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Ortega collects warm words of support on European trip. Yet his visit is unlikely to drum up much concrete aid

By William EchiksonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 16, 1985



Paris

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra is touring Western Europe this week collecting warm words of political and economic support, but so far, few concrete actions. Mr. Ortega's trip was improvised at short notice to capitalize on European opposition to the United States embargo against Nicaragua.

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One-day stops in Madrid, Paris, Rome, Helsinki, and Stockholm were added to his two-week itinerary in Moscow and Eastern Europe following the White House decision.

During his Paris stop Monday, Ortega defended that trip, telling questioners that Soviet-bloc aid was crucial if Nicaragua were to survive US pressure.

At the same time, since he holds out little hope for improved relations with Washington, Ortega seemed eager for European help to show that his country has not joined the Soviet bloc.

``Nicaragua defends a position of nonalignment,'' Ortega told the French newspaper Lib'eration. ``We will continue to cooperate economically and politically in a pluralist manner.''

And the Europeans seem willing to cooperate -- to a point.

At the Bonn summit, the Europeans clearly were disappointed at the US embargo, and they refused to follow or endorse it.

As one French Foreign Ministry official here explained, the Europeans are unanimous in believing that the Nicaraguan regime ``is not yet totally communist,'' and that ``American pressure only drives them into the hands of Moscow.''

But at Bonn, the Europeans preferred not to comment on the issue in public. According to the French official, this reticence resulted, ``because we have limited power to maneuver in Central America, and after all, the region is in America's backyard.''

This mixture of outrage and reserve has colored Ortega's reception in Western Europe.

The three leaders he already has met, Spain's Felipe Gonz'alez, France's Franois Mitterrand, and Italy's Bettino Craxi, all assured him that relations with his country would not change because of the US embargo.

Specifically, Italian officials confirmed that an electricity plant already under construction would be completed.

Spanish officials said they were likely to approve a Nicaraguan request to expand credit lines.

And an Elys'ee spokesman said that France ``hopes to develop its commercial exchanges with Nicaragua.''

But military aid was ruled out. In 1982, the French sold Nicaragua about $17 million worth of arms before US anger made them steer clear of sending any more military items into the area.

And the Europeans cannot offer Nicaragua too much nonmilitary aid, either.

Europe already buys Nicaraguan cotton and coffee, and perhaps will now buy some bananas and shellfish, but its aid budgets are tight.

The French, for example, concentrate on French-speaking Africa. And Spanish aid, despite Spain's cultural affinity with Latin America, totals only about $20 million for the entire region.

``We don't have the money to be too active,'' Spanish Foreign Ministry official Angel Vinas said in an interview.

As a result, Nicaraguan Embassy official Octavio Rivas said, ``We will have to wait to see later what concrete results President Ortega's mission leads to.''