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Reagan May Seek Release of Weapons to Contras

October 06, 1988|LEE MAY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House, charging that the Nicaraguan government has violated conditions under which U.S. military assistance to the Contras has been frozen, said Wednesday that the Reagan Administration may seek the release of $16.5 million in stockpiled weapons.

"We are considering that possibility," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said at his daily briefing, adding that he did not know when a decision would be made.

The White House assessment comes in response to a nine-page letter to President Reagan from Contra leaders that charged the Sandinistas have violated two of the three provisions that Congress imposed when it approved a $27-million package of humanitarian aid for the rebels last Friday.

The Contras contended that the Sandinistas have continued to receive an unacceptable level of Soviet aid and that they have violated the Central American peace accord negotiated last year with the leaders of the region's other nations.

Reagan must cite violations of at least two of the conditions in asking Congress to approve release of the U.S. funds.

Fitzwater said the Reagan Administration "informally" agrees with the Contras' conclusion on the first two points. He called the third condition cited in the package--Sandinista military attacks on the Contras--"an open question."

An aide to House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), a staunch opponent of Contra aid, expressed surprise at the timing of the White House announcement, saying that "they could have made the request at any time" instead of waiting until Congress approaches its election break.

With only a short time remaining in the session, some congressional sources said, it would be difficult to arrange congressional action on the matter. But Administration officials said they believe the session could continue long enough for a vote.

Administration officials have been meeting with congressional supporters in an effort to gauge the chances of securing the aid. In a White House meeting Tuesday, the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, "assured them that it was under consideration," Fitzwater said.

One Administration official said that even if Congress were likely to deny release of the Contra aid, the Administration should request it because the issue could help the GOP in the presidential campaign.

Although the Administration's announcement surprised some congressional officials, it fits with Reagan's unwavering dedication to arming the Nicaraguan rebels.

At the United Nations last week, Reagan, in an otherwise upbeat speech about the pursuit of peace, called "the continuing deterioration of human rights in Nicaragua" the "one exception" to progress in ending worldwide hostilities.

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