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Costa Rican to Press Reagan on Peace Bid

September 22, 1987|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Costa Rican mediation was the key to an agreement to reopen Nicaragua's opposition newspaper, and the accord has given President Oscar Arias Sanchez new leverage to seek U.S. support for his regional peace plan in Washington today.

The Costa Rican leader, long an opponent of the U.S.-backed contra war against Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government, is scheduled to meet with President Reagan and address a joint session of Congress today.

On Monday in Manhattan, Kan., at the start of his U.S. trip, Arias pressed his case for a negotiated solution to the region's wars.

Speaks to Reporters

"As long as Washington supports the contras, Washington will be isolated," he told reporters before delivering a lecture at Kansas State University.

In his lecture, he said: "We demand that all foreign powers suspend military aid to the irregular forces in the region. We seek guarantees that no nation will allow its territory to be used to attack another nation.

"There can be no peace while the press is censored, while freedom of thought is stifled, while opposition groups are persecuted, while the pulpit is silenced, while the ballot box is violated and while society is subjected to the arrogance of the bayonet," Arias said.

Arias drafted the peace plan that he signed with the presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala on Aug. 7. The accord calls for an end to foreign aid to Central American insurgencies by Nov. 7, as well as for cease-fires and amnesty programs in those conflicts and democratic reforms in the region.

Nicaragua took a major step toward complying with the accord Sunday when it announced it will allow the opposition newspaper La Prensa to resume publication after a nearly 15-month suspension.

President Reagan has strongly criticized the peace plan, saying it does not provide adequate security guarantees or ensure that Nicaragua's government will actually deliver democracy. The Administration has said that it will ask for $270 million in aid for the contras after Nov. 7.

In the last two weeks, Arias has taken an increasingly active role in implementing the plan.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal spent two days in negotiations with editors and Sandinista officials to reach the agreement to reopen La Prensa. The Sandinistas had shut the conservative paper on June 26, 1986, after the U.S. Congress approved $100 million in aid to the contras.

"The presence of Costa Rica definitely accelerated the decision to reopen the newspaper," said Nicaraguan Vice Foreign Minister Jose Leon Talavera, who participated in the negotiations.

The newspaper is scheduled to resume publication by Oct. 1 without prior censorship. "La Prensa is such a symbol that just the fact it publishes will be very important in Washington," said a Western diplomat in a telephone interview from Costa Rica.

In Washington, the Administration expressed skepticism about the paper's reopening, with President Reagan saying, "I hope that it is more than just a show."

"The temporary relaxation of controls--which can later be tightened--is not democratization," Reagan emphasized. However, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater called the reopening "a good first step."

Also last week, Arias facilitated the release of 80 prisoners that the contras had been holding in Honduras by allowing the prisoners to be flown to Costa Rica.

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