Diplomacy stirs on contra war. Sandinista foes, Contadora group take peace soundings
The contra forces fighting in Nicaragua and the Sandinista government may soon decide that a negotiating table is a more promising forum than a battlefield. Faced with diminishing prospects that the Reagan administration, weakened by the Iran-contra affair, will be able to muster congressional majorities for sustained aid to the contras, key contra leaders and Central American governments are taking a closer look at possible diplomatic solutions to the six-year Nicaraguan contra war.Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, new efforts to rejuvenate peace negotiations in Central America will be spearheaded by Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, secretary-general of the United Nations, and Joao Baena Soares, secretary-general of the Organization of American States.
The two have announced plans to visit Central America in January in an attempt to breathe new life into the peace process sponsored by the ``Contadora'' group of four Latin nations - Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Panama - plus the Contadora ``support group'' comprised of Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. The leaders of the two international organizations have indicated their willingness to provide peacekeeping units, electoral observers, and other services in support of the Contadora process.
Reagan administration officials say that in principle they support the idea of a negotiated solution to the Nicaraguan conflict but remain skeptical that the Managua government can be convinced to make necessary concessions, especially now that the contra aid program is in political trouble in Congress.
``Knowing how they stand with their own people, the Sandinistas could never open up the political process completely and allow elections,'' says retired Col. Lawrence Tracy, a former State and Defense Department official and author of two Reagan administration ``white papers'' on Nicaragua.
Even so, at least one source close to the contras says he is convinced that recent events have pushed key contra leaders toward a ``concrete and significant diplomatic initiative.''
This source, who asked not to be identified, says the logic of seeking a diplomatic solution has been reinforced by the Reagan administration's current political troubles at home - and by the ``profound opportunities'' created by the announcement that a group of Nicaraguan political parties is attempting to form a unified political slate to challenge the Sandinista government in municipal elections next year.
``A cease-fire under these conditions could galvanize the internal opposition into an all-out campaign that would test the willingness of the Sandinistas to accommodate a larger measure of political pluralism,'' this source says. ``Ironically, the contras could end up translating their current deepening problems into a major diplomatic coup.''
Another Washington analyst says he looks for a Central American peace initiative. This expert, who also asked not to be identified, says the nations of the region, now convinced that the contras cannot win a military victory, are actively seeking another means to force an end to the fighting that has contributed to six years of turmoil throughout the region.