The State Department, seeking to counter "continuing press reports questioning foreign government support" for President Reagan's Nicaragua peace initiative, yesterday cited public statements by several Latin American leaders as evidence that they back the president's plan.
However, the collection of comments from nine Latin American presidents left unclear whether they supported the part of Reagan's proposal that could lead to congressional release of $14 million in aid for the "contra" rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.
"I'm not going to get drawn into exactly that distinction," department spokesman Ed Djerejian said in response to questions about whether the administration considers the statements an endorsement of U.S. financing of the guerrilla war.
Reagan launched his initiative April 4 in an effort to persuade Congress to remove the hold it put on the $14 million last year after revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency had aided the contras in mining Nicaraguan harbors. The president promised that if Congress released the funds, he would not let the contras use it for at least two months, provided the Sandinistas agreed to peace talks.
The Nicaraguan government rejected the idea immediately. Other Latin American leaders have responded with cryptic comments that, in some cases, included support of Reagan's call for dialogue between the contesting Nicaraguan factions.
However, none said explicitly that they would favor continued military action by the contras if peace talks were stymied. In fact, reports in The Washington Post and other newspapers have quoted unidentified officials in Mexico and other countries as saying that their governments will not endorse any aspect of the U.S. plan that amounts to intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs.
That prompted the administration's release yesterday of statements by the presidents of Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Ecuador and Argentina. "We think these statements speak for themselves," Djerejian said, "and we feel that they are more authoritative than unnamed sources."
But, although the statements contain specific favorable comments on the Reagan initiative, in each case the praise either refers specifically to the call for a dialogue or does not address what the Latin president being quoted thinks about giving the contras $14 million to continue their guerrilla warfare.
Djerejian was questioned repeatedly about whether the administration claims the statements as an endorsement of Reagan's request for Congress to release the money. Each time, he refused to answer. Instead, he said he would "leave it to the documentation we are providing and you can draw your own conclusions."
He added: "The president's peace initiative does not constitute interference in the internal affairs of any country. It calls for effective action to bring about national reconciliation efforts."
Djerejian was asked how the administration can square its claim of noninterference in Nicaraguan affairs with Reagan's reserving the right, if there are no peace talks, to continue financing the contras.
He replied: "One of the major elements of the president's initiative is the objective of obtaining internal, national reconciliation, as really the bedrock for stability, not only in Nicaragua, but in the region as a whole . . . . Internal reconciliation is having the Sandinistas live up to the obligations that they themselves have made, and to allow democratization of their country. I will not go further than that."