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Reagan Seeks to Calm His Right-Wing Critics : Conservatives Say He's Abandoned His Ideals Over Arms Control, Central America Initiative

September 06, 1987|JACK NELSON | Times Washington Bureau Chief

Reflecting the seriousness with which he himself takes the problem, Reagan telephoned Paul M. Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, to offer assurances that he is unwavering in his support of the contras, that he will not sign an arms control agreement unfavorable to the United States and that he will meet more often with the conservatives.

Last week, Reagan also called William A. Rusher, publisher of the National Review, a New York-based conservative magazine, to thank him for writing a syndicated newspaper column defending the President against the attacks of other conservatives. In an interview, Rusher said Reagan "wondered why anybody would be ready to believe he would abandon the contras."

"And that is truly a ridiculous idea," Rusher added.

Litany of Complaints

While the Administration's Central America peace initiative is what one right-wing critic called "the straw that broke the camel's back," conservative activists are coming forward with a litany of complaints, including what they see as Reagan's failure to appoint more conservatives to key positions, lack of zeal in pushing social issues and his handling of federal policy on AIDS.

To the President's dismay, some of the most scathing criticism has been published in two of his favorite publications--the National Review itself and the national conservative weekly Human Events. Rusher, even though he is publisher of the National Review, said most of the criticism is unwarranted and comes from "conservatives who are not political realists."

Reagan telephoned Weyrich and talked to him for 35 minutes two weeks ago after the conservative activist had voiced a series of complaints about the Reagan Administration in a telephone conversation with Kenneth L. Duberstein, Reagan's deputy chief of staff.

Disturbed by Criticism

Weyrich said Reagan obviously was disturbed by all the criticism and quoted the President as saying he needed to have his conservative supporters "on board" for the remainder of his presidency and "we need to visit each other some more and discuss this stuff so we don't read about each other in the newspaper."

Despite Reagan's assurances, Weyrich was not entirely mollified. "I told the President we didn't have an opportunity to come in and argue our views, and he said he understood our concerns. We agreed to meet again, but we shall see what happens," he said.

One source described Weyrich's earlier conversation with Duberstein as "heated," but Weyrich said: "I wasn't screaming at Ken. I was talking frankly and expressing concern about a whole series of initiatives," including the Central American peace plan, the arms talks with the Soviets, the President's nomination of a new commerce secretary and his plans to nominate a new ambassador to Austria and a new director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Outcry of Protest

Reagan's nomination of former Armco Inc. Chairman C. William Verity as commerce secretary, along with reports that he plans to name retired Time Editor-in-Chief Henry A. Grunwald as U.S. ambassador to Austria and longtime arms negotiator Paul Nitze as director of the arms control agency, have caused an outcry of protest by conservatives who consider all three too weak in their opposition to communism.

Duberstein, Weyrich said, "insisted that, contrary to what we (conservatives) might be thinking, all these initiatives were the President's initiatives and not his or Howard Baker's." Duberstein was not available for comment.

Much of the conservatives' ire has been directed at Baker, the moderate former senator from Tennessee who was appointed White House chief of staff to replace Donald T. Regan on Feb. 27, the day after the Tower Commission severely criticized Regan for his management of the White House during the Iran-contra affair.

And, despite the President's attempts to assuage his conservative critics, the criticism is continuing unabated.

'Bring Back Regan'

Although Reagan's right-wing supporters frequently found fault with Regan when he was at the White House, the lead story in the current issue of Human Events, headlined "Bring Back Don Regan," declares that the Reagan agenda "is coming unraveled and Baker must absorb much of the blame."

The article, which carries no byline but was written by Allan H. Ryskind, the co-publisher, declares that Baker's proclivity for compromising rather than fighting for the right-wing agenda "makes for a spineless presidency, one that invites the liberals to roll Ronald Reagan on a whole range of issues."

Baker has not responded publicly to the attacks on him, but White House sources said he was furious over the Human Events article, especially because he believes he has tried to be accommodating to the conservative activists ever since accepting the White House post.

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