As the five presidents who signed the Central American peace accord last summer prepare to assess its progress, the Reagan administration has told the four from democratic countries it would like them to signal to the U.S. Congress their dissatisfaction with Nicaragua's failure to comply with the agreement.
President Reagan's national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, delivered that message to the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala during a visit to the region last week, a senior administration official said yesterday.
The five presidents are to meet Friday in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose to review implementation of the agreement signed in Guatemala City last Aug. 5. They are expected to conclude their deliberations by announcing that more time is needed before the agreement can be judged a success or failure.
Congress will vote early next month on Reagan's proposal to continue to fund the so-called contra rebels fighting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
The official, who declined to be identified, said Powell had assured the four that the United States will continue to support efforts to make the accord work. But, the official added, Powell told the presidents that he hoped they would make clear, either collectively or individually, their view that Nicaragua has been the principal reason for lack of progress.
The official said that in their separate talks with Powell, all four had expressed disappointment at the "intransigence" of Nicaragua's Marxist Sandinista government in failing to implement the peace plan's provisions. According to the official, Powell replied that they should ponder very carefully the importance of making their disappointment known in some way following the San Jose meeting.
The official said Powell made clear that the signal given by the four after their talks in San Jose with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is likely to have a decisive effect on Reagan's ability to persuade Congress to vote more military aid for the contras.
A recent agreement between Congress and the White House calls for Reagan to submit a new contra aid request by the end of the month and for Congress to vote on it Feb. 3 and 4. If the aid request is defeated, the administration will be unable to renew it during Reagan's final year in office, and his controversial policy of supporting the contra insurgency probably would be ended permanently.
The senior official said that what the Central American leaders say after their assessment of the peace plan's progress will have a great effect on the congressional debate. For that reason, Powell reportedly added, the four presidents should ponder carefully whether they think it is in the interest of their countries to eliminate the contras as a source of pressure on the Sandinistas.
While Powell pressed the U.S. position very openly, the official said, he did not pressure the four or even urge them to a specific course of action.
According to the official, Powell left with the impression that political pressures would deter the four from making a joint statement in San Jose that could be construed as criticizing Ortega. However, the official said, the administration is hopeful that one or more might say something after his return to his own country.
Of the four, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, principal author of the peace plan, is strongly opposed to continued U.S. support for the contras. Guatemala's Vinicio Cerezo has sought to take a neutral position, while El Salvador's Jose Napoleon Duarte and Honduras' Jose Azcona have made clear that they regard the contras as an important weapon in forcing Nicaragua to be less aggressive toward its neighbors.