U.S. National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane returned to Washington this morning after a whirlwind tour of Central America including stops in five countries for talks on policy in the region during the Reagan administration's second term.

The trip, which was not disclosed until today, began Thursday morning, the White House said in Washington. It included stops in Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the White House said.

The trip came at a time when officials and other observers here in Honduras and elsewhere in the region were expressing confusion over the direction of U.S. policy in Central America. Many sources had suggested that Washington was softening its policy against Nicaragua's left-wing government, but U.S. officials had disputed this.

The trip appeared to be timed to coincide with two important U.S. government announcements yesterday aimed at Nicaragua. The United States said it would boycott further sessions at the International Court of Justice, where Nicaragua has brought a complaint against the United States over its support for anti-Sandinista rebels. It also suspended the seven-month-old talks between the United States and Nicaragua.


he White House statement in Washington said that in his talks with Central American officials McFarlane "reaffirmed the president's policies for the coming months and invited their counsel on how together we can best achieve our common purposes."

A Honduran official, while declining to discuss the substance of the talks here, said the visit was reassuring.

"It has a lot of importance because it maintains a relationship at quite a high level," the official said.

McFarlane met with President Roberto Suazo Cordova, armed forces Commander-in-Chief Gen. Walter Lopez, Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica and other senior officials including several top military commanders, reliable sources said.

There were signs that the trip may have been designed to reassure Central Americans that Washington still had an interest in the region and that the Reagan administration intended to increase pressure on Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government.

Both U.S. and Central American officials have suggested recently that the region had been placed on a back burner in Washington since President Reagan's reelection while the administration focused its attention on the Geneva arms talks and on personnel changes.

Many observers had perceived a softening in U.S policy because of the planned replacement of two U.S. officials widely identified as hard-liners: Ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte and the Panama-based U.S. military commander for Latin America, Gen. Paul Gorman.

U.S. officials said both transfers were routine, and added that, if anything, the administration intended to pursue a somewhat tougher line.

Any doubts here about Washington's planned policy toward Nicaragua probably were put to rest with the twin announcements yesterday regarding the International Court of Justice case and the U.S-Nicaraguan talks. The Honduran official expressed particular satisfaction about the second decision, as Honduras had been concerned that Washington might reach an agreement with Managua to the detriment of Tegucigalpa.