THE Gulf war is the center of United States and international attentions. But the US must not forget several other pressing foreign policy challenges. Panama. One year after the US invasion, Panama is beset by problems. A December coup attempt suppressed by US forces illustrated the government's continuing dependence on the US and the threat posed by former Noriega troops. Many Panamanians consider the government elitist and out of touch. Although most Panamanians are black or of mixed race, President Endara's cabinet is almost all white. Twenty percent of all workers are unemployed and many more lack full-time jobs. Crime is rampant.
The US needs to do more to strengthen Panama's democracy and economy. We should intensify our efforts to help build a competent civilian police force. The US began providing generous economic aid in 1990. Our task in 1991 is to ensure that this money is being used productively to support reforms that improve living standards for all Panamanians. We should also encourage the government to broaden its political base.
Nicaragua. President Violeta Chamorro's government has had a rough first year, shaken by strikes and periodic attacks by renegade contras. Inflation is running at 3,000 percent annually. Unemployment tops 25 percent. The government has cut spending, but Sandinista pressure forced it to retreat from a plan for sharp cuts in public wages. Bureaucratic holdups in the US and in Nicaragua have delayed the distribution of some US economic assistance.
The US wants a stable and democratic Nicaragua. Stability depends upon the government's ability to restore economic growth and fend off challenges by Sandinista labor and political groups. Making US aid conditional on the implementation of an effective plan to cut the budget and reduce inflation might strengthen the hand of economic reformers and stimulate aid from countries wary of the current economic situation. We should also press the Sandinistas through third parties to cooperate with the Chamorro government.
El Salvador. The Salvadoran government and FMLN rebels have held several rounds of United Nations-mediated talks during the past year. Despite some progress, US military aid was cut in half last fall - a $42 million cut - partly in response to the 1989 Jesuit murders and growing evidence of military interference with the investigation. During an FMLN offensive last fall, the rebels shot down two aircraft with missiles acquired from Nicaragua. Rebel fighters also executed two US officers who survived a helicopter crash. In January, citing the FMLN's actions, the president said he would restore full military assistance if a cease-fire is not reached by the middle of March.
The end of the cold war and the change of government in Nicaragua have reduced US security stakes in El Salvador, but the conflict continues. We now have few options in El Salvador. We should support UN negotiations. International pressure on both sides could be helpful. Hundreds of millions of dollars of unconditional US military assistance during the 1980s did not promote meaningful political reform or negotiations. For this reason, we should maintain a conditional military aid policy that gives both sides incentives to negotiate.
Cambodia. A UN Security Council plan has increased chances for a settlement of Cambodia's 12-year civil war. The plan calls for a cease-fire, a halt to foreign arms supplies, and a UN operation to run key ministries and organize elections. The Vietnam-backed Cambodian government and the three resistance factions say they will support the UN plan. But settlement talks have been slowed by the government's opposition to a large UN presence and its reluctance to disarm.
We can best support diplomacy by continuing to work with the Security Council in pressing the Cambodian factions to reach a settlement. The US has expanded training and humanitarian aid programs for the two noncommunist rebel factions. This assistance can help them compete in elections and play an effective role in a new government.
Angola. Portuguese-mediated negotiations have brought the Angolan government and the UNITA rebels close to a settlement of their civil war. With US and Soviet encouragement, both sides agreed in principle to a settlement providing for a cease-fire, a cutoff of foreign arms supplies, and multiparty elections. The two sides may soon sign an agreement initiating a cease-fire and setting an election timetable.
US-Soviet cooperation gives both countries an important stake in the Angola talks. If a settlement is reached, we should normalize relations with Angola and support multilateral economic aid.
Afghanistan. US-Soviet talks on an Afghan settlement continue. The US has accepted the idea of a simultaneous termination of US and Soviet arms supplies to the resistance and the government. The Soviets want an arms cutoff to apply to shipments from third countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and to be linked to a political settlement. Such a settlement would initiate a cease-fire and set the terms of a transition period before elections.
The US and the Soviet Union both want to end the conflict and create a stable and neutral government. The talks may be slowed, however, by the resignation of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and the postponement of the US-Soviet summit. Many in Congress want to reduce or end covert military assistance to the resistance fighters because of the Islamic fundamentalist, anti-democratic character of some rebel groups and reports of corruption among the guerrillas and their Pakistani backers. We need an open review of this covert program to determine whether US interests are being served.