WASHINGTON — President Reagan, in a move seemingly designed to build congressional support for renewed covert aid to Nicaraguan rebels, warned Thursday that aid to Nicaragua's leftist government from Iran, Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization represents a "new danger" in the hemisphere.
Addressing visiting lawmakers from 19 Western Hemisphere nations, Reagan appealed for resistance to "a concerted and well-financed effort by the Soviet Bloc and Cuba to undermine democratic institutions and seize power" in the hemisphere's emerging democracies, especially in Central America.
"A new danger we see in Central America is the support being given the Sandinistas by Col. (Moammar) Kadafi's Libya, the PLO and, most recently, the Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini's Iran," he said.
The President did not provide any details on the alleged new Iranian support for the Sandinista regime. But White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that Reagan was referring to the current visit to Managua of Iranian Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi as well as to unspecified "other factors."
One informed Administration official, requesting anonymity, said the United States has learned that Moussavi's visit to Nicaragua deals with negotiations on an agreement on arms and oil. The official said, however, that Nicaragua appears to be so impoverished that it has nothing to exchange for the aid.
Last summer, the State and Defense departments said in a paper on the Sandinistas' military buildup that Libya had sent advisers on revolution to Nicaragua and that PLO advisers had helped train the Nicaraguan air force.
In his remarks Thursday, Reagan made no direct reference to the highly charged controversy in Congress over renewal of suspended covert aid to the rebels fighting the Sandinista regime. But he made a general appeal for continued support for the rebels, known as contras.
"The Sandinistas have been attacking their neighbors through armed subversion since August of 1979," he said. "Countering this by supporting Nicaraguan freedom fighters is essentially acting in self-defense and is certainly consistent" with U.N. and Organization of American States charter provisions for individual and collective security, he added.
The statement was in line with Reagan's comment Wednesday in a wire service interview that the United States must continue to support the contras. But he conceded that this could be difficult in the light of Congress' decision to defer until this spring any action on $14 million in covert aid.
Influential opposition to renewal of covert aid came Wednesday from Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he does not believe the secret assistance is any longer "a viable proposition because it is no longer covert." Lugar said he wants to find some other formula for helping the rebels.
Speakes denied a suggestion by reporters that Reagan's remarks were made in part to justify the Administration's decision to boycott the World Court's consideration of a suit brought by Nicaragua, which accuses the United States of waging "armed attacks" against it.
At the same time, Speakes professed to be hopeful that Congress will join Reagan in supporting the five-year aid program for Central America proposed last year by a special commission headed by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. Its report advocated covert aid for the contras.
"We think we've got a strong case to present to the American people, and the President will do so, today being an example," Speakes said.