U.S. allies in Central America are putting new emphasis on the need for democracy in Nicaragua during Contadora regional peace talks, President Jose Azcona of Honduras told President Reagan yesterday, according to an administration official.
Briefing reporters on bilateral talks during Azcona's working visit, the official said that Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica likely would press for inclusion in the final treaty of "benchmarks" to measure Nicaragua's progress.
Talks have been stalled on several issues: a timetable for implementation, arms levels and enforcement mechanisms. The benchmarks have not been a major issue up to now, and it is not clear how significant they will become, although the terms of the proposed treaty already require democratic procedures in Nicaragua.
Azcona met for 45 minutes with Reagan at the White House before a working lunch. The two later issued a joint communique reaffirming last year's U.S. pledge to defend Honduras "against communist aggression" in the region.
U.S. economic aid totaling $61.25 million for fiscal 1986 will be released immediately, the communique said, indicating U.S. acceptance of Honduras' new economic plan. Honduras also is receiving $121 million in military aid, and benefits from the presence of virtually nonstop U.S. military maneuvers on its soil. Honduras has said more aid is needed, but U.S. officials have said it is not likely, given budget restrictions.
The official said Azcona told Reagan the four U.S. allies showed "tremendous solidarity" and "stood up very firmly" for democratization at last weekend's Central American summit meeting in Guatemala. "It clearly has become . . . a significant theme," the official said.
At the State Department, spokesman Charles Redman added, "commitments on security issues alone are not sufficient to bring peace" to the region. He said Nicaragua's recent proposed list of arms to be negotiated was inadequate in not including Sandinista troop levels.
"The real test of the Nicaraguan proposal is if it is acceptable to the other Central American countries," he said.
Azcona's two-day visit here is scheduled to include meetings with Reagan's special Central American envoy Philip C. Habib as well as State and Defense department officials. It follows an inconclusive three-day meeting in Guatemala on the treaty by the five presidents, whose final statement did not mention their self-imposed June 6 deadline for signing the pact.
But the statement said proposals offered by the various countries were "sufficiently fertile and realistic" to require further talks.
Earlier, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the Central American presidents were "still far apart" on the remaining issues. "The Nicaraguans continue to block progress" by asking that these "be negotiated only after the signing," Speakes said. "This, of course, is not acceptable to the [other] Central American countries."
Extension of the Contadora process leaves Reagan's request for $100 million in economic and military aid to anti-Nicaraguan rebels, known as contras or counterrevolutionaries, in an uncertain position. Legislators who cast swing votes on the issue in the past have delayed a commitment this time in anticipation of an end to the Contadora issue.
The aid vote, now scheduled for debate beginning June 16 in the House, had been regarded as turning on whether Nicaragua agreed to the peace treaty on June 6. Nicaragua's Sandinista leaders had been under heavy pressure from Latin leaders and their friends in Congress to sign the pact brokered by the Contadora nations -- Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela.
"Now we're back to where we've always been," with a severely divided House, said a top House staff member.
The senior administration official agreed. The Contadora delay "cuts both ways," he said. It keeps talks going, but "in our view, a long delay plays into the hands of the Sandinistas who are using the delays to kill" contras, he said.
He said Azcona and the rest of his delegation to Washington had expressed "an interesting unanimity of views" in support of contra aid. The estimated 15,000 contras attack Nicaragua from bases in Honduras, which does not formally acknowledge their presence. The official said Reagan told Azcona he "will keep pressing hard" for the contra package.
Although previous aid bills may be modified, there are likely to be three basic choices facing the House: the president's proposal for $30 million in nonlethal "humanitarian" aid and $70 million in covert military aid to the contras; a proposal to ban aid; and a proposal to postpone a final vote on it until all hope for a regional diplomatic solution is exhausted.