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Faltering in Nicaragua

June 12, 1988

The failure of the Nicaraguan government and the Contras to reach agreement on a peace settlement is disappointing, perhaps inevitable at this stage, but not the end of the peace process. Indeed, the good prospect for continued negotiations was recognized in a variety of statements, including those of the White House and the head of the Organization of American States.

There are troubling elements. The Sandinistas who rule Nicaragua remain in conspicuous violation of their commitment in the Aug. 7 peace agreement to grant amnesty; much of the most recent round of negotiations was spent quibbling over releasing hundreds of political prisoners who should have been long since released. The Contras' sincerity in the negotiations was clouded once again when agreement appeared close, only to be shattered by their new and difficult demands.

"We still hope that a peaceful solution can be achieved," the White House spokesman said. That is a welcome response. But it did not silence a small group within Congress who proposed a resumption of U.S. arms to the Contras even before the negotiations had reached a stalemate on Thursday.

"I don't see that the negotiations process is broken," Joao Baena Soares, OAS secretary general, commented. He had been an observer at the latest round of talks. His counsel is of particular value because all of the significant contributions to the peace process have come from the Latin Americans themselves, including the adoption by the five Central American presidents last August of the peace plan drafted by Oscar Arias Sanchez, president of Costa Rica. It is the leaders of Central America and the OAS who must prod the negotiations and judge their progress.

The continuation of the cease-fire appears to be ensured for the time being by the agreement of both government and rebel leaders not to reopen hostilities. That makes particularly opportune the supply of humanitarian assistance at this time. The action of the U.S. Customs Service in halting a convoy carrying food and medicine was all the more regrettable for that reason. To use the ill-advised economic sanctions against Nicaragua to deny children assistance, even after Congress had voted to provide assistance of its own, seemed an unfortunate bureaucratic exercise--all the more foolish because it apparently was based on the fear that the convoy trucks could make a significant contribution to Managua's military capability.

The door to renewed negotiations has not been closed. No time should be wasted, however, in resuming the talks.

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