WASHINGTON — President Reagan wants Nicaragua's Sandinista government to hold free elections under international supervision but has no timetable in mind for the races, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Monday.
Fitzwater made his remarks in denying recent news reports that Reagan will announce in a speech this week that he will ask Congress for new military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels unless the Managua government agrees to hold elections well before those scheduled for the end of the decade.
"We have never put a timetable on elections, and we don't intend to," Fitzwater said.
According to a draft of the speech, which does not specify a deadline, Reagan will call on the Sandinistas to stage "full, free and fair elections and (establish) the open society that makes them possible," a State Department official said. The official added that at one time, such pressure for early elections had been discussed as part of the address.
The Times reported Monday that Reagan would ask Congress for new military aid unless the Sandinistas call elections well before those scheduled for 1990. A report of the election requirement also appeared in the New York Times on Sunday.
The speech, to be made before the Organization of American States, says that the Sandinistas must learn a "hard lesson"--that "democracy means relinquishing their power" if they are voted out of office, according to the State Department official, who asked not to be further identified.
The episode left the White House in the ironic position of backing away from a proposal for early elections, an idea that it has long advocated.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that early elections are "not a precondition that has to be met, otherwise we go for the assistance" to the contras.
Another official has said that the Administration most likely will put forward its new aid request during the week of Nov. 15.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz disclosed last month that the White House would seek $270 million in military aid for the rebels for an 18-month period beginning in the current fiscal year.
The Administration views the new assistance as an "insurance" policy intended to force the Sandinistas to live up to the terms of a Central American peace accord.
In the OAS speech, the President will list a number of conditions tied to a move toward democracy in Nicaragua as required in the peace agreement, including demands that the Nicaraguan government release 2,300 political prisoners, negotiate a cease-fire with the contras, evict all Cuban and Soviet military advisers and allow contra sympathizers to run for elective office, State Department sources have said.
The reports of the contents of the speech prompted criticism of the White House on Monday by House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who said: "It looks like the extreme right-wing faction has gained control over there and has taken it out of the hands of the peacemakers."