WASHINGTON — Sen. Paul Laxalt said today that Philippine leader Ferdinand E. Marcos was "a desperate man, clutching at straws" during two telephone conversations with Laxalt in a last-ditch attempt to remain in power.
The Nevada Republican, a close friend of President Reagan, said he had played a pivotal role in the final negotiations in which Marcos gave up power. Laxalt became friendly with Marcos last October, when he went to Manila at Reagan's request to urge reforms.
Laxalt told a news conference today that he was sitting in a top-secret Capitol briefing by Secretary of State George P. Shultz and presidential envoy Philip C. Habib Monday afternoon when an aide handed him a message that he had a telephone call.
It was Marcos.
"I was frankly very surprised," said Laxalt, who spoke with the beleaguered president for about 30 minutes.
Marcos "wondered whether the message delivered by the State Department was valid," said Laxalt, referring to the call by President Reagan early Monday for Marcos to quit.
"I said it was," Laxalt said.
"He asked if something could be worked out whereby power could be shared," Laxalt reported. "I said I thought that was impractical."
Marcos wanted assurances that the United States would not punish him if he came here, and "I indicated that was no problem," Laxalt said.
The senator said he promised to convey Marcos' sentiments to Reagan and then drove to the White House, where he met with the President about 3 p.m.
Reagan "indicated to me that he also felt power-sharing was impractical" but that Marcos and his family "would be welcome" in the United States, Laxalt said.
He said he immediately called Marcos back--"it was 3 a.m. there and I asked if he had been up all night. He said he had. He said they thought the palace would be stormed."
Marcos said "there were reports that U.S. Navy ships were sailing up the river and would aid the rebels."
Marcos asked Laxalt if Reagan wanted Marcos to stay in office and Laxalt said Reagan could not tell Marcos what to do.
"Then he asked me the gut question: 'Senator, what should I do?' " Laxalt said. "I wasn't bound by diplomatic niceties. I said: 'Cut and cut cleanly. The time has come.' "
"There was the longest pause. It seemed to last minutes. It lasted so long I asked if he was still there," said Laxalt. "He said 'yes,' and then he said, 'I am so very, very disappointed.' "