House leaders reached final agreement Wednesday on a package of $48 million in "humanitarian" aid to Nicaragua's Contra rebels and to children injured in that country's long civil war.
The proposal had been worked out in negotiations over the last two days between House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, Minority Leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., and other leaders, who gave it their final approval Wednesday.Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, Contra and Sandinista negotiators agreed on the cease-fire areas where rebels will begin gathering Friday, and President Daniel Ortega urged the United States to discuss normalizing relations with Nicaragua.
The negotiators identified the cease-fire zones Tuesday at the end of two days of talks in the southern outpost of Sapoa but failed to resolve other crucial issues, including when the Contra rebels will lay down their arms.
In Washington, the aid agreement was sent to a House floor vote later Wednesday, and it was expected to receive a strong bipartisan majority. That would send the bill to the Senate on Thursday, where easy passage also was expected, and authorize the first U.S. aid to the rebels in a month.
"It sends a message to the Contras that they are not abandoned, that we do care about them and want to keep them healthy and a viable force," said Rep. Mickey Edwards, R-Okla., who participated in negotiations to draft the compromise.
"And it lets the Sandinistas know that it's important to the United States Congress that the talks that take place down there take place with good faith, and that they move toward democratization," Edwards added.
As part of the deal, Wright was to send a letter to President Reagan pledging "fair and orderly" consideration for any future request the administration might make for new military aid if the Central American peace process breaks down, said Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., leader of a Democratic task force on the Contra issue.
But Wright would retain control over the precise timing of a vote on such an aid package and the rules under which it would come before the House, Bonior said.
A cease-fire verification commission, made up of Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and Organization of American States Secretary General Joao Baena Soares, would have "substantial" say in whether new military aid is warranted, Bonior said.
The package would provide aid to keep the Contras together while they spend the next 60 days in cease-fire zones during negotiations for a longer-term truce.