Salvador's military backs away from Duarte's peace talks. Some senior officers said to lose confidence in US protection.

Support for peace talks between El Salvador's government and guerrillas appears to be eroding in the powerful high command of the Salvadorean military. Over the past six weeks, influential officers in the highest ranks of the military -- among them armed forces chief of staff Adolfo Onec'ifero Blandon and Air Force chief Jos'e Rafael Bustillo -- have backed away from support for the talks.

Knowledgeable Salvadorean and United States policy analysts say this is partly out of belief that the United States will not protect them from the right wing in their support for the negotiating process.

The officers have began making accommodations with right-wing forces who have tried to bury the talks, according to Leonel Gomez, a former official of the Salvadorean land reform institute, who has recently met with top-ranking Salvadorean officers.

Without the support of such key figures as Generals Blandon and Bustillo, the prospects for progress in the third round of peace talks are dim, say Mr. Gomez and other policy analysts.

According to the US and Salvadorean analysts, recent Reagan administration policy decisions have convinced Blandon, Bustillo, and some relatively moderate military officers that the US will not help them in any struggle with the far right.

The Reagan administration actions include: an apparent decision to remove US Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering soon after rightist forces threatened his life; the granting of a US visa to right-wing leader Roberto d'Aubuisson; and what they call a lack of any strong US reaction to the mysterious death of Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa, Salvador's top field commander, who many Salvadorean military officers think was murdered by the extreme right.

The officers fear for their own lives in El Salvador. And what they see as a US lack of sensitivity for the position of moderates in these cases makes them wonder why they should risk pushing for peace against strong rightist opposition, the US and Salvadorean analysts say.

The accommodation reached by Blandon and Bustillo with the rightists -- led by Mr. d'Aubuisson and his ARENA party -- may be reflected in their promotions last month to the status of generals, say some policy analysts.

In early January, General Blandon publicly stated that he considers talks with the guerrillas to be a ``maneuver,'' but he feels that the dialogue should continue. Analysts take the delicately worded statement as further evidence that Blandon has backed down from support for the talks.

Other policy analysts are more optimistic about the future of peace talks. These individuals say the talks can bring substantial progress in at least ``humanizing'' the war and in keeping channels of communication open.

There may be a ``narrowing of the agenda'' says an influential policy analyst who works for a Senate committee and ``neither side will press forward any broad political proposals,'' but he still believes there can be gains in the talks.

``Both sides can get down to the serious business of testing out confidence-building measures to see if there is any possibility of reaching agreement on specific issues that won't create political problems on either side,'' he says.

He cites specific gains already in this direction with the rebel release on Dec. 11 of 44 prisoners of war and the Christmas-New Years holiday truce to which both sides agreed.

The Democratic aide believes that the next peace talks may be held in the first half of February. But some press reports indicate they may not occur until March because President Duarte is currently involved in a struggle with rightists in the Salvadorean National Assembly.

One of the most useful items that could be on the agenda in the next round of talks, says the influential Senate aide, is a cessation by the Air Force of large-scale bombings of civilians in guerrilla-controlled areas. The military could cease such bombings in exchange for an end to guerrilla attacks on economic infrastructure and transportation routes in government-controlled areas, he suggests.

Mr. Gomez says military officers were shaken by the way in which the US handled the death threats against Ambassador Pickering. Gomez says that most of the Salvadorean officer corps believes that the plot against Pickering was headed by d'Aubuisson. He says that moderate Salvadorean Army officers interpreted the granting of a visa to d'Aubuisson last December, and a reportedly firm decision to remove Pickering, as a sign that the US would not confront the Salvadorean right.

The key Republican aide agrees, saying, ``When people up here [in the Reagan administration] play their ambassadorial musical chairs games, they don't realize what messages they are sending. Strange signals have been sent by Pickering's being transferred after d'Aubuisson has been allowed to come to this country.''

One Democratic aide who has been a key figure in Central American affairs on the Hill also supported this view. The aide said the issuance of a visa to d'Aubuisson after US government officials had been quoted in the press as stating that d'Aubuisson was behind the plots on Pickering's life had a strong negative influence on Salvadorean military leaders. -- 30 --{et

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