotiation'' and ''dialogue'' with the political groups vying for power in Central American countries.

''He used the word 'dialogue,' and in El Salvador that means 'power sharing,' which the administration has backed off from'' until the speech this week, says Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, a GOP critic of Reagan policy in the region.

Mr. Leach also applauded the decision to send a special envoy to El Salvador. President Reagan Thursday appointed former Sen. Richard Stone of Florida to that post. But will Leach agree to full funding for military aid in the region? ''I will continue to be skeptical of substantive increases in military aid and supportive of food and economic aid,'' he says.

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