WASHINGTON — President Reagan, denouncing "communist colonialism" in Nicaragua to a hall of Latin diplomats, pledged Wednesday to seek new military aid for contra forces until a Central American cease-fire begins this fall and humanitarian aid for them thereafter until the Managua regime accepts "true democracy."
The President offered only qualified backing to the cease-fire plan agreed to by Nicaragua and its four neighbors in August. He said that the so-called Guatemala accord "contains many of the elements" for peace but is unlikely to be carried out by Nicaragua without the threat of military pressure from the contras.
Underlining his plan to seek $270 million in aid for the rebels over 18 months, the President issued "a solemn vow: as long as there is a breath in this body, I will speak and work, strive and struggle for the cause of the Nicaraguan freedom fighters."
His tough remarks drew polite applause from Latin American delegates at the Organization of American States, but they were greeted icily on Capitol Hill. Congressional Democrats said the White House stands little chance of winning new military aid for the rebels any time soon.
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said he was pleased that Reagan "embraces the Guatemala accords" but added: "I really don't believe there is any disposition in Congress to pass military money at a time when we are negotiating for peace."
However, Wright did not rule out congressional approval of additional aid to the contras for food, medicine and other non-military needs.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in New York to speak to the U.N. General Assembly today, told reporters late Tuesday that Managua will attempt to follow the peace process outlined in the Guatemala accord, even if Reagan seeks new contra aid.
On Wednesday, after the OAS address, Ortega said that Reagan's speech reflects "his point of view" but that Central American presidents "have a different point of view, which should be respected."
But the President's lengthy address appears to leave Nicaragua and the United States further than ever from any meeting of minds on the terms or schedule for a Central American peace.
Reagan told the Latin delegates that he would place no new conditions on U.S. support of the Guatemala peace plan beyond those outlined in an earlier cease-fire proposal offered by the White House and Wright. Ortega also agreed in principle to that proposal.
However, the speech provided the most complete account to date of how the United States expects Nicaragua to comply with those proposals and how Reagan intends to force the Sandinistas into democratic reforms.
Little of the President's account would meet Ortega's own proposed terms for further peace progress.
Specifically, Reagan said that U.S. military aid to the contras should continue not merely until the proposed Central America cease-fire takes effect in early November but also until Managua reaches a separate cease-fire pact with the contras.
Thereafter, Reagan said, the rebels should receive non-military aid to sustain them in the field until Nicaragua's Sandinista government implements "full democracy" and ejects all Soviet and Cuban forces from its territory.
Those two terms, he said, are the "bedrock conditions" upon which any further peace negotiations with the Sandinistas must rest.
"The best indicator" of Nicaraguan good faith, Reagan said, "will be when the freedom fighters are allowed to contest power politically without retribution, rather than through force of arms."
American aid to the contras would "decrease proportionately" as democratic reforms are carried out and the unspent money would be used for "strengthening the democratic process" inside Nicaragua, the President said. The money apparently would be given to political groups opposing the Sandinista regime.
The President expressed grudging hope that Nicaragua would consent to democratic reforms outlined in the Guatemala accord, such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and amnesty for military and political foes.
But while the nation's leading opposition newspaper, La Prensa, has been permitted to reopen, others remain shuttered, and newly permitted political rallies are subject to police harassment. "A secret police force commanded by dedicated Leninists" keeps watch over the populace, Reagan said.
He said that those shortcomings prove that the reforms to date are but "facades of freedom" designed to persuade Congress not to allot further aid to the contras. Nicaragua's "record of deceit and broken promises," he said, makes it unlikely that the government will carry out democratic reforms agreed to in the cease-fire plan without the threat of military pressure from the contras.
In a Monday interview with 10 American reporters, Ortega rejected outright virtually all of the conditions for peace that Reagan later outlined in his OAS speech.