WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration said Tuesday that the people of Libya should consider replacing Col. Moammar Kadafi as their leader, and officials here said that the CIA has stepped up its covert efforts to destabilize the Libyan regime.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman, reading a pointed official statement, said Kadafi has mismanaged Libya's economy and estranged his country from the rest of the world.
"The Libyan leadership is a matter for the Libyan people to decide," Redman said. "That said, it's abundantly clear that the Libyan economy has been mismanaged and Libyan actions have increasingly isolated the Libyan people from the international community."
Redman stopped short of calling explicitly for the overthrow of Kadafi. "I'm doing nothing more than pointing out some of the reasons on which they might make their decision," he said.
But other officials said that the statement reflects the Administration's hope that increasing economic and political pressure from the United States and its European allies eventually will lead to Kadafi's downfall, probably at the hands of Libyan military officers.
They confirmed a report in Tuesday's editions of the Wall Street Journal that President Reagan has ordered CIA operations against Kadafi stepped up, although they cautioned that the covert effort is still relatively small and, at least until now, ineffective.
The Administration also is seeking new commitments from its European allies to reduce their purchases of Libyan oil and freeze Libyan assets in response to what officials described as clear evidence that Kadafi is planning new terrorist attacks in the West.
Last April, after blaming Libya for the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub in which an American serviceman and a Turkish woman were killed, the United States bombed targets in Libya's two largest cities. A second American serviceman later died of injuries in the West Berlin blast.
Aid to Dissidents
Speaking on condition that they not be identified, several officials described the CIA program broadly as involving financial aid to Libyan groups opposed to Kadafi's rule, both inside and outside Libya, as well as increased intelligence gathering--but hinted that there is little or no paramilitary element in the program.
"People shouldn't get the impression that what we're doing covertly is the only game in town," one senior official warned. "To suggest that there's some program under way that is going to move mountains--it just isn't so."
"It's nothing you could compare with the contras ," he added, referring to the U.S.-funded army of rebels opposing the Nicaraguan government.
Despite the CIA's interest in Libyan exile politicians, he added, most Administration officials believe that the key to Kadafi's future lies with his own military officers--among whom the United States has had little luck in recruiting allies.
Military Key to Change
"The population can be as unhappy as hell, but if any change is going to come, it's going to depend on the military," the official said.
One purpose of Tuesday's statement by the State Department, he said, was to emphasize that the United States is in no position to "decide the future of Libya" by itself. "It's going to have to be done by the people over there," he said.
State Department spokesman Redman refused to make any public comment on reports of increased covert efforts against Kadafi. "I'm not going to discuss anything concerning alleged intelligence activities," he said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said that the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy has joined the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean, maintaining the U.S. naval force in the region at two carrier battle groups--a total of about 30 warships.
The Kennedy sailed into the Mediterranean over the weekend to replace the carrier America, which had ended a six-month tour of duty. The Kennedy is now in port in Benidorm, Spain; a second carrier, the Forrestal, is making a port visit in Naples, Italy.
"They're both a long way from Libya," Cmdr. Robert Prucha, a Pentagon spokesman, noted.
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said that the battle groups' presence is not an attempt to nettle Kadafi.
"You don't have to provoke Kadafi. He's always provoked," Weinberger said at the American Legion national convention in Cincinnati.