WASHINGTON — President Reagan, maintaining that his policy "can keep Central America free without committing American troops," called Saturday on Congress to show that it has "the courage to stand up for freedom" by approving his request for $100 million in aid to Nicaraguan rebels.
Continuing his campaign to win approval for the aid package when it comes before a reluctant Congress later this month, Reagan maintained that the lawmakers, by their votes on aid for the insurgents, known as contras, have the power to decide whether Nicaragua's Marxist Sandinista regime will continue to threaten the security not only of Central America but of the United States as well.
"The question is: Will we meet a growing danger from the Soviets, East Germans, Bulgarians, North Koreans, Cubans and PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) camped on our doorstep, a danger which already is disrupting peace in Central America and soon will imperil our own security?" Reagan asked in his weekly radio broadcast, delivered from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md.
"That is the question which must be answered within the next two weeks," he continued. "Our policy can keep America free without committing American troops."
Strong dissent came from Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), representing his party in a broadcast response that urged a U.S. policy in Central America that is "bipartisan and based on reasoned diplomacy."
Opponents Not 'Dupes'
"It's absurd to suggest that anyone who opposes the immediate allotment of $100 million to the contras is an unwitting dupe of (Nicaraguan President) Daniel Ortega and (Cuban President) Fidel Castro," said Sasser, a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense who returned recently from a trip to Central America.
"Accusations of that sort can come only from a simplistic black and white view of Central America. They betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the region."
Reagan, who announced Friday that his diplomatic troubleshooter, Philip C. Habib, will go to Central America as a special envoy to seek a diplomatic solution to regional conflicts, suggested that a favorable vote on the Nicaraguan aid package will give Habib the diplomatic leverage he needs for success in the pursuit of Central American peace.
"If the freedom fighters get only Band-Aids from the United States while Nicaraguans get helicopter gunships from the Soviets--the same death machines they're using to massacre the Afghan people--the Communists will feel no need to negotiate," Reagan said. "Without power, diplomacy will be without leverage."
Declaring that Nicaragua "rivals Cuba as a principal Communist warehouse and exporter of violence in our Western Hemisphere," Reagan said that those who "question our honorable commitment to peace" should address "the Communists, not the United States government."
Sasser conceded that Central American opinion holds Nicaragua to be "a serious destablilizing force" in the region and a closed society within its borders, but he warned against pinning U.S. hopes on the contras. Saying that they are not an effective fighting force, he said he found no one in Latin America who expects that they will "ever be able to overthrow the Sandinistas."