WASHINGTON — In his strongest criticism to date, House Speaker Jim Wright voiced concern Thursday that the Reagan Administration is trying to undermine the Central American peace plan and has made "gratuitous" attacks on Nicaraguan efforts to move the plan forward.
Wright, suggesting that President Reagan may be reneging on a fragile bipartisan agreement to seek peace in the region, charged that the White House has jeopardized the process by seeking $270 million in additional military aid for the Nicaraguan contras.
"It seems counterproductive to me, if peace is our goal, to be continually waving the red flag of military conquest," the Texas Democrat said in a breakfast meeting with reporters.
"One doesn't say with one hand extended, and an olive branch offered, 'Come, let us reason together,' when at the same time you're hitting a person up-side the head with a crowbar. You've got to do one or the other."
Administration officials rejected Wright's criticism, saying that Reagan has consistently encouraged the Central American peace plan but is keeping political pressure on the Sandinistas by reaffirming support for the contras.
"It is ironic that Jim Wright is more credulous about the behavior of the Sandinistas than he is about the behavior of the U.S. government. . . . It seems that some Democrats want us to simply count on the word of a government that has been lying to the world for years now," one Administration official said.
The regional peace plan, which was signed in Guatemala on Aug. 7, calls for a cease-fire in Central America's guerrilla wars by Nov. 7, prohibits all outside aid to rebel groups in the area and requires a restoration of civil liberties and democratic practices.
Earlier, Wright and the Administration had unveiled their own peace proposal, calling for a Sept. 30 cease-fire deadline and more stringent requirements for democratic reforms in Nicaragua. When that plan was announced, Wright said, Reagan agreed to hold off on seeking additional military aid for the contras until after the Sept. 30 deadline.
Last week, Secretary of State George P. Shultz announced that the Administration will seek additional aid for the contras in fiscal 1988. Although Wright pledged to give Reagan "every benefit of the doubt," he said he was confused by the White House action.
"I must say I've been puzzled by the (Administration's) lack of enthusiasm for the peace plan," Wright said. "I think we (should) have been involved already in working with the Central Americans in trying to help bring it about. I should think we . . . wouldn't be engaged in public criticism of it."
In particular, Wright said he was angered by the State Department's recent "gratuitous" attack on the Reconciliation Commission formed by the Managua government and other initial moves toward restoring civil liberties. State Department officials suggested the membership was "stacked" in favor of the Sandinista regime, a charge that Wright rejected.
"Obviously the Sandinistas have not been struck by a bolt of lightning . . . they haven't undergone an enormous conversion," he continued. "But I believe the realities of death and degradation and poverty that have afflicted that land have brought home to them the necessity of . . . beginning to democratize and open up."
It is unlikely that Managua officials will perfect a "Jeffersonian democracy," Wright added, but "few exist in this world."