Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega met today with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and received renewed pledges of economic aid and political support from the Soviet Union.
A new economic agreement between the two countries, signed today, was seen here by western diplomats as a sign that the Soviet Union will step up its aid to Nicaragua in the face of continued economic pressure from the Reagan administration.
Ortega, here on the first stop of a tour of Eastern Europe, said before he left Managua that he was seeking assistance from the Soviet Bloc to counter U.S.-led economic sanctions.
His warm reception here indicated that he would not leave "empty-handed," said one western diplomat. However, there was no public indication of what form "expanding cooperation" between the two countries will take.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Edward Djerejian said Ortega's visit "appears to reflect a strong and well-planned strategy of the Sandinista government to strengthen its ties with the Soviet Bloc."
He said increased Soviet aid to Nicaragua, whether economic or military, "is no substitute for the establishment of a dialogue with the opposition, a process of national reconciliation and realistic economic policies."
An account of today's meeting between Gorbachev, Ortega and various Soviet and Nicaraguan officials, issued by the official news agency Tass, gave no hint of any increase in the Soviets' military commitment to the Sandinista government.
Gorbachev told Ortega that Moscow "will continue to give friendly Nicaragua assistance in resolving urgent economic problems and also political and diplomatic support in its efforts to uphold its sovereignty," Tass reported.
The Nicaraguan delegation signed a new agreement with the Soviets setting up an intergovernmental commission on economic, trade and scientific-technical cooperation.
According to Tass, the new commission will "improve the coordination of bilateral cooperation in the economy and broaden its field."
As has been the case during other visits by Ortega, both sides stressed the need for a "peaceful settlement" of the conflicts in Central America, particularly efforts by the four-nation Contadora group, and endorsed a normalization of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations.
At the same time, both sides strongly denounced "the escalation of U.S. intervention in Central America," which they said has turned that region into "a dangerous seat of tension."
But some western diplomats speculated that Ortega would press his case again for more sophisticated weaponry, and some suggested that today's agreement may signal more military aid.
Figures released by the Pentagon have shown a sharp increase in the supply of Soviet Bloc hardware to Nicaragua in recent years. But so far, the Soviets have resisted appeals for advanced MiG fighter planes and other up-to-date weaponry and skirted promises of a broader military commitment.
The conclusion drawn by western diplomats here is that the Soviet Union has been reluctant to assert its power in the region, despite offering strong rhetorical support of the Sandinista government and equally strong condemnations of U.S. policy in Central America.
The subject reportedly has been a sore point in Cuban-Soviet relations and was one reason offered for Cuban President Fidel Castro's failure to attend last month's funeral of Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko.
Cuba, Nicaragua's neighbor and ally, reportedly was disappointed by the Soviet Union's decision last year to turn back a Soviet flotilla headed for Nicaragua's waters after a Soviet tanker was damaged by a mine off the Nicaraguan coast.
Since Gorbachev came to office last month, there has been no sign of any basic shift in Soviet policy.