Five Central American foreign ministers moved their peace plan a little further forward here this week, and allowed themselves more time to bring it to fruition. Closing a two-day meeting Wednesday night, the ministers set Nov. 5 - 90 days from the treaty's signature - as both a deadline and a starting point for five key elements in the pact.
Under the Aug. 7 plan, explained Guatemalan Foreign Minister Alfonso Cabrera, ``there are two types of actions'' that the five governments have pledged to take.
``Some are acts carried out at a certain moment, and others are processes that begin,'' he said. ``On Nov. 5, some acts such as issuing amnesty decrees and lifting states of emergency must be carried out. Other processes ... such as cease-fires will begin.''
Among the steps the ministers agreed should be taken by Nov. 5 is a request by all five countries that outside powers stop aiding guerrilla forces in the region. Washington would thus be required to end its funding of the Nicaraguan contra rebels.
Each government is due to make that request individually, in its own words. Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos L'opez Contreras suggested that Honduras may hold back if it is not satisfied that Nicaragua's Sandinista government has kept its promises.
``There is a delicate balance of harmonious interaction'' between each country's moves, Mr. L'opez Contreras argued.
But with the other four governments reportedly ready to call for an end to outside aid, ``Honduras will be under a lot of pressure not to be the odd man out,'' said a senior diplomat from the region.
Also required by Nov. 5, under the plan's chapter on democratization, is an end to Nicaragua's state of emergency, which suspends a wide range of civil liberties. The Sandinistas have so far shown no signs of lifting that decree, and several diplomats in Managua believe the government may start by lifting it only in parts of the country where the contras are not active.
Those countries riven by armed conflict, the ministers agreed, must issue amnesty decrees by the Nov. 5 deadline. Guatemala and El Salvador did so this week, offering freedom not only to guerrillas fighting their governments, but to political prisoners as well.
El Salvador's new law denies amnesty only to those responsible for the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, this week's assassination of human rights activist Herbert Ernesto Anaya, and those guilty of kidnapping for ransom.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann announced this week that his government would also issue a broad amnesty law in the next few days, excluding only those guilty of ``atrocious crimes.''
But the trickiest steps remain those that will take time to put in effect: cease-fires in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and Honduras's promise to deny the contras use of its territory.
Two rounds of cease-fire talks between the Salvadorean government and Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front guerrilla leaders have so far failed to yield an accord. A further set of negotiations is scheduled for next week, Salvadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Acevedo Peralta said Wednesday, ``and we hope to achieve an agreed cease-fire then. But other possibilities remain, such as inviting those who have taken up arms to respect a [unilateral] cease-fire declared by the government.''
Managua, on the other hand, is still steadfastly refusing to negotiate a cease-fire with contra leaders, and insisting that it will talk only with the Reagan administration. Talks with the rebel chiefs, Mr. d'Escoto argued Wednesday, would be ``a trap.''
``The person who insists most that we should talk to the contras is President Reagan ... because he thinks he could manipulate the talks, and advance his chances of winning $270 million more [in contra aid] to continue the war,'' D'Escoto said. ``We agree with Reagan,'' the foreign minister added. ``It would be helpful to his war effort'' if Managua opened negotiations with the contras. Honduras, meanwhile, appears ready to use the Sandinistas' refusal to deal with the contra leadership as a way of justifying its own lack of action in expelling the Nicaraguan rebels. ``We are interested in concrete signs of good faith from Nicaragua,'' one Honduran diplomat said.
While accepting that Honduras would need time to prevent the contras from using its territory, the Sandinistas also expect signs of good faith from Tegucigalpa by Nov. 5.
``For a start, they could stop [contra supply] flights from Swan Island, Palmerola, and Aguacate,'' said a Nicaraguan diplomat, referring to three Honduran Air Force bases. ``That would reveal a political will'' to comply with the peace pact.
Such actions will come under the scrutiny of an international verification team next week. The ministers agreed that the team, with members from eight Latin American nations, five Central American countries, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States could begin in situ inspections Nov. 5, so as to make its report 30 days later.
The five Central American Presidents, meanwhile, are due to meet sometime after Jan. 15, 1988, to measure the progress they have made.