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US looks for more than gestures from Nicaragua

Nicaragua has yet to make any fundamental changes in the policies that most concern the United States, according to Reagan administration officials. Officials say that a recent series of conciliatory gestures made by Nicaragua are a sign that its Sandinista leaders are feeling the pressure from the United States and from US-supported Nicaragua rebels. They regard the Sandinista moves as an effort to ease that pressure.

But according to one senior administration official, there is no evidence that the Sandinistas have stopped supplying the leftist-led guerrillas in El Salvador. Officials further say the command-and-control center for the Salvadorean guerrillas is still in Nicaragua.

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News reports from Nicaragua have indicated that the government there has asked Salvadorean guerrilla leaders working in and near the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to leave the country. State Department spokesman Alan Romberg said Nov. 25 that the US could not confirm that the guerrilla presence in Nicaragua had been reduced. Nor could it confirm, he said, that the Cuban military or civilian presence in Nicaragua had been reduced on a permanent basis. The reported departure of some 1,000 Cuban teachers from Nicaragua, he said, appeared to be part of an annual year-end break.

Sandinista censorship of La Prensa, Nicaragua's opposition newspaper, has diminished recently. But Mr. Romberg noted the paper is still subject to some censorship before publication.

Last month the Sandinistas presented the US with draft treaties proposing that foreign military advisers, including American advisers in El Salvador and Honduras and Cuban advisers in Nicaragua, be withdrawn. The flow of arms among countries in the region would be banned under such treaties. But American officials see loopholes in the proposed agreements that would allow Sandinista violations.

''If I were the Sandinistas, I would make statements such as they've been making to get the pressure off,'' says Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs. ''I think our response to the Sandinistas was a good one, which is that verifiability is crucial.

''The problem is that it's a lot easier for them to cheat on agreements than it is for us to cheat,'' Mr. Abrams said in an interview Nov. 25. ''We can't make an agreement not to put advisers in and then put them in. We can't even do it covertly without Congress knowing - whereas any day the Sandinistas can, say, ratchet up the pressure on the church, and you face a problem.

''If you have an agreement, does that one arrest of a priest mean the whole thing should collapse and we should send advisers back to El Salvador? No. Well, does that one suspension of La Prensa mean the whole thing should collapse? It's difficult.''

Another State Department official said an additional difficulty in reaching any accommodation with Nicaragua will be a recent hardening of attitudes toward Nicaragua among other Central American nations. Officials deny allegiations, however, that President Reagan has decided, as some Central American leaders would like him to, that the Sandinista regime must be overthrown.

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At the same time, a senior State Department official denied a published report saying the US is considering how to ''wind down'' the pressure from US-backed rebels fighting in Nicaragua. Officials say the pressure will continue , the main aim being to get Nicaragua to cut off its support for the Salvadorean guerrillas.

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