Bush Praises Salvadoran Leader’s Peace Efforts
President Bush on Wednesday praised Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani’s efforts to end his country’s long civil war and urged leftist rebels to “return to the negotiating table and stay there.”
A State Department official said the United States may move soon to free $42.5 million in military aid to El Salvador if the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) keeps up its attacks on Cristiani’s government.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, narrowly rejected a Democratic attempt to impose restrictions on El Salvador’s military aid for next year. The move followed personal overtures by Cristiani to key lawmakers.
Bush, in farewell remarks after more than two hours of talks at the White House, praised Cristiani’s “courageous steps” to bring peace to El Salvador, where more than 70,000 have died in 11 years of fighting.
Bush blamed the guerrillas for the failure to stop the fighting before now.
“The time for peace has come. And now the FMLN guerrillas must show in word and deed that they want peace and its natural counterpart, democracy,” Bush said.
Nine days of peace talks in Caracas, Venezuela, recessed earlier this month with no agreement and each side blamed the other for the lack of progress. U.S. and Salvadoran officials said the talks would resume this weekend.
Salvador Sanabria, diplomatic representative for the rebels in Washington, blamed the Salvadoran government for the lack of progress in the negotiations.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Sanabria said government negotiators hardened their position at the last round of talks.
In addition, he said, Salvadoran military forces showed once again their interest in a military solution by “launching a huge offensive” against rebel positions over the past several weeks.
Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson, who briefed reporters on the Bush-Cristiani meeting, said it had focused largely on the peace process, with Cristiani outlining in some detail agreements that had already been reached.
“We frankly think the FMLN is stalling deliberately . . . stalling for political reasons,” he said.
Aronson said that unless the rebels are more forthcoming at the bargaining table, the United States will be forced to disburse $42.5 million in aid frozen by Congress to assist the Salvadoran government to defend itself.
Congress held up the money--half of the Salvadoran military’s allocation for fiscal 1991--to try to promote peace efforts and force the military to cooperate in solving the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests.
Cristiani’s government and the leftist rebels have made long strides towards a settlement, partly as a result of the guerrillas’ decision to scrap their previous goal of a one-party, Marxist state.