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Wright, Reagan on Nicaragua

November 22, 1987

When they wrote our Constitution, the Founding Fathers clearly envisaged that the President would conduct the nation's foreign affairs, assisted on certain matters, such as treaty making, by the Senate. It's doubtful they would have approved the intervention by a member of the House of Representatives in key deliberations between the U.S. and a foreign country.

Constitutional intent and historic precedent, however, seem to have exerted scant influence on House Speaker Wright. When he closeted himself recently with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and intermediary Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the White House and State Department found themselves in the absurd situation of wondering publicly what Wright was up to. Wright has defended his actions on the grounds that he is under no obligation to "take orders" from the White House and is responsible only to his constituents and the American people as he seeks to promote peace in Nicaragua--a goal few would challenge.

Wright's maneuvering comes at a critical time. Ortega clearly has the Reagan Administration on the defensive as he expresses not only his willingness but his eagerness to comply with the plan advanced by President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica for the cessation of hostilities in Central America, including Nicaragua. Although Reagan has obvious reservations concerning the workability of the Arias proposal, he is in no position to challenge prematurely a plan developed and approved by the Central American countries themselves, and Ortega knows this. While endorsing the Arias plan enthusiastically, Ortega presses the United States to deal directly with him, to suspend its aid to the Contras, and insists that the latter lay down their arms as a condition to a cease-fire.

Understandably, the Contras exhibit no willingness to disarm at this stage and propose that their forces and the Sandinistas remain in place throughout the duration of a cease-fire permitting negotiations.

It's not clear how much Wright has influenced Ortega's position or whether Ortega is simply using Wright to advance Sandinista interests. In any event, the United States would be naive to promote disbandment of the Contras now; their nettlesome military opposition to the Sandinistas has probably provided the major impetus to Ortega's willingness to consider a cease-fire and negotiations in the first place. If Ortega achieves elimination of the Contras and then reneges on his promises for reform in Nicaragua, it would probably be impossible to reconstitute the rebel force, given the political climate in the United States.

As for Wright, his admission that he's "no diplomat" should be taken literally and he should be advised to leave the conduct of foreign relations to those more experienced and constitutionally charged with the task.

BRYCE F. DENNO

Coronado

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