Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Friday that the United States would not tolerate Soviet shipment of high-performance jet aircraft to Nicaragua despite U.S. plans to supply F-5 warplanes to neighboring Honduras.
"The introduction by the Soviets (into Central America) of what would amount to an advanced military base and equipment for it . . . we would reject as something not permissible," Shultz said in a meeting with editors of The Times.
Shultz declined to be more specific about how Washington would prevent the shipment of Soviet combat jets to Nicaragua, which maintains a small fleet of Soviet-made attack helicopters but has no jet fighters in its inventory.
Two years ago, when U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua was about to acquire Soviet-made MIG fighters, Reagan Administration officials warned that the United States would bomb the air bases and destroy the aircraft if the planes were delivered. The jets were never sent to Nicaragua.
At the same time, Shultz defended U.S. plans to supply F-5 jets to Honduras, as reported by The Times on Friday. The secretary said this would not represent an escalation of the Central American arms race because Honduras already has jet fighters--14 French-made Super Mystere aircraft that are more than 30 years old and considered obsolete.
He said Honduras would merely be "replacing one set of jet fighters with obviously a newer fighter," and long has been the only Central American nation to possess jets. Mexico also maintains jet aircraft.
Shultz, who was in Los Angeles for a speech to the World Affairs Council on Friday, later flew to San Francisco to address the Commonwealth Club. In the two speeches and in the meeting at The Times, he also made these points:
--President Reagan's Iceland summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev was a "watershed" in U.S.-Soviet relations, raising for the first time the serious prospect of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. He called on the United States and its allies to begin at once to determine how to cope with Soviet strength in conventional arms once nuclear deterrence is removed.
--Moscow has signaled that it is ready for substantive arms control discussions next week when Shultz meets Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Vienna. As a result, the United States will send its top arms control negotiators--essentially the same team that went to Iceland, except for Reagan--to the Nov. 5-6 meeting.
--The Soviet Union has demonstrated--by such high-profile gestures as the release of human rights activists Anatoly Shcharansky, Yuri Orlov and David Goldfarb--that it is concerned about Western public opinion. For this reason, the West should keep up the pressure against Soviet human rights abuses, even if it results in a temporary loss of momentum on other matters on the U.S.-Soviet agenda.
--The United States is prepared to take additional action to punish Syria for its support for international terrorism, although no decision has been made on what form the sanctions will take. "The Syrian government takes part in terrorism," Shultz declared. "It is a terrible thing to say, but it is a fact. . . . We are prepared to take action, but we want it to be action that will work."
A common theme that ran through all of Shultz's California appearances was blistering criticism of the Soviet Union, despite his predictions of progress in arms control talks.
In discussing Central America, Shultz apportioned far more blame to Moscow than to Nicaragua's leftist government for tensions in Central America.
After declaring that Washington would not tolerate the supply of Soviet jet aircraft to Nicaragua, Shultz added, "I don't want to say that in a manner that suggests that other things they are doing are things that we think are reasonable behavior."
Nevertheless, Shultz said the Administration was not considering a break in diplomatic relations with Managua, a step that has been advocated by some conservative organizations.
He also said the United States must be prepared to continue its support for anti-government rebels, known as contras , for as long as necessary to produce a change in the Managua government.
In his San Francisco speech, Shultz skirted a continuing dispute over whether Reagan agreed with Gorbachev at Iceland to eliminate all nuclear weapons, not just all ballistic missiles, over 10 years. The secretary said the two men discussed both possibilities but reached no conclusion.
Nevertheless, he said, the United States and its allies "for the first time" have to "begin to deal seriously with the implications of a much less nuclear, if not non-nuclear, world."
Shultz repeated the Administration's view that a strategic defense program would be necessary to ensure against cheating even if Washington and Moscow agreed to eliminate ballistic missiles. But he implied that the system could be scaled down if there was an agreement.