The Bush Administration "hopes and expects" that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will back down from his threat to end the cease-fire with the Contra rebels because of strong condemnation from other Latin American leaders, a senior State Department official said Monday.
The official, briefing reporters on the understanding that he would not be identified by name, accused the Nicaraguan army of repeated small-scale violations of the cease-fire in which at least 105 Contras were killed in the first five months after the truce took effect last May.
But he said Ortega is unlikely to go through with a unilateral resumption of full-scale fighting, although he admitted that the Administration has no firm intelligence information to that effect.
He noted that Ortega backtracked on the threat shortly after he issued it during the weekend summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Costa Rica, probably because it proved to be bad public relations for the leftist government.
"A number of Latin leaders have publicly and privately made it clear that they think that this would be a backward step that would be extremely destructive to the electoral process," the official said.
"This was perhaps an attempt to find a pretext to tighten up internally, to show some muscle, to intimidate voters," the official added.
He said, however, that if the scheduled February elections turn out to be free and fair, Washington will recognize the result even if the Sandinistas win.
The official discounted Ortega's assertion that he was ready to resume the war because Contra forces ambushed two trucks carrying Nicaraguan army reservists, killing at least 17.
"So far, the Sandinista government has not provided any independent evidence to verify this claim," the official said.
Meanwhile, wire services reported that Ortega said he has asked American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson to intervene with the U.S. government to obtain support for disbanding the Contra rebels. Jackson spoke with Ortega by telephone but did not issue a statement, a Jackson spokesman said.