Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez, winding up a tour aimed at drumming up support for the Sandinistas, said today he hoped that Western European countries, especially France and Spain, would pressure Washington to resume the "peace process" in Central America.
Ramirez spoke following the postponement this week of a key meeting, sponsored by the four-nation Contadora group, seeking a regional peace settlement. Bilateral talks between the United States and Nicaragua were suspended in mid-January at the request of the Reagan administration.
Ramirez said President Reagan had been restrained by the pressure of world public opinion from doing as he wished in Nicaragua.
"Part of the reality that Reagan must take into account is that West European countries have not been supporting his policies on Latin America," Ramirez said.
The crisis in Central America has provoked disagreement between the United States and its Western European allies in the past, but French officials said they did not expect any major new political initiative as a result of the Nicaraguan vice president's visit. Socialist President Francois Mitterrand angered Washington when he agreed to a shipment of "nonoffensive" military equipment to Nicaragua soon after taking office in May 1981, but no new defense contracts have been made public since then, and U.S. irritation with Paris now seems to have subsided.
Both France and Spain have good financial and commercial relations with the Nicaraguan government. Ramirez said that he had negotiated deals with both Western European countries for development projects in telecommunications and agriculture.
The Nicaraguan leader's tour took him to France, Spain, Ireland and Britain, where he met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for the first time. Drawing a distinction between the British attitude to Nicaragua and that of the other countries he visited, he said Thatcher "just listened" to what he had to say while other European leaders promised active diplomatic support.
The main purpose of the Nicaraguan vice president's tour appeared to be to present the Sandinista case to European public opinion through a series of meetings with government officials and press interviews. Ramirez was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Nora Astorga, who achieved fame in 1978 by enticing a close aide to the then Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza, to her bedroom, where he was slain by Sandinista guerrillas.
Attractive and affable, the two Nicaraguans were described as "a charming duo" by the influential Paris newspaper Le Monde. Astorga, whose nomination last year as Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States was turned down by Washington, was the subject of a sympathetic profile in the left-wing daily Le Matin, depicting her as a Nicaraguan "Mata Hari imprisoned by her own legend."
The Contadora peace talks scheduled this week in Panama broke down after Costa Rica demanded that the Sandinista government hand over a young Nicaraguan refugee arrested by police after seeking refuge in the Costa Rican Embassy in Managua. The talks are sponsored by four Latin American nations that take their name from the Panamanian resort island where their peace effort began.
Ramirez today described the incident over the Nicaraguan refugee, Jose Manuel Urbina Lara, as a "minor case" seized upon by Costa Rica as a "pretext" for breaking off the regional peace negotiations. He said that Costa Rica obviously had acted at Washington's instigation.
"We cannot blame Costa Rica for being so sensitive to U.S. pressure. The U.S. government has enormous influence in that country," Ramirez said.
In his public comments, the Nicaraguan vice president insisted that his country would not agree to any agreement worked out by the Contadora countries that legitimized the presence of U.S. troops or advisers in Central America.
In private, Nicaraguan officials appeared more flexible, suggesting that they would be prepared to accept a reduced U.S. military presence in Central America in return for a reduced Cuban presence in Nicaragua. This, according to Nicaraguan sources, was the substance of Nicaraguan proposals at the bilateral talks in the Mexican resort of Manzanillo.
Questioned about the shipment of Soviet Mi24 helicopters to the Sandinista forces, Ramirez said they would be put into service as soon as Nicaraguan pilots were trained to fly them. He said they would be used against "terrorists and counterrevolutionary bands" rather than for any "strategic" purpose. His reference to terrorists was directed at the U.S.-supported guerrillas seeking to overthrow the Sandinistas.
Asked if Nicaragua intended to expand its fleet of Mi24s, which are regarded by military experts as one of the most powerful air weapons in the region, Ramirez said: "We don't need so many helicopters to fight this guerrilla war." He did not, however, exclude the possibility of future arms shipments from Soviet Bloc countries.
"Future arms purchases will depend on our military needs. Perhaps the arms we have are enough" to fight the so-called contra guerrillas, "perhaps not," he said. "We would like to have things settled peacefully before we decide about buying more arms."
The Nicaraguan vice president denied suggestions that the Sandinista government intended to crack down on opposition parties that did not participate in recent elections for a new National Assembly. He said the parties had been invited to take part in talks on a new constitution.
Ramirez said that he was "confused" by the recent replacement of key U.S. policy-makers, including U.N. ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, considered a hard-liner. He said the personnel changes appeared initially to be a "positive" sign, but instead U.S. policy toward Nicaragua appeared to have hardened rather than softened.