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Costa Rica President Tries to Reassure Washington on Latin Peace Plan

September 23, 1987|MICHAEL WINES and JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, lobbying President Reagan and Congress to support the Central America peace plan that he helped draft last month, called on Nicaragua's Sandinista regime Tuesday to include contra rebel leaders in negotiations on a Nov. 7 cease-fire.

The statement was one of several tailored by Arias in a busy Washington trip to reassure a suspicious White House, which warned again that Nicaragua will not comply with any peace agreement except under military pressure from the U.S.-backed rebels.

Arias met with Reagan at the White House for 20 minutes Tuesday, then went to Capitol Hill to urge the House and Senate in a morning speech to "give peace a chance" before applying new military pressure on Nicaragua.

In a news conference after the address, Arias charged that the Sandinistas have used the contra war as an excuse "to abolish journalism," to impose dictatorial controls on Nicaraguan society and to explain "the failure of the Marxist experiment" with the nation's moribund economy.

"We are totally convinced that without peace, we will not be able to improve the standard of living" of Central America's 25 million citizens, he later told luncheon guests on Capitol Hill. "At the same time, we are convinced that peace will not be reached unless there is democracy in every single country in Central America."

Arias said he has proposed that Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, head of Nicaragua's national commission on reconciliation and a stern Sandinista critic, be appointed mediator in cease-fire talks between the contras and the Sandinistas.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who received the proposal in a letter from Arias, has not responded to the suggestion, he said.

Ortega has refused to talk directly with the rebels, insisting instead on negotiations with the U.S. government, which supplies the contras with arms and money.

In a whirlwind round of meetings and speeches, Arias appeared to do his best to defuse growing White House opposition to the peace plan, capped by Reagan's recent statement that the plan's lack of enforcement provisions makes it "fatally flawed."

For the first time, Arias publicly backed Reagan's call for an end to Soviet military aid to Nicaragua, something not explicitly required in the peace agreement that the five nations signed in Guatemala City last month.

According to a senior Administration official, Arias also told the President that he would support "drastic sanctions" against Nicaragua by the Organization of American States should the Sandinistas not carry out the reforms outlined in the agreement.

He also was said to have told Reagan that he does not oppose an agreement between the White House and Congress to send $3.5 million in non-military aid to the contras after Sept. 30, when the current $100-million package of military and humanitarian aid runs out.

Without the additional aid, some say, the contras will have trouble keeping their 12,000- to 20,000-man force intact until the Nov. 7 cease-fire takes effect.

Arias has been the key Central American leader in discussions that led last month to a tentative peace agreement that calls for an end to guerrilla fighting in Nicaragua and El Salvador and a swift transition to democratic rule in Nicaragua.

House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who invited Arias to speak to Congress, has strongly supported the agreement. But the Reagan Administration has backpedaled from its initial support.

The White House, seeking to maintain military pressure on Nicaragua, said this month that it will ask Congress for $270 million in new military and humanitarian aid for the contras after the current aid package runs out.

Reagan and Arias did not discuss that aid request Tuesday, according to a senior Administration official who briefed reporters on the condition that he not be further identified. But Arias later indicated that the Administration would signal a lack of faith in the peace plan if it asked Congress for the aid before the Nov. 7 cease-fire takes effect and Nicaragua's progress toward democratic changes can be gauged.

The White House has refused to say when it will ask for the additional money. But Arias' conciliatory showing Tuesday probably cemented congressional support for the regional peace proposal, ensuring that Congress will approve no new aid package until it is clear whether Nicaragua is complying with the peace agreement, a second Administration official said.

"The onus is going to be on us to disprove that Nicaragua is doing anything more than going through the motions" of instituting the democratic changes called for in the peace plan, that official said. "What Arias has probably done is to ensure that we won't get any more money until the verdict is already in."

Arias' remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), a contra supporter and member of the House Appropriations Committee, who said that the Costa Rican leader was waging a "lobbying program" against further contra aid.

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