US may reinstate Nicaragua aid if guerrilla-arms role clarified

Although it is terminating some $15 million in current United States economic aid to Nicaragua, the Reagan administration does not want to slam the door on Nicaragua's Sandinista leadership.

In fact, the administration would like very much to preserve and develop the rather shaky US-Nicaragua relationship. It wants, among other goals, to keep "alive the [Nicaraguan] private sector."

That desire was not made clear publicly in the April 1 aid-termination announcement that singled out Nicaragua's assistance to leftist Salvadoran guerrillas as the reason for the aid cutoff.

But, privately, the US is letting the Nicaraguan leadership know that it hopes ultimately to strengthen Washington-Managua ties.

Washington is also telling Nicaragua that an early resumption in US aid is possible -- if the US can be satisfied that the Nicaraguan role in arms shipments to the guerrillas in El Salvador has been terminated.

Reportedly, the US is studying the possibility of providing $10 million in emergency food aid and another $10 million in special development assistance, and even eventual reinstatement of the terminated $15 million aid. In addition, the Reagan administration had asked for $35 million in development and economic support funds for Nicaragua for the 1982 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

This would mean that the US would be giving Nicaragua some $70 million in aid if Nicaragua continues to cooperate on the El Salvador issue. Such assistance would be a clear boost to the US-Nicaragua relationship.

Nicaragua, too, has indicated in a variety of ways that it does not want to close the door on the relationship.

Washington took not of this Nicaragua position in acknoledging Nicaragua's "positive" response to the "strong [US] representations . . . to cease military support to the Salvadoran guerrillas."

"Their response has been positive," a State Department spokesman said. "We have no hard evidence of arms movements through Nicaragua during the past few weeks, and propaganda and some other support activities have been curtailed."

It was the evidence of such arms movements that prompted the aid termination. Under terms of the original aid agreement, assistance had to be canceled if Nicaragua contributed to "violence" in another country.

The administration also could have demanded an immediate repayment of the $60 million-worth of credits and loans already dispensed. But it chose not to do so.

On this point, too, there was some confusion over administration intent. The original information on the aid cutoff suggested that the US was "calling" all previous dispersements under the loan agreement.

That, however, was not the case. In a clarification of the point, the administration indicated that it was merely possiblem under terms of the foreign assistance act to call for immediate repayment.

All this confusion worries some US officials. They are concerned that the subtleties of US legislation and bureaucracy can easily cause misunderstandings -- and that greater precision is needed in spelling out US actions.

US officials also are worried about congressional pressure. Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Latin America, has been a voiciferous foe of aid to Nicaragua, and is expected to lobby hard against any effort offer new aid.

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