Salvador peace moves, yes -- but strictly 'a brick at a time,' as US sees it
Washington — American officials expect another meeting to take place fairly soon between President Reagan's special envoy Richard Stone and a Salvadorean guerrilla representative.
This is likely to be followed ''within a reasonable period of time'' by a meeting between guerrilla representatives and the Salvadorean government-appointed peace commission, a State Department official said Aug. 9.
But officials caution that none of this activity is expected suddenly to blossom into full-scale peace negotiations. The two warring sides in El Salvador are too far apart for that. Any moves toward peace are likely to be made ''a brick at a time,'' one State Department official said.
State Department officials say they are still not certain whether the guerrillas are entering such talks because they want genuine negotiations or because it is a useful tactic to ease American pressure and gain sympathy in the US Congress. There have always been differences among the five main guerrilla groups in El Salvador over the issue of negotiations.
According to a recent news report from Nicaragua, Cuba and Nicaragua are putting pressure on the Salvadorean guerrillas to seek a political settlement with the Salvadorean government in order to safeguard the survival of the Nicaraguan government as well as the safety of Cuba.
State Department officials say that Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, has let it be known ever since the leftist-led Sandinistas came to power four years ago in Nicaragua that he has been advising them not to provoke the United States. President Castro recently went public with a conciliatory statement about the need to find a regional solution to Central America's conflicts. Castro told reporters that Cuba would be willing to withdraw its military advisers and halt the flow of any weapons to any state in Central America, provided the US did the same. President Reagan later told interviewers from a McLaughlin Group television program that he was willing to give Castro the benefit of the doubt in any negotiations.
But State Department officials say that Castro's real intentions are still unclear. The only thing that is clear, said one official, is that partly as a result of American military exercises in and around Central America, ''the Nicaraguans are frightened, and the Cubans are frightened.''
A representative of the political-military alliance of opposition groups in El Salvador says, meanwhile, that guerrilla representatives would be willing to discuss with the US its security concerns in the region. Guillermo M. Ungo, president of the Democratic Revolutionary Front of El Salvador, says in an article written for the fall issue of Foreign Policy magazine that the guerrilla groups would take a neutral and independent position on issues such as the exclusion of foreign military bases from El Salvador and the sources and levels of military aid to a future government there.
The message from Ungo seems to be that any government dominated by the guerrilla forces would not lean toward Cuba or the Soviet Union but would take into account the fact that El Salvador's ''big neighbor,'' as Ungo puts it, is not the Soviet Union but the United States.
In another article in the same issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Nestor D. Sanchez, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for inter-American affairs, says that in El Salvador, ''the communist grip would be as total and as permanent as it is wherever they have gotten a foot in the door.
''The guerrillas may refer to 'unconditional negotiations,' but . . . what they aim at is a major role in restructuring the (Salvadorean) security forces and an interim role in the mechanism that determines power sharing,'' said Sanchez.
White House officials indicated Wednesday that President Reagan echoes Faith Ryan Whittlesey, a White House aide, who has charged that the American news media have tried to portray the leftist-led guerrillas in El Salvador as ''Robin Hoods.''
In his July 29 interview with the McLaughlin Group, Reagan was asked if he thought the press was playing politics with its reporting on Central America and on civil rights issues.
''Well,'' said Mr. Reagan,''haven't some polls kind of indicated that the majority of the press does support another political viewpoint other than mine?''