Nicaragua suspicious of US peace initiative

Extreme skepticism. That's the reaction of Nicaragua's Sandinista government to the White House's surprise offer yesterday to postpone new aid to the Nicaraguan contra rebels.

The Sandinista Party newspaper Barricada reported the Reagan administration's offer yesterday under the headline: ``American maneuver against the summit,'' referring to the meeting of Central American leaders beginning in Guatemala today.

Nicaragua's vice-foreign minister was quoted in less denunciatory but still skeptical terms: ``I hope to God that this time they are presenting a serious proposal directed at supporting negotiations for peace and not a maneuver to set back the process or kill the summit.''

Over the past month, slim hopes have arisen that the two-day summit will not end in total failure.

The most optimistic hope is that the presidents will commit themselves to further talks soon and not just disperse leaving a face-saving communiqu'e. But still, no observers or diplomats spoken to believe that any agreement is possible so long as the White House is opposed to it.

After showing extreme wariness when Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez introduced his plan on Feb. 15, the Nicaraguan government has gradually become more enthusiastic about its possibilities.

The Nicaragua's primary aim is to stop the contras, and since the plan calls for a cease-fire it is seen as a move in that direction even if nothing concrete emerges.

The Nicaraguans have staked out their position clearly: There must first be a cease-fire; only then will the state of emergency, which suspends press and civil liberties, be lifted. This is what Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra said after his meeting with President Arias 10 days ago.

According to diplomatic sources, Nicaraguan officials say they will have no problem agreeing to ease press censorship after a cease-fire.

The US's proposed plan calls for a cease-fire by both parties. Once that occurred, military aid would cease while humanitarian aid continued. Analysts say it stands little chance of being accepted because the Sandinistas want the rebels to cease fighting first.

The Sandinistas began to warm to the Arias plan after talks here with Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut last February. The Sandinistas apparently believe they may be able to do business with a future democratic administration. Willingness to cooperate on the Arias plan would leave them in good standing in 18 months time.

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