The Bush administration is proposing a new U.S. policy toward Central America that includes rewards for Nicaragua if it passes certain "checkpoints" on the road to democracy, say congressional and administration sources.
While still in its formative stages, the new policy is outlined in a secret 10-page document Secretary of State James Baker showed to House and Senate leaders Thursday during a hastily arranged visit to Capitol Hill.Baker made clear to lawmakers that he does not intend to abandon the anti-Sandinista rebels, who now are subsisting on U.S. supplies in Honduran jungle camps along the Nicaraguan border.
He told congressional officials he would seek to renew the U.S. "humanitarian" aid, which runs out at the end of this month, for a year, according to some present at the meetings. Aid would continue to flow at current rates - about $4 million a month - and would keep the rebels available as a standby fighting force until after Nicaragua's national elections, which are being moved up to early 1990.
But some participants said it was clear that the one-year extension would be objectionable to congressional Democrats who oppose the Contra policy and that it might be negotiable. Baker's top objective for Central America remains to achieve a bipartisan consensus on how to achieve democracy and peace in the region, the participants said.
"They're trying to put something together that everybody can agree on, that both Democrats and Republicans can support," said Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, who attended one meeting in the office of Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.
At the same time Baker was making the rounds, Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo also was calling on some of the same congressional leaders to ask stronger U.S. support for last month's regional peace agreement reached in El Salvador among the five Central American presidents.
The pact calls for drafting a plan by mid-May that would disband the 11,000-man Contra force and provide for them to be assimilated into Nicaragua as the Sandinistas open up and democratize their political process, free political prisoners and hold new elections.
Bush has been cool to the plan, saying it is similar to past Sandinista promises which have not been kept and contains no enforcement mechanism to make sure the reforms are achieved. Bush reiterated his skepticism to Cerezo in a meeting on Thursday.