Republican right snipes at Reagan on Central America policy. Conservatives charge that peace plan is `selling out' the contras
Washington — President Reagan's Central America policy is under fire from an unusual quarter: his most ardently conservative supporters. Mr. Reagan is ``killing the contras'' with his qualified endorsement of the Aug. 7 Guatemala peace accord, argues Paul Weyrich, chairman of Coalitions for America. The agreement is ``a dead-end for freedom,'' maintains Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, a candidate for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.
As if the White House didn't have enough to worry about in trying to deal with the unexpected Guatemala accord, the President's rock-solid conservative constituency is loudly proclaiming that Reagan has been fooled by his advisers into ``selling out'' the contras.
Although this right-wing faction does not necessarily represent the mainstream of Republican thought, it maintains a certain amount of clout with the administration. Made up of evangelical Christians and other deeply anticommunist conservatives, this voting bloc played an important role in Ronald Reagan's ascension to the White House in 1980.
The administration's shifting position on the contras in the wake of the Guatemala accord is an indication of the right wing's influence. After the signing of the agreement by the five Central American Presidents, Reagan seemed to be backing away from the contras. The fight to win renewed congressional aid for the rebels had been laid temporarily ``onthe back burner,'' according to one White House official.
But in the face of widespread conservative anger, Reagan insisted in his Aug. 12 nationwide address that he has ``never been willing to abandon'' the contras.
Reagan angered conservatives aain, however, by delaying his next contra aid request. The White House has pledged not to seek more rebel funding from Congress before Sept. 30. That arrangement was the result of a deal that secured House Speaker Jim Wright's support for a US peace plan that Reagan hastily presented one day before the Guatemala City summit. The Aug. 7 agreement signed by the region's presidents basically superseded the US proposal.
Conservatives responded by intensifying their pressure on Reagan. Congressman Kemp an Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina are teaming up to introduce legislation seeking a vote on a $310 million rebel aid package as soon as Congress returns from its summer recess on Sept. 9.
Over 30 conservative organizations, including Citizens fr Reagan and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, have joined an ad hoc ``Coalition for the Kemp-Helms Bill.'' Howard Phillips, president of the Conservative Caucus, will chair the nationwide lobbying effort on the legislation's behalf.
``Without a vote on our bill, the US will all but seal the fate of Nicaragua and the defeat of the Monroe Doctrine by the Brezhnev Doctrine,'' Kemp warned at a Tuesday press conference.
Although Reagan will not support the Kemp-Helms aid request, he and other top officals have made it clear they agree with the substance of the conservatives' complaints about the Guatemala accord. Top US officials have faulted it for mandating an end to US aid to the contras without requiring a parallel suspension of Soviet-bloc militry assistance to the Sandinista government. The White House has also criticized the accord's lack of sanctions in the event of noncompliance.
The agreement calls for cease-fires in Nicaragua and El Salvador, amnesty for all rebel forces, and ``democratization'' throughout Central America by Nov. 7.
The administration also shares conservatives' skepticism over the Sandinista government's willingness to lift restrictions of civil rights, according to White House spokesman Dan Howard. But while there is cause for concern, ``there is also cause for hope,'' he added. Washington's proper role, Mr. Howard says, is ``to encourage the Central American countries to build on that hope.''
Various conservatives have argued that Reagan's offering of his pece initiative and his cautious embrace of the Guatemala accord are the result of a misguided White House attempt to restore the President's credibility with Congress in the wake of the Iran-contra scandal.
Instead of exploiting Lt. Col. Oliver North's riveting congressional testimony in a new drive for contra aid, the President ``decided not to fight,'' complained a Wall Street Journal editorial. This revealed ``ominous failures in White House judgment following the Iran-contra deluge,'' wrote conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak.
Reagan's reassurances that he will not abandon the contras has served to temper somewhat the conservaties' ire. But it is a fragile truce. ``We're just going to have to wait and see'' whether the President distances himself further from the Guatemala accord in the weeks ahead, says Jorge Salaverry, a Latin America analyst at the Heritage Foundation.