By choosing three foreigners to represent Managua at new peace talks with the contras today, the Sandinista government has underlined its refusal to enter any political discussion with the rebels. The government delegates, President Daniel Ortega Saavedra stressed last week, are authorized only to negotiate ``the specific aspect of arranging a cease-fire. They are technical advisers for technical aspects.''
Mr. Ortega's surprise decision to pick two Americans and a West German politician to talk for the government drew sharp condemnation from contra leaders. But it allows the Sandinistas to heed the call of mediator Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo for face to face negotiations, and yet not back off their refusal to hold direct talks with the rebels.
All three Sandinista delegates have extensive negotiating experience. Paul Reichler, an American lawyer, was one of the team that pressed Managua's successful suit against Washington at the World Court, which ruled that US support for the contras was illegal.
Paul Fisher, a Harvard University professor, is a specialist in conflict resolution, while West German Social Democrat Hans Jurgen Wischnewski has a history of troubleshooting in Central America.
It was Mr. Wischnewski who negotiated the release of Salvadorean President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's daughter from leftist guerrilla kidnappers in 1985. He also negotiated with the contras in 1986 for the release of eight West Germans that the Nicaraguan rebels had kidnapped from an agricultural cooperative where they were working.
And more recently, Sandinista officials say privately, Wischnewski played a major role in persuading Managua that it could no longer refuse to negotiate a cease-fire with the contras.
Rebel leader Aristedes Sanchez decried Managua's use of foreigners in the negotiations as ``shameful.''
``We don't have to resort to foreign citizens to resolve national problems,'' he said.
The Sandinistas, on the other hand, regard the contra negotiating team as no more than a Reagan administration mouthpiece.
``Sanchez's position is stupid,'' said one Sandinista official, ``when you take into account the sort of advice and assistance the contras are getting.''
He recalls US press reports that it was US officials who drew up the contras' cease-fire proposal.
While the first round of cease-fire talks broke down over the conditions for a Christmas truce, both Managua and the contras have now agreed to Cardinal Obando y Bravo's call for a halt to the shooting over the holiday.
Sandinista officials say they have learned of contra plans to seize towns and villages at Christmas, and distribute thousands of toys as a propaganda coup. The truce, they hope, will frustrate such an attempt.
Managua announced Sunday that its troops would take only defensive action on Dec. 24 and 25.
The truce, the Cardinal said, is designed ``only to create a propitious climate'' for further talks. ``The principal goal that we are pursuing is a cease-fire,'' he added.