President Reagan asked congressional leaders yesterday for an immediate $60 million increase in U.S. military funds for El Salvador, and a White House official said Reagan is considering adding to the number of U.S. military advisers there.
The renewed policy-making and political debate arose from a growing consensus that the Salvadoran military effort is not succeeding, highlighted by a gloomy report from United Nations Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who recently toured the area.
While the administration was asking for more military resources, many in Congress were calling for exploring a political solution through negotiations.
A day of discussions and often confusing reports included these developments:
Reagan held an early-morning meeting with congressional leaders to express concern about the Salvadoran situation and make the case for about $60 million in additional funds.
The congressional reaction was cautious. Several lawmakers told the president he would have trouble if any effort were made to circumvent Congress by use of a special presidential contingency fund for "unforeseen emergencies."
The White House announced consultations with lawmakers in an attempt to forge a consensus by early next week on providing additional funds for El Salvador.
A senior presidential aide told reporters on Air Force One, as the president later flew west to play host to Queen Elizabeth II in California, that raising the number of U.S. military advisers in El Salvador is under consideration.
About 37 advisers have been stationed recently in El Salvador, where the administration has observed an informal limit of 55.
The senior official, who declined to permit use of his name, said Reagan has launched a wide-ranging review of "political, economic and security issues" regarding all of Central America.
At one point, the official said, "The role of the advisers is under review, too" and hinted at a possible change in the "self-imposed" rule that they must stay out of combat zones. Such a change has been broached to the Salvadoran government, according to official sources.
Later, a White House official said there is no likelihood of a recommendation that the United States military personnel become directly engaged in combat.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, rejected suggestions that a negotiated solution be sought between the Salvadoran government and rebels.
After Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) raised a series of questions quoting Pope John Paul II and Salvadoran Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, Shultz suddenly went on the attack against "churchmen who want to see Soviet influence in El Salvador improved."
Shultz would not name the churchmen he had in mind but said with a hint of bitterness, "when you follow policies bound to result in that effect, that's what you're doing."
Leahy later called Shultz' statement "a gratuitous slam at the Catholic church in dealing with El Salvador" and said of Shultz, "all I can think of is that somebody gave him some really, really bum advice."
The pope is to visit Central America, including El Salvador, starting Wednesday. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said Shultz' comments "cast a shadow on the papal visit."
Behind all of this, U.S. officials say, is an assessment that the Salvadoran military will be unable to continue pursuing its campaign against the guerrillas at the present level of U.S. military support.
Shultz testified that military aid to El Salvador had been about $80 million in fiscal 1982 and that the administration has requested about $85 million in fiscal 1984. But he said Congress' failure to pass a foreign aid bill has limited aid in the current fiscal year to $26 million.
The shortfall of about $60 million, which the administration is seeking to remedy, might even cause the Salvadoran army to run out of ammunition, some officials contend. One official said the army has a 90-day supply of ammunition, meaning "they are effectively out of business" because of the need for a reserve.
Shultz said the funding squeeze is occurring as the activity of insurgents and their level of outside support is increasing, and when there is "a sense of stagnation in the military situation in particular."
Similar concerns were stated much more strongly in private by Kirkpatrick at the White House meeting with congressional leaders, according to participants. Her views on the military situation and the need for far greater economic progress and reform in El Salvador were a major factor in generating Reagan's policy review.
Rep. Clarence D. Long (D-Md.), who also toured the area recently, "echoed" many of Kirkpatrick's concerns, according to White House spokesman Larry Speakes. But Long and several others at the meeting made clear afterward that they believe the administration's emphasis on military measures is a mistaken approach or, at best, only a partial answer to the problem.
Long, in a telephone interview last night, said he told the president that "a military solution is only part of the solution" and that "unless the United States comes up with a long-range, comprehensive plan to turn the situation around economically as well, it will be a desperate situation."
Long also said that Daniel Ortega, coordinator of the ruling junta in Nicaragua, told him "El Salvador is lost" and that the United States has only two choices there: "to withdraw or to invade."
Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) said Reagan sought to make clear in the meeting "that the national interests of this country are deeply involved in the outcome of the struggle" and that "the immediate problem is whether or not the government of El Salvador can sustain itself" with present U.S. aid levels.
The president, Baker added, believes the Salvadoran government "would have a difficult time doing that," but Baker said Reagan had not argued that the guerrillas will win power if more U.S. support is not forthcoming.
Staff writer Don Oberdorfer contributed to this report.