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Cites 'Pressures' on Managua to Negotiate : U.S. Calls Rebel Attack 'Very Encouraging'

December 22, 1987|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration said Monday that the Contras, by beginning a new offensive just days before the scheduled start of a Christmas truce, are pursuing a U.S.-backed strategy of keeping military pressure on the Nicaraguan government to force the leftist regime into serious peace talks.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the rebel assault, on Nicaragua's remote gold and silver mining district, was "very encouraging."

When asked if the military action was appropriate at a time when high-level representatives of the Contras and the leftist Sandinista regime were in Santo Domingo for indirect negotiations over a cease-fire in the six-year-old civil war, Fitzwater replied: "Absolutely. The purpose of the resistance, from our point of view, is to keep pressure on the Sandinistas to negotiate."

State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the attack "is in keeping with the resistance's strategy to bring military pressure to bear on the Sandinistas while trying to negotiate a political settlement."

"As they have made clear, they will not unilaterally suspend military operations. To do so would remove the incentive for the Sandinistas to negotiate," Oakley said.

"Military pressure has been largely responsible for forcing the Sandinistas to come to the negotiating table," she said.

"We believe military pressure, coupled with negotiations, will compel the Sandinistas to live up to their commitments under the (Central American peace) accord."

Oakley said Contra leaders informed the U.S. government Sunday morning that the offensive had begun. She declined to say whether the Contras had told Washington that such an operation was being planned before Sunday.

Oakley said the United States would support a brief Christmas truce despite its backing for the Contra offensive. She said the attack and the proposed truce are not "mutually exclusive."

"One could have, and hopefully there would be, a Christmas truce while the negotiations continue," she said.

When asked if the United States continues to back the peace plan advanced by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, Oakley replied: "Yes, we do. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but I think people are continuing to work at it."

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