MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Daniel Ortega and Secretary of State George P. Shultz flew to Uruguay on Thursday, and both expressed willingness to meet there today in an effort to reduce tensions between the United States and this leftist-ruled Central American nation.
Ortega said, "We are disposed to have an encounter" with Shultz, and the secretary of state said he is "perfectly willing" to arrange a meeting with the Nicaraguan.
Shultz spoke in Guayaquil, Ecuador, during a stopover on his way from the United States to Montevideo, where national leaders are gathering for today's inauguration of new Uruguayan President Julio Maria Sanguinetti.
A meeting there would give the Nicaraguan president an opportunity to play his latest diplomatic card in front of an international audience. It would also come on the heels of the Sandinista government's surprise offer Wednesday to freeze imports of "new arms systems," including sophisticated aircraft, and to send 100 Cuban military advisers home.
The proposal is the latest Nicaraguan effort to persuade the United States to ease its military and political pressure.
Before boarding a plane here Thursday morning for Uruguay, Ortega said, "We are always disposed to meet with representatives of the United States. I understand Shultz will be there (in Montevideo). We are disposed to have an encounter with him."
Greeted by Leftists
After arriving in Montevideo, where thousands of Uruguayan leftists poured into the streets to welcome him Thursday night, the Nicaraguan leader spoke briefly of the possibility of a meeting.
"We hope that we will be able to talk," he said. "That, at least."
He spoke to reporters after a fiery speech to Uruguayans who jammed the main downtown plaza in front of the hotel where the Nicaraguan and American delegations stayed Thursday night.
According to news agency reports, Shultz told reporters in Guayaquil that "if Mr. Ortega wants to have a meeting in Montevideo, and we can arrange it, which we are perfectly willing to do, then I'll listen carefully to what he says."
However, despite his willingness to meet with Ortega in Montevideo, he said the proper forum for discussing peace initiatives is within the Contadora process, a two-year-old effort led by Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela to bring peace to Central America.
He also said, the Associated Press reported, that Ortega's offer to have the 100 Cubans withdrawn was only a token gesture in light of the fact that there are "several thousand" Cuban military advisers in Nicaragua. (The Managua government has admitted to the presence in Nicaragua of only about 200 Cuban military advisers.)
U.S. officials estimate that there are about 2,000 Cuban military advisers working in Nicaragua. Nicaraguan soldiers and deserters say that the Cubans play a role in troop training. In all, about 10,000 Cubans are stationed in Nicaragua, including teachers and medical personnel, U.S. officials say.
Shultz and Ortega last met in June, when they agreed to open U.S.-Nicaragua talks aimed at easing tensions. Ten rounds of such talks were subsequently held in Manzanillo, Mexico, but were ended in January by the Reagan Administration.
On Wednesday, Ortega unveiled a series of unilateral gestures aimed at reviving the nearly dormant effort at reaching a Central American peace accord as part of the Contadora process.
While his offer was made unconditionally, it was prefaced with hopes that eventually the United States would be bound by Contadoran proposals that would require the United States to withdraw troops and advisers from neighboring Honduras and to stop aiding rebel groups trying to overthrow the Sandinista government.
Until last summer, the United States directly supported rightist rebels trying to topple the Sandinistas. But then Congress cut off the covert aid to the rebels, known as contras, after an angry controversy over CIA-directed mining of Nicaraguan ports.
Recently, President Reagan opened a public campaign to persuade Congress to renew the funding. On Wednesday, Ortega attempted to counter the drive with an invitation to congressmen to visit Nicaraguan military installations and view the "defensive nature" of the military here.
Before his dawn departure, Ortega made it clear that he intends to lobby in Montevideo for international support.
"We have communicated to Latin American and European heads of state our proposal. We hope it will have the support of all peace-loving people of the world. This is a new effort by the Nicaraguan government to achieve peace," he said.
U.S officials in Managua believe that the importance of Ortega's offer lies in the possibility of renewing the stalled Contadora talks, which have been aimed at helping Nicaragua and its neighbors--Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala--to reach a broad security agreement.