WASHINGTON — A blue-ribbon panel including two former Republican Cabinet members is urging President-elect Bush to abandon the goal of overthrowing Nicaragua's leftist regime and negotiate a U.S.-Nicaraguan security agreement instead.
The Inter-American Dialogue, in a report scheduled for release today, declares that continued U.S. hostility toward the Sandinista regime "would condemn Central America to many more years of confrontation, destruction and despair."
Instead, the group argues, the Bush Administration should open direct negotiations with Managua on U.S. security concerns and seek an agreement that would reduce the size of Nicaragua's army and ban Nicaraguan aid to guerrillas in other Central American countries.
The co-chairman of the group, former Ambassador Sol M. Linowitz, said that he considers the panel's consensus on the issue "truly extraordinary."
Unanimity of Views
"We found that there was unanimity that the military approach will not result in the kind of solution people are seeking," he said. "It can only come through negotiations. And this means swallowing hard and saying that we must find a way of living with the Sandinistas if they agree to move in the right direction."
The Reagan Administration sought for almost eight years to remove the Sandinistas from power, primarily through aid to the anti-Sandinista Contras. But the Contras failed to mount an effective military threat to the regime, and Congress, deeply divided over the policy, halted military aid to the rebels last February.
Secretary of State-designate James A. Baker III has told members of Congress that he plans a renewed focus on diplomacy in the region but that he believes military pressure from the Contras is still needed as "leverage" against the Sandinistas.
The Inter-American Dialogue, which has been meeting since 1982, includes former senior officials from the United States, Canada and Latin America. Its members include William E. Brock, former secretary of labor under President Reagan; Elliot L. Richardson, former secretary of defense under President Richard M. Nixon; Edmund S. Muskie, former secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter; Robert S. McNamara, former secretary of defense under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Linowitz, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and U.S. negotiator of the Panama Canal treaties under Carter.
Latin American members include Daniel Oduber, former president of Costa Rica; Nicolas Ardito Barletta, former president of Panama; Osvaldo Hurtado, former president of Ecuador, and Jesus Silva Herzog, former finance minister of Mexico.
"We do not believe that the Sandinista regime, by its mere existence, poses the kind of security threat that could justify direct or indirect paramilitary intervention by the United States," the group's report said. "The emphasis of U.S. policy should not be on overthrowing the government of Nicaragua but on assuring that its activities do not threaten the security of other countries.
"For a secure peace to be achieved in Central America, the United States and Nicaragua must reach a political settlement," the report said. "For this to occur, Nicaragua must curtail its military ties with the Soviet Bloc, desist from subverting its neighbors and open up its politics. The United States, in turn, must stop trying to overthrow Nicaragua's regime and take the lead, within a multilateral framework, in aiding Central America's reconstruction."
For excerpts from the Inter-American Dialogue report, see Editorial Pages.