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Cut Communist Ties, Bush Urges Nicaragua : In 4 1/2-Hour Stop in Honduras, He Seeks to Ease Latin Ally's Fear Over Risks Posed by Contras

March 17, 1985|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

PALMEROLA AIR BASE, Honduras — Vice President George Bush, on a short visit Saturday to Honduras, urged Nicaragua to cut its Communist ties and seek harmony with its Central American neighbors.

Bush vowed that the United States will stand firm "against the Communist terrorist forces which seek to destabilize the region." And he said the Reagan Administration will not let up in seeking congressional approval for CIA funds to support guerrillas fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

"We urge Nicaragua to cut its ties to hostile foreign military blocs and join the great majority of countries in Latin America on their march to freedom," he said.

Bush's jet flew far out of its way en route from Brazil to the United States for his four-hour stop here. While in Brazil for inauguration ceremonies, he spoke briefly with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

'Sit Down With Neighbors'

Bush told reporters in Honduras that what Ortega should do instead of seeking publicized meetings with U.S. officials is "sit down with his democratic neighbors and try to get some peace and harmony."

He said the Reagan Administration wants Nicaragua to stop exporting subversion, cut its ties with Cuba and the Soviet Bloc, reduce its military forces and make democratic reforms. Those are the Administration's objectives in backing the anti-Sandinista rebels, known as contras, the vice president said.

"We are going to fight with everything we have to continue to support those who are fighting for freedom--we call them freedom fighters--against the Marxist-Leninist totalitarian government in Managua," he said. "There is no letting up. I hope we are successful, but if we are not, we will go back and fight again."

Stressing U.S. support for Honduras, Bush said: "Any Communist power with designs against Honduras should know that the United States stands four square behind its democratic partner. We will not allow the security of Honduras to be compromised."

Hour-and-a-Half Meeting

Bush and Honduran President Roberto Suazo went in separate helicopters from Palmerola to Suazo's nearby hometown, La Paz, where they met for 1 1/2 hours.

On the eve of the vice president's visit, a U.S. diplomat said that the stop was intended to show the importance that the United States attaches to its relations with Honduras. The diplomat said the visit was not tied to any particular issue, but Honduran officials are known to be especially concerned about the future of the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels based in southern Honduras.

Since Congress cut off CIA funds for the contras last year, Honduran officials have expressed fear that the guerrilla force of more than 10,000 men could degenerate into undisciplined bands of desperados.

"That is a danger to the security of the country," said Carlos Lopez Contreras, an adviser to the Honduran Foreign Ministry.

Lopez Contreras said that Honduras is asking the Reagan Administration what it hopes to gain by backing the rebels, an estimate of how long it will take and guarantees that the rebels will not be left in Honduras if Congress denies new funds.

What has been the U.S. response? "Well, they don't say much. They have not given a satisfactory reply," Lopez Contreras said last week.

Bush had time in Honduras to discuss such issues only in general terms, an American official said. The vice president's agenda also included meetings with U.S. Embassy officials and with American troops taking part in joint military exercises called Big Pine III.

Palmerola Air Base has been the command center for a series of U.S.-Honduran maneuvers that began in 1983. American officials say that a major purpose of the exercises is to serve as a deterrent to presumed military aggression by Marxist-led Nicaragua.

Maneuvers Through April 21

The current phase of the exercises began Feb. 11 and are scheduled to end April 21. More than 1,000 U.S. troops are in Honduras preparing for anti-tank maneuvers, which will begin April 8, and counterinsurgency games, to start April 13.

Anti-tank trenches are being dug in the western province of Choluteca, near the Nicaraguan border. About a dozen American armored vehicles will "attack" the province during the maneuvers.

At that point, U.S. forces participating in Big Pine III exercises will reach a peak strength of about 2,250, officials say. That is less than half the highest number of U.S. troops that took part in Big Pine II exercises during late 1983 and early 1984.

Bush's stop in Honduras was the last visit on a long journey that began in drought-stricken Africa and took him to Geneva, Moscow, Grenada and Brazil. The Western Hemisphere stops had been planned for a separate trip but were combined with the others when Bush went from Geneva to Moscow for the funeral of Soviet President Konstantin U. Chernenko.

Quick Change of Plans

After illness prevented Tancredo Neves from being inaugurated as president of Brazil on Friday, Bush tried to reschedule his arrival in Honduras for earlier but arrangements could not be changed on such late notice, a U.S. Embassy official in Tegucigalpa said.

On Friday night, representatives of the Contadora Group nations--Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, which are trying to mediate a political solution in Central America--agreed to resume their stalled deliberations next month.

Bush, who was briefed on the Contadora meeting, had breakfast Saturday in Brasilia with the foreign ministers of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala--all presumably parties to any agreement that would come out of the Contadora process.

"The talks last night seemed to get much more discussion going," he said. "We continue our support for Contadora."

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