House Speaker Meets With Ortega and Contra Leaders, Plans to See Obando Today
Amid signs of new progress toward a Central American peace, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) met separately Thursday with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Contra political leaders, apparently to discuss cease-fire talks between the two sides tentatively set to begin next week.
Wright and Ortega are to meet early today with the likely go-between in those talks, Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, at the office of the papal nuncio in Washington. Wright’s office said an announcement will be made after that session.
Two U.S. officials said Thursday that Ortega appears likely to present at that time a 15-point outline for a truce in the six-year war between the Sandinistas and the Contras, perhaps with Wright’s personal support.
Listens to Both Sides
A Wright spokesman said only that the Speaker “has been listening to both sides” and is not an intermediary between Ortega and his rebel opponents.
“I would not describe it as mediating. We’re trying to get the talks off and rolling,” the spokesman said.
In an unusual development in a hectic day of closed-door meetings, Secretary of State George P. Shultz also briefly visited Wright and the Contra leaders at Wright’s Capitol office. A Wright spokesman said “multiple items” were discussed, including Central America and the December summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
One Reagan Administration official said Shultz planned to voice concern over the House Speaker’s growing role in what the State Department views as a foreign-affairs issue.
That official, reflecting unhappiness with Wright’s new role as a Central American emissary, said Wright has kept the White House and State Department in the dark during three days of increasingly urgent talks with Ortega, the Contras and others.
Wright is a vocal opponent of Reagan Administration support for the Contras and has taken pains to praise the Ortega regime’s moves to implement the five-nation peace accord signed last Aug. 7 in Guatemala. The accord, signed by Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica, calls for democratic reforms, an end to regional guerrilla wars and general amnesties in those nations holding political prisoners.
Wright, whose center-stage actions appear to have preempted the White House role in the Central American peace process, came under Republican criticism for the first time Thursday for his well-publicized efforts.
“I understand that the Speaker appears to have taken on the role of mediator with the Sandinista government,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Contra supporter. “I think it’s at best unseemly and at worst unconstitutional.”
Wright said he is merely encouraging both sides to be forthcoming.
“We’ve got to be partners in this operation,” he said.
Ortega’s and the Contras’ optimistic statements Thursday raised hopes that today’s announcement would advance the cease-fire dialogue, which had appeared stalled until Ortega dropped objections last week to indirect talks with the rebels.
Ortega told reporters after his meeting with Wright that he will unveil a “concrete proposal” toward a cease-fire today representing the Sandinista government’s official position.
Contra political leader Adolfo Calero, one of the three rebel figures who met with Wright, said the House Speaker told them that the two sides have reached “a very special moment.”
“The Speaker stressed that he is hopeful that the Sandinista government has never been in a more forthcoming attitude,” Calero said, “and he feels also that the (Contra) resistance has been very positive.”
Calero and Contra leaders Alfonso Robelo and Arturo Cruz spent a major portion of their 60- to-90-minute talk with Wright discussing general requirements for a cease-fire, Calero said, but did not go into details of either side’s likely bargaining positions.
Calero said the Contras hope to begin cease-fire negotiations through Obando “as soon as it is feasible to do so,” but he ruled out any substantive talks with the cardinal today. The Contras’ six-member political directorate has refused to hold talks in Washington, saying that would bolster Ortega’s claim that the rebels are Reagan Administration puppets.
Obando, who arrived in Washington Thursday night, was staying at the residence of the Most Rev. Pio Laghi, the Vatican’s representative in Washington.
Ortega Scores U.S.
Earlier Thursday, Ortega delivered another blistering attack on the Reagan Administration’s backing for the Contras’ guerrilla war against his government, calling the President an “executioner” and a violator of international law.
He stopped short, however, of rejecting a suggestion made by Reagan on Monday that Nicaragua join talks with the United States and four other Central American nations on security issues such as the levels of military forces.
Ortega, who has demanded direct talks involving only Nicaragua and the United States, said that if the White House wants multilateral talks on regional peace issues, it should sign the Guatemala accord and formally enter the peace process.
But his foreign minister, Miguel D’Escoto, said his nation had not said “no” to Reagan’s proposal and wanted a more specific description of what issues the talks might cover.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman later said that it is “premature” to talk about the United States signing the Guatemala accord but that Washington may be willing to discuss matters not covered by the agreement.
Redman said that “there are a number of issues that are not covered under the Guatemala accord--regional security issues--that we would be willing to sit down in a regional setting and talk about” once serious cease-fire talks are under way.
Staff writers Norman Kempster and David Voreacos contributed to this story.