"Patience and perseverance" are required to bring the government of El Salvador and leftist rebels toward negotiations to end the civil war there, Deane R. Hinton, who is being replaced as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, said yesterday.
Questioned about what would otherwise be required for the United States to make certain the Salvadoran government wins the war, Hinton said any U.S. military commitment to do so would be "so massive that it's not even worth discussing."
In his first extended public comments on Central American affairs since announcement last month that he was being removed as ambassador, Hinton said that administration policy has never been to "win" the war but to end it and that the policy has made "great progress" over the last two years.
U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick said in a separate meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters that the U.S. stake in Central America is "a new fact" that the U.S. public has not assimilated fully. She called for public debate about what she said are new Soviet expansionist techniques in the area.
Hinton, who also met with Post editors and reporters, said progress in Central America has included establishment of an official Salvadoran peace commission to talk to guerrillas and the listing by the guerrilla movement's political arm of a six-point agenda.
"They had no agenda before, and that's progress," he added.
He said he thinks the Salvadoran government "could take on" four of the six points, eliminating the guerrillas' call for a cease-fire and talks on political composition of a future government. That leaves as possible talking points a call for elections, international political alignment of the government, disposition of guerrilla and Salvadoran armies and an outline of socioeconomic reforms.
Hinton said power-sharing talks remain out of the question, but said, "If you start to talk seriously, you can get the process going."
He said he thought appointment of former Florida senator Richard B. Stone as President Reagan's special envoy in the region--a move urged by Rep. Clarence D. Long (D-Md.)--was "Long's price" for release of more Salvadoran aid money by his House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
"As a professional foreign service officer, I figure we need another negotiator down there like a hole in the head," Hinton said, adding that he hopes Stone will be successful in facilitating talks between the Salvadoran government and guerrillas.
One of Hinton's "few differences" with the White House, he said, was that "they didn't much like my continuing to suggest that this would take a lot of time."
Hinton said that he sees no need for U.S. troops to resolve the Salvadoran conflict and that his superiors in the administration "have never suggested to me" that troops might be sent there.
Instead, he said, U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers "do 90 percent of the offensive fighting" because Salvadoran garrison troop readiness is "abysmal to fair . . . , and the good departments aren't all that good." Most of the recently reported successes by guerrilla forces "have been against fourth-rate troops," he said.
With an air of amazement, Hinton related that two years ago the Salvadoran army had few noncommissioned officers, who run any army, and that troops "did absolutely no maintenance" on radios or other equipment. The 25-man U.S. medical training team being sent to El Salvador, he said, will train corpsmen in field treatment of the wounded.
At the moment, Hinton said, one of every three wounded Salvadoran soldiers dies. The death rate for U.S. soldiers wounded in Vietnam was one in 10.
Kirkpatrick likened the Soviet Union to the Roman Empire, saying the Soviets have organized "a sort of international communist brigade" to help leftist rebels worldwide.
The brigade involves "tens of thousands of troops" from Soviet allies including Angola, Benin, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Algeria and Nicaragua, all coordinated and deployed out of Moscow in a way not seen before, she said.
Soviet garrisons police the rebel efforts "to make sure they don't change their minds," Kirkpatrick continued. She said that 8,000 Cubans are in Algeria and that "a good many thousands" of Soviet troops are in Cuba.
"It's Roman legions, as it were," she said.
She called for a public debate on implications of such a force, adding that Soviet penetration in Central America has included offering full scholarships to 1,100 Panamanians and at least that many Costa Ricans studying in Soviet-bloc nations. The United States has no similar program, she said.
Americans "do not have the same broad general understanding that Central America and the Caribbean matter to us" as they do about the Middle East, she said. "It's a new fact and therefore harder to assimilate."
Hinton and Kirkpatrick said continued fighting in El Salvador is causing steady deterioration of the economy, frightening capital out of the country and damaging roads, bridges, power lines and farm land.
"It gets worse every day," Hinton said.