Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met here today to discuss ways of reducing bilateral tensions, then used hostile rhetoric to indicate that little progress had been made.
"I don't know that anything much has changed," Shultz concluded at a press conference following the one-hour meeting with Ortega early this morning. In an earlier statement, he said Ortega "reiterated the points that he has stated publicly before, and I stated again the objective the United States and its allies in Central America have advocated for several years."
At his own press conference several hours after Shultz's departure, Ortega said that Nicaragua had proposed a "new effort for peace" but that "we encountered a position closed to dialogue" by the United States. Nicaragua's overtures, he said, "fell on deaf ears."
The meeting was formally requested by Ortega yesterday as part of his response to a recent campaign against the Sandinistas by the Reagan administration. Both sides are hoping to sway a debate in Congress over whether to renew U.S. funding for Nicaraguan antigovernment rebels.
The opportunity for the talks, the first between Shultz and Ortega since June, was provided by the inauguration here of a new democratic government in Uruguay under President Julio Maria Sanguinetti.
Ortega said that he had suggested that "conditions were right" for a renewal of U.S.-Nicaraguan bilateral talks under way until January in Manzanillo, Mexico.
However, Shultz said he had "made clear" to the Nicaraguan president that the talks between U.S. Ambassador Harry W. Shlaudeman and Nicaraguan Vice Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco could only be continued as a "support" to the multilateral Contadora process seeking an overall peace settlement in Central America.
The difference over the Manzanillo negotiations was not new. The Reagan administration previously has insisted that the bilateral talks sought by Nicaragua with the United States cannot advance until Nicaragua demonstrates a commitment to the Contadora process.
Shultz said there was "a recognition all around that the center of negotiations must the Contadora process" and that "any next step should be in that process."
"We support the Contadora enterprise, and we hope the discussions resume and develop a worthwhile and constructive outcome," he said. "In order for that to happen, the process must address the concerns of Central American countries that are threatened by Nicaragua's armaments and subversion."
After leaving Montevideo, Shultz told reporters aboard the plane that he expects the Contadora process to "start moving . . . sometime in the reasonably near future," but said it was "difficult to estimate" when the talks might reach "maturation."
Ortega charged that "the United States has not displayed a willingness to make Contadora work. On the contrary." Now, he said, they are enthusiastic. Nicaragua insists that it has, both on its own and in response to U.S. pressure, cooperated with Contadora. It charges that Washington cut off the Manzanillo talks because it was unwilling to accept Nicaraguan concessions.
Shultz said the United States was "glad" to hear of the Sandinista government's plan to release Jose Urbina Lara, a dissident who sought asylum in the Costa Rican Embassy in Managua and was arrested by Nicaraguan authorities. The incident, and Costa Rica's subsequent refusal to meet with Nicaragua, caused the breakdown last month of a scheduled meeting of Central American countries in the Contadora process.
Ortega confirmed that Urbina Lara would be released "soon" in Colombia under an arrangement with Colombian President Belisario Betancur. He said the Sandinistas concluded that "it was best to resolve this problem, which has been used as a pretext for stopping peace." Colombia is one of the four Contadora countries, along with Panama, Mexico and Venezuela.
In his statement this morning, Shultz said he had reiterated the U.S. insistence on four conditions for improvement of relations with Nicaragua. These are the reduction of the size of Nicaragua's Army, the withdrawal of Soviet Bloc military advisers, an end to Nicaraguan support for revolutionary movements in Central America and a commitment by Managua to internal democracy.
Shultz also expanded U.S. criticism of several conciliatory measures announced by Ortega this week, including a reduction by 100 of the number of Cuban advisers in Nicaragua and a pledge not to acquire further new arms systems.
"The question is how many Cubans are there," Shultz said. "We compute that if they have 100 Cubans leave by the end of 1985, it would take until the middle of the next century for all the Cubans to have left. The statements of the Nicaraguans," he said, "raise more questions than they answer."
Aboard the plane later, Shultz called the offer to remove 100 Cubans "a token gesture." As for Ortega's assurances that Nicaragua would not acquire Soviet MiG fighters, Shultz said, "Yes, we're glad to pocket that statement."
U.S. officials have said their intelligence estimates show that there are about 8,000 Cuban advisers in Nicaragua, including approximately 2,500 military advisers. However, Ortega today called these figures "a lie." He said there were no more than 800 Cuban military trainers in Nicaragua, and the total number of Cuban personnel was less than 1,500. "The Americans just added a zero," he said.