The State Department is accusing Nicaragua's leftist government of a cynical political move by suspending a $17.7 million U.S. program to aid Nicaraguan children who have been orphaned or injured as a result of civil war.

Spokesman Charles Redman rebuked Sandinista authorities Wednesday after they served notice that the program will not be allowed to continue at a time when the Congress is considering a new aid program for the Contra rebels.In Managua, President Danel Ortega said it doesn't make sense to receive aid from the same body that is considering an assistance package to the very group responsible for the plight of Nicaragua's children, according to Nicaraguan Embassy spokeswoman Sarali Porta.

U.S. private groups were told the suspension would become permanent if Congress approves additional assistance to replace an aid package that expires at the end of this month. A $27 million humanitarian assistance bill approved by the Senate is awaiting House action.

Redman said it is "deplorable that the Sandinista government has chosen to sacrifice the well-being of Nicaragua's children in an effort to pressure the United States Congress."

He said that although the Sandinistas have never fully cooperated with this humanitarian program, "it would be tragic if they persist in this cynical effort to play politics with the health and well-being of Nicaraguan children."

Porta said her government does not draw a major distinction between military and humanitarian aid. She said the latter keeps the rebels alive, enabling them to pursue the war effort.

After the Sandinistas and the Contras reached an interim cease-fire agreement last March, Congress approved a $48 million aid package, $17.7 million of which was to be used to assist needy or disabled Nicaraguan children.

Most of the rest of the package was in the form of food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the insurgents.

Redman said that since April 1, the Agency for International Development has authorized more than $12 million in new health programs for Nicaraguan children. About $2.7 million has been spent for medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State George P. Shultz met Wednesday with Contra leader Adolfo Calero and five other members of the rebel directorate.

Afterward, Calero was confidence that the $27 million aid package will win final congressional approval.

He said the rebels are prepared to resume peace negotiations which were suspended three months ago but that the Sandinistas "definitely have to create a climate" to ensure progress will be made.