The peace plan signed by five Central American leaders last week is not acceptable in its current form, a senior Reagan administration official says. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger says that for the plan to earn a United States endorsement it must, among other things:
Allow US-supported contra guerrillas to remain armed and in place in Nicaragua while observing a cease-fire.
Call for an end to Soviet military aid to the Nicaraguan government.
The peace initiative, drafted by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez, ``is a good beginning,'' according to Secretary Weinberger, ``but there's still a lot left to do.''
Mr. Weinberger's remarks, made at a breakfast interview with defense reporters, were among the most detailed yet made by the administration on the Central American proposal. In general, White House officials have walked a thin line in their reaction to it, trying to sound positive while refraining from endorsing its framework.
From the White House point of view, the Central American peace plan has complicated life in two ways: It has clearly superseded the US's own peace plan for the region, which was also put forward last week; and it has thrown another curveball at the White House effort to win more financial aid for the contras. The US State Department has called the American plan essentially dead but suggests that parts of it could still be worked into the Arias plan.
The contra issue is one that is particularly sensitive for the administration. The Iran-contra hearings demonstrated that if nothing else President Reagan feels strongly about the anti-Sandinista fighters. Over the weekend, Vice-President George Bush said that the US was not about to ``leave the contras twisting in the wind.''
At the same time the Arias plan is being widely hailed as a step toward peace for a troubled region, and the White House has no desire to be seen as the bad guy that killed it. President Reagan himself has publicly expressed the hope that this move can lead to Central American peace.
Some of the details that Weinberger says need to be included in the Arias framework are likely to prove highly contentious, however. He says the contras must remain ``in being as a military force,'' remaining armed and ready in Nicaragua. But the Arias plan calls for cessation of outside aid to rebel groups in the region. It is not clear how the contras could keep body and soul together without continued US aid, or how the Nicaraguan government will react to the idea of the contras remaining in the country.
The defense secretary also called for an end to Soviet military support for the Nicaraguan regime. The Arias plan says nothing about cutting off external military aid to sitting Central American governments. In contrast, the bipartisan US peace plan released last week would bar both contras and Sandinistas from receiving outside military help.
Weinberger also complained that the Arias plan ``lacked simultaneity.'' In other words, there are as yet no guarantees that the Nicaraguan government would begin adopting internal reforms mandated by the Arias proposal as soon as the contras ceased fighting. Indeed, the Central American leaders' plan contains no timetable or sanctions for violations.
Foreign ministers from the five nations involved - Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua - are scheduled to meet Aug. 23 to begin sketching in details of the Arias plan. Officials in Washington say the White House is likely to remain quiet about Central American issues until then.