WASHINGTON — President Reagan said today that the United States is ready to reopen substantive discussions with Nicaragua's leftist government once "serious negotiations" begin between the Sandinistas and the U.S.-backed Contra rebels on reaching a cease-fire.
Reagan made the disclosure in remarks to a gathering of the hemisphere's foreign ministers attending the Organization of American States General Assembly. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto was among the 50 officials gathered in a State Department room overlooking the Potomac River.
Reagan made clear that he envisions talks with the Sandinistas as part of a broader discussion involving other Central American countries as well.
Shultz 'Will Be Ready'
Once serious negotiations between the Sandinistas and the Contra rebels have begun under the mediation of Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, Reagan said that Secretary of State George P. Shultz "will be ready to meet jointly with the foreign ministers of all five Central American nations, including the Sandinistas' representative."
Reagan added that before such a meeting and throughout this period, the United States will consult closely with the Contras because "the key to democracy and peace in the region is freedom and national reconciliation in Nicaragua."
The United States has had no substantive negotiations with the Sandinista government since the latter half of 1984.
Ortega to Speak
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega also plans to address Western Hemisphere foreign ministers meeting in Washington to review the Central America peace agreement. He will speak on Wednesday.
In its surprise announcement Saturday, Nicaragua said Ortega will address the meeting in what is believed to be his first visit to Washington since shortly after the 1979 Sandinista revolution when he met with President Jimmy Carter.
Shultz, representing the United States at the meetings, said that for him to meet Ortega this week the Nicaraguan government would have to take further steps to comply with the peace plan, including releasing thousands more political prisoners and taking steps toward democratization, such as allowing freedom of the press and lifting restrictions on the Roman Catholic radio station.
Shultz, at a news conference at OAS headquarters, told a reporter he was "categorically wrong" to suggest the Nicaraguan government could not meet those conditions by Ortega's visit to Washington on Wednesday.
"It doesn't take long to let people out of jail. All you do is unlock the doors," Shultz said.
"It doesn't take long to approve applications for publication. All you have to do is check the approve box. It doesn't take long for Radio Catolica to be able to make comments on the issues of the day. All you have to do is say OK."