President Reagan says those in Congress who opposed his request for $100 million to aid the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries "engaged in scurrilous personal attacks against me" and "the most dishonest use of distortion and outright falsehoods that I have heard in a legislative debate."
In an interview with The New York Times conducted Friday and published in Sunday's editions, Reagan denied that he impugned the motives of Democrats who opposed his proposal. He asserted that the administration's rhetoric -- including that from Communications Director Patrick J. Buchanan -- "was not fairly portrayed" by the news media.
The president refused, under questioning, to identify the opponents he was criticizing. But he lashed out at members of Congress who suggested that his proposal, defeated in the House Thursday, is a precursor to deeper U.S. military involvement in Central America.
"I think all of the specious arguments that were used against us -- that this was only a forerunner of my desire to put troops in there -- you're looking at an individual that is the last one in the world that would ever want to put American troops into Latin America, because the memory of the great colossus of the North is so widespread . . . . " he said. "We'd lose all our friends if we did anything of that kind . . . and we haven't been asked."
The president said he was particularly angry at those who questioned his truthfulness in the debate, which he said he watched in part on television.
"Well . . . one thing about this job, and even with all regard to the information available to a legislature, the president does have access to all the information there is," Reagan said. But he added that he could not use the information on Nicaragua because it would compromise intelligence sources.
"The subject came up about shrill rhetoric," Reagan said, "and I just thought so far they've only been pointing the finger in one direction and frankly I think in the wrong direction."
Reagan described the outcome of Thursday's House vote as a "mistake," and in his radio address yesterday said, "Every day the freedom fighters are left defenseless against Soviet helicopter gunships, more lives will be lost and the dangers will grow from this Soviet beachhead." The House voted 222 to 210 to reject the $100 million package, of which $70 million would be military assistance.
Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) countered with charges that the administration's approach to negotiations is "a trap door that will open automatically and drop us into deeper military involvement . . . an approach that imposes conditions carefully crafted to ensure diplomacy will fail before it begins."
The Republican-led Senate is scheduled to take up the aid package this week and may vote by Thursday. If, as expected, the Senate approves the money, the issue will return to the Democrat-controlled House.
Describing the $100 million as "the absolute minimum of assistance to which I can agree," Reagan said "any less would be too little. Any further delay would be too late."
In his reply, Sasser said the administration has adopted a "smoke and mirrors approach" that will not permit a negotiated solution to the Nicaraguan conflict.
"The president's newest proposal would distribute $25 million to the contras immediately for so-called defensive weapons, logistics, training by American Green Beret soldiers, and for humanitarian aid. The remainder of the $100 million -- for weapons of war -- would be disbursed if a Latin American Contadora peace agreement is not concluded after only 90 days," Sasser said, adding:
"The problem with this approach is that it is calculated to fail. There is no way that a regional peace agreement, which has been under negotiation for three years, is going to be concluded in a scant three months. The president's proposal offers only a false promise of negotiations."