Latin policy: softening the edges

In forthrightly deleting a military aid package for Nicaraguan rebels from an emergency spending bill, the US Senate has cleared the congressional desks on two disputed issues:

* The Senate has given its go-ahead to a much-needed $100 million jobs program for low-income youths. The jobs program is absolutely essential and should never have been linked to the Nicaraguan aid issue in the first place.

Unemployment among low-income youths (especially minority youths) continues to be a major concern on the part of social workers and school officials. In some communities, minority youth unemployment is running as high as 50 percent. With summer now upon us, the necessary funds for youth jobs are essential.

* The Senate has now, in effect, joined the House in refusing to provide additional funds for the Central Intelligence Agency's covert war against the Sandinista regime. The administration has said that it intends to ask for additional funds later this year. But the Senate has served notice that the burden of proof for such funds is on the administration - a burden of proof that Congress has rejected.

In yielding to the decision to remove the Nicaraguan aid issue from the emergency spending bill, the administration is underscoring its determination - for the moment at least - to further a broad-based policy of diplomacy regarding Central America. The policy has both carrot and stick aspects. White House insistence that it will probably seek covert aid for the Contras later this year is part of the stick side of the equation - as is the continuing buildup of bases and military training projects in Honduras.

The General Accounting Office recently criticized the Pentagon for what the GAO said was a misuse of such funds in Honduras. Rather, the GAO concluded, the Pentagon was undertaking some construction and training programs in that nation without proper congressional authorization.

Still, the carrot side of the administration's Central American diplomatic policy is now in the clear ascendancy - in part stemming from White House recognition that Central America needs to be put on a back burner during the rest of the presidential year.

The administration decision to allow El Salvador-opposition leader Roberto d'Aubuisson to visit the US, a reversal of prior US policy, is part of that larger diplomatic framework. And the administration decision to back off on funding for the Nicaraguan Contras is another indication that the administration may well be coming around to the perception that only a larger accommodation of interests in the area - featuring diplomatic as opposed to military solutions - will untangle the Central American conflict.

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