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Picking Central America path

The United States this week is pushed and pulled by two starkly different views of how to deal with the troubled nations of Central America. On one side presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson, meeting with CubqwPt- Fidel Castro and the leftist leaders of Nicaragua, called for friendlier ties with America's Marxist neighbors.

On the other, Republicans joined with a stream of visiting Central Americans to urge a tougher line against Soviet-Cuban influence to the south.

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''If we're not going to take our stand here, then where?'' Jack Wheeler of the Malibu, Calif., Freedom Research Foundation told sympathetic GOP House members.

The major new lobbying campaign comes only days after the US Senate rejected firmly opposed sending more aid for the covert war. But the effort to restore the aid is far from ended.

Among the most notable lobbyists, Nicaraguan rebel leader Eden Pastora Gomez, recovering from a bomb attempt on his life last month, came to Capitol Hill to seek more US assistance. The controversial Mr. Pastora, who is now embroiled in a dispute with fellow rebels, is viewed with some skepticism among conservatives on Capitol Hill but won some praise from lawmakers.

The close connections between the Nicaragua and El Salvador questions are well illustrated in all of this. The administration is pressing hard for continued US aid to the young government of Salvadorean President Jose Napoleon Duarte and to the contra rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government of neighboring Nicaragua. Despite the White House loss in the key vote on aid to the contras this week, it is certain to seek another legislative vehicle.

The Reagan administration delicately treads a line between diplomacy and military action, ever mindful that its most important opponent for the moment is the US Congress.

Also in town this week is Roberto d'Aubuisson, leader of the right-wing ARENA party in El Salvador, who is frequently linked in the press to repressive forces there. Mr. d'Aubuisson won 46 percent of the vote in the recent Salvadorean election (including a majority in 10 of 14 provinces) and still is a political force to be reckoned with.

Allowed in the US for the first time in several years, d'Aubuisson met with State Department officials and members of Congress. While liberal Democratic senators charge that he is linked with death squads in his country, d'Aubuisson talks about supporting President Duarte, allowing guerrillas in El Salvador to join the political process, and carrying out land reform.

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US officials find 4Hemselves having to both press d'Aubuisson on reported assassination threats on the US ambassador in El Salvador and to find a constructive political role for the opposition leader.

''For Duarte to be effective, he has to get d'Aubuisson on board,'' says a congressional specialist. ''Or you will have more death-squad activity.''

It is not an easy task for the administration. D'Aubuisson still says he would ''never support any negotiation or compromise with the rebels,'' that they would have to win support ''through the ballot box'' to join the political process there.

And Robert White, former US ambassador to El Salvador and a frequent administration critic, charged yesterday that the administration had shonyyhxx /// ed tolerance for right-wing terrorism'' in granting a visa for d'Aubuisson's visit to the United States.

D'Aubuisson strongly supports administration assertions that arms for Salvadorean rKbels come from Nicaragua, and says US aid to the anti-Sandinist contras has, in fact, helped stem this flow.

Mr. Pastora told House members that American aid was a major contributor to opponents of the Nicaraguan government. ''He said 100,000 guns would make a major difference,'' reported Rep. Don Ritter (R- of Pennsylvania. ''He said the people are there to pick up the guns.''

Pastora held that 80 percent of the rebels' material came from the US and also complained about the erratic and uncertain flow of American help.

It is far, however, from certain that his plea will bring action in Congress. There has been strong opposition to aiding the Nicaraguan rebels since the news leaked early this year that the Central Intelligence Agency helped mine Nicaraguan harbors.

That misstep, roundly criticized even by staunch conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) of Arizona, dealt a serious blow to US aid to the Nicaraguan contras.

The House Republican Study Committee this week tried to counter some of the bad publicity with a hearing detailing ''violence and oppression'' in Nicaragua. The panel brought in Nicaraguans ranging from Humberto Belli, a former editorial editor for the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, to a leader of the Miskito Indian tribe and a memberofBT'e black Creole population, to charge the leftist government with human rights violations.

The message the GOP is attempting to broadcast is that in Nicaragua, the leftists are the oppressors and the US-backed rebels the supporters of freedom. Backers of the aid tried to bolster their case not only with PIstora but also with d'Aubuisson.

Meanwhile, a specializing in counterinsurgency and Central America continued to insist that the alleged supply of arms from Nicaragua to Salvadorean rebels has yet to be proved.

David MacMichael told reporters Thursday that administration claims in this regard have been highly exaggerated.

''There is a point where exaggeration becomes impossible to distinguish from prevarication,'' he said. ''If even a major public policy of the United States has been justified on such flimsy grounds, such patently unprovable claims, I cannot recall it.''

Unlike the US invasion of Grenada, when large quantities of Cuban weapons were brought to the US and put on display, the administration so fa2 hq o been able to show concretely that such an arms flow exists. Reportedly, the administration may soon issue another report to blster its claims.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a complicating factor in all of this. He was scheduled to return to Washington late Thursday night with 22 Americans and 26 Cubans released from prisons by Fidel Castro.

The Democratic presidential candidate, who still hopes to play a strong role at his party's convention, sees himself as a vehicle for conciliation between the US and its adversaries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Reagan administration officials could do nothing other than welcome the release of the prisoners from Havana. But officials added several cautionary notes:

''We do not want any more 'excludables,' '' a State Department spokesman was quoted as saying. He was referring to the criminals that came to the United States during the 1980 boatlift that saw 125,000 Cubans flee to Florida.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes also emphasized that Jackson's private diplomatic and humanitarian efforts did not change basic US policy.

''Our concerns remain about Cuban policies: serving aS a surrogate for the Soviet Union, exporting revolution into Central America, and the involvement in Africa.''

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