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U.S. Help for the Contras

January 27, 1988

While heartily agreeing with your editorial on Central America ("Taking Charge," Jan. 14), I feel sure that the junket by Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell and Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for Latin America, represents more than just insensitivity on the part of the Reagan Administration. It ought to be seen also as a calculated affront to Congress and an attempt to pretend that the Iran-Contra scandal is an already forgotten episode.

An important recommendation of the joint congressional committee investigating that affair was that the National Security Council staff not be headed by a military officer. Legally, the NSC is a purely advisory body, and in no case should its staff make representations to foreign governments; unless the President chooses to act personally, this is the responsibility of the State Department.

Sending a high-ranking military officer to a region where we have so often supported or tolerated corrupt and brutal military dictatorships gives the Central Americans the unmistakable impression that we are still seeking military solutions to their problems--as seen by us--and especially that Reagan remains true to his commitment of "whatever it takes" to overthrow the Sandinistas.

To include in this mission the controversial Abrams, a political appointee much criticized in Congress for his devious role in the Contra support operation and his dubious testimony, is certain to be resented by many members.

The mission, of course, should never have happened. The Central Americans are tired of hearing us cry wolf, particularly after Reagan ignored his recent chance to discuss Nicaragua with Soviet leader Gorbachev. They know how we abandoned our direct talks with Nicaragua and torpedoed the Contadora initiatives. Now Reagan needs to get the basic message of the Guatemala accords: The Central Americans want to be rid of our tutelage.

MARSHALL PHILLIPS

Long Beach

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