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LET'S AGREE TO DISAGREE ON ABORTION, GOP TOLD

Seeking to quiet discord in the party, Republican leaders on Sunday urged an end to public sniping and said party members must "agree to disagree" on the divisive abortion issue.

"It doesn't do any good to say bad things about each other," Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's silly to think everybody's going to agree on every issue."Instead, he and other leaders said, Republicans should concentrate on tax, welfare and budget issues that can defeat President Clinton and Democrats in Congress.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said that given the difficulties of satisfying both the anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights wings of the party, the debate should wait until the GOP's summer convention.

"The Republican Party is a very broadly based party," Gingrich said on CBS' "Face the Nation. "We are, I believe, a right-to-life party but with a very big pro-choice wing. During the platform week they ought to find the widest possible way to bring people together."

In the past couple of weeks, the abortion debate has heated up as moderate GOP members, including Govs. Pete Wilson of California, Christie Whitman of New Jersey, George Pataki of New York and William Weld of Massachusetts, said they wanted to amend the anti-abortion language in the party platform.

At the same time, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, supported the appointment of Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, who has strong anti-abortion credentials, as chairman of the platform committee.

In addition, the head of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, for the first time suggested the party could rewrite its platform to remove a specific call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

The events involving Dole campaign surrogates on both sides of the issue prompted Pat Buchanan, who remains in the Republican presidential race, to call on Dole to restate his support of the anti-abortion movement.

"If the Republican Party abandons right-to-life and abandons the innocent unborn ...and if it walks away from Ronald Reagan's plank, then it's walking away from me," Buchanan said over the weekend, hinting at a third-party run.

Dole's campaign headquarters said Sunday the senator had no immediate response to Buchanan or to the intraparty bickering.

Weld, appearing on the Fox show, called Buchanan a "nuisance" at this point, but warned that "given a chance" he could disrupt the convention over the issue.