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Why Sandinistas' election plan fails to satisfy US

By Dennis VolmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 8, 1984

Managua, Nicaragua

Despite the Sandinistas' recent announcement that they would hold elections later this year, relations between Nicaragua and the United States remain at rock bottom.

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The differences between the two countries lie less in matters of substance than in a profound mutual mistrust, say well-placed observers here. This, in turn, leads to important differences in approach.

Both high-level US officials in Washington and the sources here confirm that the US has made three main demands on the Sandinistas:

1. To stop arms and munitions shipments to Salvadorean guerrillas.

2. To close the Salvadorean guerrillas' command and control centers in Nicaragua.

3. To purge Nicaraguan Army and state security units of Cuban advisers.

It is true that US officials also stress publicly the importance of fostering genuine democracy in Nicaragua. But they admit privately that this is less important than the three demands listed above. And they concede that the US could probably live with a less than perfect democracy here.

Both Sandinista and diplomatic sources stress that none of the US demands challenge the basic authority of the Sandinista rule. They say, therefore, that the US demands could be acceptable in principle to Sandinista leaders. Informed observers also emphasize that as the Salvadorean guerrilla forces become stronger, they are potentially less dependent on Nicaraguan arms and munitions.

But Sandinista sources insist their leadership will take no action on the US demands without a signed agreement in which the US agrees to end its efforts to destabilize the Sandinista government.

Washington, on the other hand, has made it clear it will not accept any such general agreement. US officials state clearly that the Nicaraguans must first show their interest in a settlement by moving to fulfill at least one of Washington's key demands.

Such a Nicaraguan move, the US officials say, would bring countermoves by the US to reduce tensions. Only after such a round of deescalation, they say, would the US consider negotiating a more general agreement with the Sandinistas.

The Sandinistas resist making any concessions before the US commits itself because, as an observer puts it, ''They would be stupid to throw away one of their two or three main playing cards, before making sure the US would respond.''

And the Sandinistas are not sure the US would respond. A well-placed Nicaraguan government source believes moderates in the Reagan administration do not determine US policy toward Nicaragua. He believes that these US moderates are convinced that Reagan administration hard-liners do not want a settlement with Nicaragua, but rather are intent on destroying the Sandinistas.

This Sandinista observer feels that because the US moderates do not control US policy, the moderates merely hope that if the Nicaraguans would take a concrete step first, the US hard-liners might be persuaded to soften their stand.

Such Sandinista sources fear that the concessions the Nicaraguan government made in December and January have been interpreted by the US as a sign of weakness - a sign that US destabilization pressures are bringing the Sandinista government to its knees.