So much attention has been focused by the media and Congress on Nicaragua in recent years that few people think much about El Salvador anymore. We were heartened to learn that Stephen Rosenfeld has not forgotten El Salvador {op-ed, Nov. 20} and, in fact, agrees with much of our own recent assessment of this tragic stalemate.

In a report to the Congressional Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, we documented the military, political and economic stalemate that now grips El Salvador.

Rosenfeld agrees with us that Congress and the administration are right to support "the democratic dream and heroism of the {Jose Napoleon} Duarte government." He agrees that "the power of the old feudal-military oligarchy has been clipped but not broken" and continues to jeopardize national reconciliation in El Salvador. And he agrees that "a cruel guerrilla challenge persists, the people suffer, the economy is a wreck" and "overall {U.S. policy} has been a failure."

While he agrees with our analysis of the problems now facing El Salvador, Rosenfeld disagrees with our proposed solutions.

Referring to our report as "a telling reminder," Rosenfeld concludes that our recommendation to redirect a major portion of U.S. aid to speed political reform and economic development "amounts to opening a second front against El Salvador's frail democracy {and} cannot be taken seriously." He seems to believe that the United States simply does not have the leverage to effect constructive change in El Salvador.

We strongly disagree.

Congress can and should take positive steps to help the "embattled Duarte government" break the stalemate and realize the potential for peace in El Salvador. While we probably lack the leverage to reform the behavior of the guerrillas, we do have the ability to help El Salvador address the dismal social and economic conditions that sustain the guerrillas and stand directly in the path to peace.

The United States must use that leverage. In our report, we offer three major recommendations to strengthen the political center by improving living conditions, encouraging the rule of law and promoting a political settlement to the war.

We recommend that Congress address the root causes of the war by altering dramatically the current 3-to-1 ratio of war-related assistance to assistance for reform and development. Rosenfeld characterizes this recommendation as "an aid squeeze in the name of reform." But our proposal does not constitute a "squeeze." It constitutes instead a redirection of the current level of U.S. assistance to emphasize land reform, nutrition, health care, education and access to clean drinking water.

In addition, we recommend that Congress continue to deny aid to El Salvador's police until the Salvadoran justice system demonstrates its ability to prosecute military and police officers for human rights abuses and other crimes. While tremendous progress has been made in reducing human rights abuses in El Salvador, not one officer has been prosecuted for the thousands of death squad killings. A strong argument for continuing to condition police aid on judicial reform comes from the Salvadoran Army chief of staff: "I'll be frank, though some don't want to admit it," he said last February, "the conditions the United States placed on us helped."

Finally, we recommend that 50 percent of military assistance and war-related cash assistance to El Salvador be withheld each year until the administration reports to Congress on both Salvadoran and U.S. efforts to settle the war. By signaling that Congress is truly interested in a political settlement, this requirement would reinforce the potential envisioned in the five-nation Central American peace accord in El Salvador.

Rosenfeld rejects these recommendations, but suggests no concrete alternatives. He implies that the United States should do nothing to break the current stalemate and improve the prospects for peace in El Salvador, in part because "the United States finds it hard to press an imperfect but struggling democracy."

If that were true -- if the United States were following a "hands-off" policy in El Salvador -- perhaps our recommendations would be different. But the nature of current U.S. assistance to El Salvador suggests that the United States is involved -- not in encouraging a political settlement but in underwriting a military strategy that makes one increasingly unlikely. That may make sense to the administration; as far as its officials are concerned, a settlement will have been achieved when the guerrillas have been rendered politically irrelevant by the Salvadoran military.

We find this strategy to be cynical and unrealistic. The history of the past several years suggests that the pursuit of a military solution has brought El Salvador no closer to peace nor to reform of the economic and social conditions that continue to fuel the conflict and now threaten the moderate political center in that troubled country.

Mark O. Hatfield is a Republican senator from Oregon. George Miller is a Democratic representative from California. Jim Leach is a Republican representative from Iowa.