The Reagan administration, risking hostile reaction from Nicaragua's leftist government, said Friday it was considering various options to send U.S. assistance to thousands of Nicaraguan rebels facing acute food shortages.
The temporary cease-fire agreed to by the Contras and the Sandinista government on March 23 allows for such aid but no shipments have been made inside Nicaragua because of an impasse in negotiations between the two sides.State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the alternatives include direct deliveries of food to rebel forces or cash payments to be used for food purchases. Any such move would almost certainly touch off a vigorous Sandinista protest.
Although Redman provided no specifics, the aid - whether food or cash - apparently would be sent into Nicaragua by rebel forces based in Contra camps in Honduras near the Nicaraguan border.
The Sandinista government maintains that U.S. humanitarian aid can be delivered only after the rebels have been resettled in seven designated cease-fire zones and only if a verification commission confirms the contents are authorized under the March 23 agreement, signed at Sapoa, Nicaragua.
But no Contras have been resettled because there has been no agreement on ground rules governing activities in the cease-fire zones. Both the administration and the Contras have accused the Sandinistas of resorting to delaying tactics to deny the reb-els access to food.
Appearing on "CBS This Morning" on Friday, House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, expressed hope that the Contras and the Sandinistas will be able to get together next week to resolve the impasse.
Redman said, "We are concerned that thousands of men and women inside Nicaragua belonging to the resistance are denied food and other humanitarian aid called for in the Sapoa agreement."
"The need for food by the resistance inside Nicaragua is growing more acute."
The aid program is being managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which began deliveries to Honduran-based Contras two weeks ago.
AID has denied charges by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that the deliveries contained weapons and are illegal because there was no prior inspection by the officially designated verification commission.
The $48 million aid package, approved by Congress five weeks ago, includes $10 million for the commission.