WASHINGTON — President Reagan, refusing to put the United States in the middle of Central American peace talks, said Saturday, "This is a Nicaraguan conflict that should be resolved by Nicaraguans."
But in his weekly radio address from Camp David, Md., the President added, "Whatever the specific developments in Central America in the coming days, the United States will continue to stress that democracy must come first."
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, after intensive diplomacy in Washington last week--but without meeting with U.S. officials--has said he would lift his country's state of emergency once the Contras lay down their arms and the United States cuts off aid to the rebels. He also has demanded that Sandinista-Contra talks be held in Washington, a request the United States declined.
In his talk, Reagan also praised the "democracies" of El Salvador and Guatemala for immediately complying with terms of a regional peace plan, which he said the Sandinistas have resisted.
"In Nicaragua," he said, "the Communist release of political prisoners has been partial and grudging. Thousands of political prisoners remain in their jails." Further, "The Communists in Nicaragua refuse to lift their state of emergency."
But he welcomed the participation of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, a leading critic of the Sandinistas, as a mediator between the Managua government and the U.S.-backed Contras.
Reagan spoke as Ortega, who issued an 11-point cease-fire proposal Friday as part of the peace plan signed Aug. 7, ended a four-day visit to Washington.
Ortega's proposal, which calls for the cease-fire to begin Dec. 5 and for the rebels to move into three cease-fire zones within Nicaragua before laying down their arms Jan. 5, was quickly rejected by Contra leaders. But both sides expressed a willingness to be flexible.
Contra leader Adolfo Calero, in a Cable News Network interview, said the rebels were "wide open for a reasonable cease-fire and to achieve the real end, which is peace and democracy."
Calero reiterated his rejection of Ortega's proposal to hold the indirect cease-fire talks in Washington but softened his insistence that the discussions be held in Managua, saying another Central American nation would be acceptable.