Despite the Sandinistas' recent announcement that they would hold elections later this year, relations between Nicaragua and the United States remain at rock bottom.
The differences between the two countries lie less in matters of substance than in a profound mutual mistrust, say well-placed observers here. This, in turn, leads to important differences in approach.
Both high-level US officials in Washington and the sources here confirm that the US has made three main demands on the Sandinistas:
1. To stop arms and munitions shipments to Salvadorean guerrillas.
2. To close the Salvadorean guerrillas' command and control centers in Nicaragua.
3. To purge Nicaraguan Army and state security units of Cuban advisers.
It is true that US officials also stress publicly the importance of fostering genuine democracy in Nicaragua. But they admit privately that this is less important than the three demands listed above. And they concede that the US could probably live with a less than perfect democracy here.
Both Sandinista and diplomatic sources stress that none of the US demands challenge the basic authority of the Sandinista rule. They say, therefore, that the US demands could be acceptable in principle to Sandinista leaders. Informed observers also emphasize that as the Salvadorean guerrilla forces become stronger, they are potentially less dependent on Nicaraguan arms and munitions.
But Sandinista sources insist their leadership will take no action on the US demands without a signed agreement in which the US agrees to end its efforts to destabilize the Sandinista government.
Washington, on the other hand, has made it clear it will not accept any such general agreement. US officials state clearly that the Nicaraguans must first show their interest in a settlement by moving to fulfill at least one of Washington's key demands.
Such a Nicaraguan move, the US officials say, would bring countermoves by the US to reduce tensions. Only after such a round of deescalation, they say, would the US consider negotiating a more general agreement with the Sandinistas.