WASHINGTON — President Reagan, insisting Nicaraguan rebels "can't fight attack helicopters piloted by Cubans with Band-Aids and mosquito nets," briefed GOP congressional leaders today on a plan to request $100 million in aid for the contras.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said Reagan plans to ask Congress for "about $30 million" in humanitarian aid and another $70 million in "unrestricted" assistance that could go for arms and ammunition.
Speaking with reporters after Reagan met with the congressional leaders at the White House, Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) said it "remains to be seen" whether Reagan, who was forced to abandon a bid for military assistance last year, can push the request through Congress.
'A Lot of Support'
"There's a lot of support for it," Armstrong said, "but it's far from over the top."
Lugar said the $70 million in military aid would be covert and the type of weapons and method of distribution would be subject to "the President's discretion."
He predicted quick approval by the Republican-dominated Senate. Lugar said that the Administration was not giving up on the idea of a negotiated settlement, but that the military aid would help move the Sandinista government to the bargaining table.
House GOP leader Robert H. Michel said, however, that it would be harder to approve aid for the contras in the House because of what he called "a great disinformation campaign."
Earlier, with the press present, Reagan opened the meeting by underscoring the need to resume military assistance to the anti-Sandinistas, but refused to discuss the amount he had in mind.
"In Congress and in fact throughout the world, the opinion in about the Sandinistas seems to be shifting toward our view," Reagan said. "They don't have many defenders any more."
"The debate now is over what we should do about them," he added.
Refuses to Elaborate
"There are many ways in which a democratic outcome can be achieved in Nicaragua," Reagan said. "It can happen at the negotiating table or by the success of the ground resistance."
Reagan was asked how much assistance he will request of Congress. "That's all I'm going to say, I'm not taking any questions," he said.
Asked why there had been no attempts at negotiation with the Nicaraguan government, the President turned away.
Deputy press secretary Larry Speakes chided reporters with: "The President said 'Thank you.' "
A program approved last year for $27 million in humanitarian aid expires on March 31. Reagan also will seek military assistance for the Angolan rebels led by Jonas Savimbi and the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invasion.