Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday that he intends to "torpedo" passage of legislation to implement the Panama Canal treaties next year because of his disagreement with U.S. policy in Nicaragua.
Wilson, one of the strongest congressional defenders of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza and a former supporter of the Panama treaties, said he has enough House votes to block the legislation. which is expected to come before the new congressional session opening nextmonth.
An informed State Department official characterized Wilson's attitude as "unfortunate."
Wilson's statements punctuated the latest battle in a lengthy war he has fought with the administration over Nicaragua. Several times in the past 18 months, Wilson has held administration-requested foreign aid funds hostage to approval of economic and military assistance for the Somoza government.
The latest round began last month when Wilson and Rep. John Murphy (D.N.Y.), a longtime friend and supporter of Somoza. visited Managua to discuss continuing U.S. efforts to mediate a tense conflict between Somoza and a broad spectrum of opposition groups seeking his resignation.
The mediation effort, conducted by a team of diplomats from the United States. Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, began after three weeks of civil war in September between Somoza and a broad spectrum of opposition groups seeking his resignation.
The mediation effort, conducted by a team of diplomats from the United States. Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, began after three weeks of civil war in September between Somoza's National Guard troops and civilians led by Sandinista Liberation Front guerrillas.
Sources said the State Department was "furious" over a pro-Somoza press conference Wilson and Murphy held in Managua. That fury apparently multiplied at statements Wilson made to reporters here on Monday.
Wilson charged that the State Department's Nicaragua policy is being run by a "bunch of adolescent anarchists." and he said that the policy is "encouraging communism in the Caribbean."
He charged that the department had "broken its word" to him with its refusal to disburse $12 million to the Somoza government following the civil war. The aid money had been authorized several months ago in exchange for Wilson's agreement not to sobotage the administration's entire $8 billion 1979 foreign aid bill.
The department retaliated Tuesday with a statement calling Wilson's remarks "wrong in their assumptions and irresponsible in their phrascology." Policy in Nicaragua, the statement said, is directed toward a "peaceful. domocratic resolution" of the Nicaraguan crisis.
Such efforts, the statement noted, "are not helped, nor is public understanding of the situation improved by statements and charges such as those made by Congressman Wilson"
One State Department source noted that the department statement, drafted by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher. was "not the kind of language we normally use when referring to congressmen."
Wilson said in an interview Tuesday, that he met Monday night with Christopher to discuss the problem. Christopher, Wilson said. "chewed me out" over both press conferences.
Wilson has linked the Nicaragua issue to the Panama Canal treaties by accusing former Panamanian head of state Gen. Omar Torrijos of supplying the Sandinista guerrillas with guns with encouraging "Marxist revolutionaries" in Central America.
A White House source involved in pushing the implementing legislation, which is designed to appropriate funds and provide a mechanism for the smooth transfer of the Canal Zone to Panama on Oct. 1. said the treaties would take affect with or without the legislation.
Still, he said, the absence of the legislation, or its late passage, will mean that the transfer will be "managed very poorly."
Meanwhile, in Managua, Somoza agreed Tuesday to face-to-face talks between the government's Liberal Party and members of the Broad Opposition Front coalition over a mediators' proposal calling for a nationwide referendum on his presidency.
The Board Front, however, released a communique saying that no such referendum on his presidency.
The Broad Front, however, released a communique saying that no such referendum is possible unless Somoza lifts martial law now in effect, grants amnesty to exiles, guerrillas and political prisoners and abolishes radio news censorship.