Honduran President Jose Azcona promised yesterday that his country "will not be a launching platform" for attacks against any of his neighbors, but he endorsed renewed U.S. aid to rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Continuing a working visit here, Azcona demonstrated the delicate political balance he is trying to strike in Honduras' relations with its neighbor, Nicaragua, and its patron, the United States.
Azcona, 57, a relatively weak figure when installed in January after inconclusive elections, has emerged as a firm supporter of U.S. goals in the region even as he maintains distance from them.
Azcona told editors and reporters of The Washington Post that he supports President Reagan's request for $100 million in new aid to the rebels, known as contras, because it is necessary to prevent the estimated 15,000 rebels from "becoming an uncontrollable group" of bandits within Honduras if they lose U.S. backing.
Aid might also help the contras "to exercise their right to remove a government which is not granting the freedoms it promised before coming to power," he said.
However, he told the Organization of American States later yesterday that the contras' presence on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border "causes constant friction" there, even though "there is no conflict whatsoever between Honduras and Nicaragua."
Azcona said Honduran resources cannot be used for "becoming a guardian in charge of the security of other governments," a reference possibly to either U.S. or Nicaraguan security.
"I can guarantee that the Honduran territory will not be used as a launching platform for attacks against any neighboring state, whether by irregular forces or by armies from third countries," Azcona said.
Honduran diplomats said these deliberately ambiguous remarks should be taken as an effort to respond negatively to private U.S. urging for greater Honduran cooperation in helping the contras and to Nicaraguan concern that the United States will use Honduras to attack Nicaragua.
A State Department official said Azcona is not denying Honduran territory to the contras but cannot endorse their presence publicly and would prefer that they operate more often in Nicaragua. "He's in a difficult position, and he's handling it as well as you could hope," the official said.
An engineer by training, Azcona organized housing cooperatives for 13 years and entered politics in the 1970s. He managed the successful presidential campaign of his predecessor, Roberto Suazo Cordoba, in 1981 and served for two years in Suazo's Cabinet.
Under Azcona's leadership, Honduras joined El Salvador as the only Latin American nations publicly endorsing Reagan's aid request, scheduled for House debate beginning June 16.
They have also served as carriers of the U.S. position to the Contadora regional peace negotiations, which have reached a critical stage. Azcona told The Post that the Contadora group's self-imposed June 6 deadline for reaching an accord will probably slip "because it is better to take more time and be sure that what we sign will be complied with."
He said he and the presidents of El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala had talked frankly with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at last weekend's summit meeting in Guatemala, telling him that Nicaragua "should give some signals" before the treaty is signed that it is willing to democratize.
Azcona told the National Press Club yesterday that the four presidents had told Ortega that "it is not possible to have a totalitarian enclave in the throat of Central America."
He said Honduras rejected Ortega's proposal to limit "offensive" weapons such as tanks and planes but not "defensive" weapons such as rifles used by Nicaragua's militia.
"All arms are offensive to us," Azcona said. He called Nicaragua's proposal "a maneuver to gain time and distract us from what we consider to be more important, which is a political settlement."