Despite a peace plan that could leave their future in doubt, the Bush administration has signaled a readiness to risk an early foreign policy clash with Congress by seeking new aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.
In one of the strongest signals to date of administration intent, Secretary of State James Baker indicated Sunday that President Bush will ask Congress for humanitarian aid to replace a $27 million package that expires March 31."I think we have at the very least a moral obligation to seek humanitarian aid for the Contras when it expires on March 31," Baker said, "and I believe President Bush has indicated that he would be doing so."
At the same time, he echoed the skepticism with which Bush and other U.S. officials reacted last week to the surprise agreement by five Central American presidents to develop a plan in 90 days to disarm the Contras and remove them from camps in Honduras in return for democratic reforms in Nicaragua.
Although the provisions on political change in Nicaragua "appear promising," Baker said, "these are promises Nicaragua has made before, so the key here will be in the implementation."
"I think we're for parts of it," he said of the accord. "But with respect to that part that talks about disbanding the Contras, we really have to see what (is) the fine print."
Baker, interviewed on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," emphasized that the agreement worked out last week at a two-day summit of the Central American leaders in El Salvador was not an actual peace plan but "a commitment to develop a plan."