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Rep. Richard Gephardt's proposal to offer direct U.S. aid to the Soviet Union is bringing responses ranging from wary approval to outright condemnation.

"We shouldn't be writing out checks to Gorbachev while he's propping up Castro" in Cuba and other communist regimes and insurgencies around the world, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.Dole said it is time for the United States to aid Eastern European countries emerging from decades of Soviet domination but that direct aid to Moscow of the sort proposed by Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, would at best be premature.

"We ought to exact a fair price for those benefits," including a cessation of support for Cuba, Syria, Afghanistan and Angola, Dole said.

Dole led the way five years ago in making the Soviets eligible for U.S. subsidies to buy grain, a move that helped Kansas wheat farmers. Since then, Moscow has bought more than 730 million bushels of U.S. wheat at a subsidy value in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., noted that the Soviets haven't requested U.S. help and that if they did, it would be wasted without economic reform. "Unless they reform the economy, it's going down a rathole," Bradley said.

Others on Capitol Hill said that while they thought Gephardt's proposal would spark a useful debate, the idea would fall on disapproving public ears.

"If you're going to start giving foreign aid to the hated commies . . . you've got a real sales job to do in the United States," said Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.

Gephardt said when he offered the idea in a speech that he knew there would be political risks involved and that Americans might react negatively.

Specifically, the Missouri Democrat called for food aid to the Soviet Union along with most-favored-nation trading status and U.S. risk insurance to businesses that want to invest in Soviet ventures.

House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., backed the Gephardt proposal and said attitudes in Congress are changing along with the rapidly moving events in the crumbling East bloc.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., was supportive but said the aid proposal was still a bit early. Asked whether the time had arrived for direct U.S. aid to the Soviets, Pell said, "I don't think it's yet arrived, but it will come."