The United States is resisting heavy Honduran pressure for a security treaty and for guarantees regarding the future of Nicaraguan rebels who have bases in the country, Honduran government officials and foreign diplomats said this week.
National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane, who held top-level talks here Friday during a three-day Central American tour, offered nothing new to satisfy the Hondurans' months-old requests, reliable sources said. McFarlane reaffirmed the U.S. stance that a security pact was out of the question and that the administration would do its best this spring to obtain funding from Congress for the Nicaraguan rebels, the sources said.
The Hondurans eventually could distance themselves from Washington, effectively moving closer to Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government, if their concerns are not met, diplomats said. That could seriously weaken Washington's Central American policy, which has depended on Honduras as a base for the anti-Sandinista rebels, for military maneuvers aimed in part at intimidating Nicaragua, and for intelligence-gathering flights over El Salvador.
But the United States feels that Honduras, given its deep distrust of Nicaragua, has little choice but to continue cooperating with Washington, knowledgeable officials said. While the Hondurans bluntly stated their desires in talks with the United States, they have not spelled out any threats to change their policy, the officials said.
"I don't see that Honduras has the option of changing course," a high-ranking diplomat said. "I don't see that they're in any position to tell the United States: do this or else."
One step that could quiet the Hondurans' complaints would be increased U.S. economic and military aid. But the Hondurans still have not received more than half of last year's economic aid, a total of $82.5 million, because Washington is insisting that Honduras first devalue its currency, a senior Honduran government official said.
U.S. officials said they accepted that Honduras would not devalue its currency but were waiting for other measures to encourage exports.
Since last autumn, this country has been asking the United States to commit itself formally to defend Honduras. The Hondurans fear both Nicaragua's revolutionary government and the rapidly growing armed forces in neighboring El Salvador, with whom Honduras fought a brief war in 1969.
The Hondurans also want long-term guarantees to help take care of the estimated 10,000 Nicaraguan antigovernment guerrillas based on either side of the Honduran-Nicaraguan border, government officials said. The CIA organized these rebels and financed them until late last spring, but Congress is expected to rebuff the administration's request this spring to resume the funding.
Honduras worries that it will be stuck dealing with thousands of well-armed but penniless former guerrillas, who might turn to banditry. In the past, the Hondurans have suggested that the United States might offer to resettle the rebels if their cause fails.
"It's another army," one senior military officer said. "This is a problem that continues."
The Hondurans say they deserve special consideration from the United States because they have cooperated so extensively with Washington's Central American policy. Honduras has opened its doors to the Nicaraguan rebels and to thousands of U.S. military personnel on maneuvers or intelligence-gathering missions.
"The Honduran government wants the U.S. government to be as understanding with us as we have been with them," Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica said today at a brief news conference.
Pressed on whether McFarlane's response to Honduran requests was satisfactory, Paz Barnica answered, "It was a conversation."
In an indication that Honduras was considering a more independent line, Paz Barnica said recently that Honduras planned to expel Nicaraguan rebels based inside this country. Shortly after the statement, Honduran authorities briefly detained and then deported Steadman Fagoth, leader of one of the two principal Nicaraguan Indian rebel forces. He flew to the United States.
Paz Barnica's statement and the subsequent deportation, however, were viewed widely as a one-time response to some particularly indiscreet remarks by Fagoth. The Indian leader gave a news conference at which he threatened to have a group of Sandinista prisoners executed.