Lugar urges US to apply Philippine lessons in Nicaragua. But `contra' aid needed to pressure Sandinistas
Washington — The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he's impressed by Philippine President Corazon Aquino's magnanimity in victory. ``Despite the fact that she's prodded by the television media almost every night to make some comments of vindictiveness'' towards deposed President Ferdinand C. Marcos, ``she generally keeps trying to say that national unity and reconciliation are [her top] priorities,'' said Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana.
However, Senator Lugar added that the US ``ought to be cooperative'' if the Aquino government requests American help in following up on purported wrongdoing by Mr. Marcos. The Aquino government has set up a commission to recover money and property estimated to be worth billions of dollars, allegedly misappropriated and removed from the country by Marcos and his cronies.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Friday, Lugar also praised the emphasis on free elections that led to last week's change of government in the Philippines. ``This is our strongest suit in foreign policy -- to steadily press our friends and non-friends to have elections.''
Lugar spoke as the Reagan administration and congressional leaders were celebrating the US's success in furthering a peaceful transition in one country, the Philippines, and as Congress was gearing up to debate an administration request for $100 million to force political changes in another, Nicaragua.
The Reagan administration has supported US aid to Nicaragua's anti-government rebels, called ``contras,'' as a means of pressuring Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista regime, which the administration has characterized as a threat to stability in Central America. But Lugar said that, in his view, the US should be ``perfectly willing to call it quits in terms of the contras and military aid and the rest of it, if [the Sandinistas] would hold an election like the Philippines did.''
Lugar, one of the co-leaders of a team of US observers of the Feb. 7 Philippine election, suggested US policy should be consistent toward friends and adversaries alike. Encouraging free elections is a ``more promising foreign policy than most of the other options we've had before. It's one I would like to see pursued, and [South] Korea is as good an example as any'' of an ally which the US should impel to make democratic reforms. Like the Philippines under Marcos, South Korea has close ties to the US but is ruled by an authoritarian regime.
Numerous members of Congress have called for the outright elimination of or reductions in the administration's contra aid package, which calls for $30 million in humanitarian assistance and $70 million in military aid.
But Lugar says cutting contra aid would only weaken the President's leverage in dealing with the Managua regime. He says the US should ``deliberately apply pressure until [the Sandinistas] get into negotiations that provide an election like neighbors in Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador.''
Lugar warned that terminating US support to the contras would also undercut the efforts of the ``Contadora'' group of nations -- Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela -- to find a negotiated solution in Central America. ``The Contadora process doesn't have anywhere to go unless there is some pressure that would lead the Sandinistas to bargain with the Contadora group. If we finally say no [to contra aid], . . . the Contadora process is absolutely dead.''
Lugar said ``none of us knows'' if US aid to the contras increases the prospects of direct US military involvement in Central America. But for now, he maintains, contra aid is ``the safest and most inexpensive solution we have.''