Backing a political solution in El Salvador

A major clarification of United States policy on El Salvador is apparently being misused by some right-wing Salvadoran businessmen to cloud Washington's intentions. They have reportedly seized on it as a signal of lessened support for President Duarte -- when it was meant to bolster him and the political process he favors against extremes of both right and left. Indeed, there was a general heightened sensitivity to political rather than military solutions in last week's policy statement, delivered in a speech by Thomas Enders, assistant secretary of state for inter- American affairs. It must not be allowed to encourage those who would halt even Mr. Duarte's degree of centrist reform.

Mr. Enders omitted the administration's previous stress on the El Salvador conflict as a product of Soviet designs. He said that "just as the conflict was Salvadoran in its origins, so its ultimate resolution must be Salvadoran." He supported a democratic solution with a genuinely pluralistic approach. On one particular point raised by the Salvadoran businessmen -- that US support for Mr. Duarte would be conditioned on his accepting more conservative economic policies -- the State Department confirms the impression that Enders's speech implied no such thing -- nor is it part of US policy.

He may have been unrealistic to virtually close the door to negotiations with the insurgents. With such strictures, the resolution in Zimbabwe, for example, could hardly have occurred as it did, nor would there be diplomatic movement toward resolution in Namibia. But he was surely correct to place his emphasis on the scheduled electoral process in El Salvador -- rather than armed victory by the government -- while helping to convince the guerrillas that they cannot win by force of arms.

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