President Jose Azcona of Honduras said yesterday that U.S. military aid to Nicaragua's contras should be suspended at least until January, when the five countries involved in the Central American peace plan are due to decide if their agreement is working.
But, he added, that does not mean the United States should "close out all possibilities of aid to the contras in the future" if it becomes clear that Nicaragua's Marxist Sandinista government is not complying fully with the agreement to grant political amnesty to opponents, negotiate a cease-fire with the contras and move toward democratization.
Azcona, a signatory to the peace agreement in Guatemala Aug. 7, has been critical of the Sandinistas for alleged bad faith in implementing the agreement. At a breakfast meeting with reporters here yesterday and later after talks with President Reagan at the White House, he reiterated that Nicaragua's compliance efforts to date are "very trivial, not relevant" to the peace process.
Nevertheless, he appeared to be backing away from the impression he gave in an interview with The Washington Post last week that his government will not consider itself bound by the agreement if Managua has not complied by the Nov. 7 deadline for implementation of the peace machinery.
Instead, he focused on Jan. 7, the deadline for the presidents to decide whether the agreement has been effective as the apparently key date in the process.
In response to questions about the administration's plan to ask Congress before the end of November for $270 million in new military aid for the contras, Azcona noted that the agreement calls for halting outside military assistance to insurgent forces in any of the five countries. He added:
"For now I don't think there should be lethal aid . . . . We have to wait for the agreement to take its course. But we shouldn't use the ban on lethal aid as an excuse for permitting noncompliance. It is one thing not to help the contras right now and another to call off aid completely.
"That would preclude the use of the contras as a lever to force compliance . . . . What should definitely not be done is to make a decision to close out all possibilities for aid to the contras in the future."
Azcona suggested that among the possibilities open to the United States is the idea of Congress approving the aid and then holding it in suspension until after Jan. 7. Or, he added, the aid request could be submitted to Congress and debated but not voted on until the January deadline is past.
Also yesterday, the Inter-American Dialogue, an unofficial but influential group of prominent people from the United States and Latin America, called on the United States to abandon its refusal to negotiate directly with Nicaragua and begin talks with Managua to resolve U.S. security concerns in the region.
It also urged Nicaragua to negotiate with the contras on a cease-fire agreement.
The Dialogue's appeal was announced by its cochairmen Sol M. Linowitz, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States and negotiator of the Panama Canal treaties, and former Costa Rican president Daniel Oduber. In addition, Oduber and former defense secretary Elliot L. Richardson, who chairs the Dialogue's Central America task force, presented the appeal to Congress.
Last night, the contras in a statement said they had released two Nicaraguan clergymen taken captive by a contra brigade Oct. 8, and said an American peace activist, Paul A. Fisher, who also had been abducted recently would be released "as soon as conditions conducive to his safe return . . . are met."