WASHINGTON — President Reagan's proposal to link U.S. aid to Nicaraguan rebels with peace talks between the rebels and the Sandinista government drew new criticism Friday from both the Managua regime, which continued to oppose negotiations, and the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who predicted that Congress would turn down the aid.
But senior Administration officials said that the plan has won support from U.S. allies in Latin America and insisted that they expect it to gain momentum in the two weeks before Congress votes on Reagan's request for $14 million in aid to the rebels, known as contras.
"It's an apple with a razor blade in it," said Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.), the intelligence panel chairman.
'Just Won't Wash'
Durenberger said that Reagan's request for non-military aid to the rebels would allow the President to renew military funding at will if the Nicaraguan government continues to refuse to negotiate with the contras. "That just won't wash," he said.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto charged that Reagan "has said nothing new and he certainly has presented no peace proposal. In fact, what President Reagan has said to Nicaragua . . . (is), 'You drop dead or else I'll kill you.' "
But Secretary of State George P. Shultz called the proposal "a very important step by President Reagan to bring about national reconciliation and peace in that part of the world." He said that he "confidently expects" other Latin American countries to urge the Sandinista regime to comply.
Mexico Is Opposed
Later, Robert C. McFarlane, Reagan's national security adviser, said that indications of support have come from three countries in the Contadora Group, four Latin American nations seeking peace in Central America through mediation. Colombia, Venezuela and Panama have "been very supportive," McFarlane said, while only Mexico has reacted unfavorably.
McFarlane also told reporters who traveled with Reagan to California aboard Air Force One that several senators who once opposed aid to the contras have switched to support because of Reagan's proposal, although he did not give their names. "I think we're still short of votes," he added.
In his proposal, Reagan promised to use the $14 million for non-military purposes if the Sandinistas agree to a rebel demand for negotiations and new elections. If the Sandinistas did not agree to negotiations, Reagan said, no such pledge would be in effect.
The Sandinistas have consistently rejected the contra demands, saying that they will talk with the rebels only if the latter renounce their military struggle against the regime.
"There is nothing for us in Reagan's proposal," Francisco Campbell, political counselor at Nicaragua's embassy in Washington, said Friday. "This business of non-military aid is simply welfare for terrorists."
State Department officials conceded that the plan is aimed more at winning the aid battle in Congress than at launching new talks with the Sandinistas, and even President Reagan expressed no surprise that the Nicaraguans turned him down.
Protecting 'Cushy Spot'
"I can understand that," the President said before taking off for his vacation in Santa Barbara. "They don't want to give up the cushy spot they have now."
Nevertheless, the Adminstration mounted a worldwide diplomatic blitz in search of support for the plan. U.S. embassies briefed local leaders on the idea, and Reagan sent a personal letter to Pope John Paul II.
Administration officials also plan a major lobbying effort in the days remaining before the Senate's scheduled April 23 vote on the issue.
'Doesn't Go Far Enough'
Durenberger's comments indicate that Reagan's plan has a long way to go. "Basically, I view the President's statement as a positive step," he said. "(But) it simply doesn't go far enough. We are still waiting for a comprehensive policy."
If the Sandinistas bow to Reagan's demand for talks with the contras, Durenberger said, "do we then assume our policy objectives in Central America have been satisfied? Or do we instead proceed with a new, unrelated piecemeal action" against Nicaragua?
If the Sandinistas continue to reject talks, he said, "presumably the President will then publicly renew support to the armed opposition. That puts us right back where we are today."
A State Department official said the Administration might turn to harder-line actions if the negotiations idea does not work.
"We have other ways of putting pressure on the Sandinistas," he said, referring to breaking diplomatic relations and imposing economic sanctions. "Even if we lose this round in Congress, the struggle won't be over."