U.S. officials, concerned about the military interference in the Dominican Republic's presidential election, agreed last night that President Carter should call publicly for an honest vote tally in that Caribbean country.
Informed sources said the wording of the proposed statement by Carter was being worked out by the White House and the State Department. As a result, they added, it was not yet clear what the statement will say or when it will be made.
However, the sources stressed, there is agreement within the administration that a strong gesture may be the only way to prevent the Dominican armed forces from rigging the ballot-counting to assure the reelection of incumbent President Joaquin Balaguer.
The agreement represented a victory for those who have been urging that Carter speak out every since the Dominican military abruptly halted the vote count Wednesday. They acted after the returns there showed Antonio Guzman, the leftist opposition candidate, with a 3-to-2 lead over Balaguer, a conservative favored by the armed forces.
Events since then have led many State Department officials to conclude that Dominican military and police leaders, through intimidation and fraud, plan to control the count in a way that will see Balaguer declared the winner.
The plan for a statement by Carter originated with Rep. Donald M. Fraser (D-Minn.), who talked to the president Wednesday and urged him to speak out. However, the sources said, at that time Carter held back on the advice of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance.
Vance, in turn, had been influenced by the attitude of Terence A. Todman, the outgoint assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, the sources said.
Todman, an advocate of quiet, behind-the scenes diplomacy, had argued that Washington didn't have sufficient information about what was happening in the Dominician Republic to know whether a Carter statement would be helpful or harmful.
Accordingly, he and Vance took an initially soft approach that included a private message from Vance to Balaguer and instructions for the U.S. ambassador in Santo Domingo, Robert L. Yost, to stress Washington's concern to Dominican officials.
By late yesterday, though, as sources said the administration was receiving mounting evidence that these efforts hadn't worked. Of particular concern to officials monitoring the situation were reports from Santo Domingo of military intimidation of voting officials in the Dominician provinces and claims by Balaguer supporters that he had won.
The sources said Fraser called the White House again yesterday to renew his appeal for a presidential statement and then also spoke to Vance. In the end, the sources added, Vance agreed that some kind of public appeal by Carter was needed.
The Dominican situation is an especially tricky one for Carter because of the problems it poses for the credibility of his Latin American and human rights policies. His advocacy of increased U.S. concern for democracy in the region has won him great popularity among Latin America's democratic leaders.
During a visit to Washington last September, Balaguer was praised publicly by the president as a man who had helped restore democracy to his country. In return, Balaguer assured Carter that the elections there would be honest and the results respected by the armed forces.
Since then, however, Carter's praise of Balaguer has proved an increasing embarrassment for the administration. Balaguer used Carter's words and photo in his campaign literature, and many Dominicans charged that the former U.S. ambassador, Robert Hurwitch, had become too closely identified with the Balaguer government.
For these reasons, many administration officials are known to feel that Carter's credibility requires a maximum U.S. effort to ensure that Balaguer and the Dominican military honor their past pledges about free and honest elections.
There is no possibility, the sources said, of an overt intervention similar to the landing of U.S. marines and paratroopers ordered by the President Johnson during the Dominican civil war of 1965. Cartre has pledged that the United States will not interfere openly or secretly in the internal affairs of any country while he is president.
As a result, the sources said besides breaking of diplomatic relations and cutting off foreign and his strongest weapon is the moral authority that his word has in Latin America, and that's what the administration hopes can be brought to bear in the president's planned public statement.