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Central American peace process put into deep freeze

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The Central American peace negotiations known as the Contadora talks have suffered a sharp setback. The indefinite postponement of the Contadora meeting planned for Thursday and today has put the whole peace process into deep freeze for at least several months, according to well-informed foreign policy analysts here.

The underlying cause of the postponement, these analysts say, is much deeper than the reason given publicly -- a dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over Nicaraguan border incursions and an incident at the Costa Rican Embassy in Managua.

This dispute, they say, is merely a pretext for covering up currently irreconcilable differences between Nicaragua on the one hand and the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica on the other. And so far the four Contadora mediators (Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama) have been unable to bridge the differences.

In addition, Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama are tiring in their efforts to resolve the differences, according to Mario Arriola, the politically moderate main Contadora analyst for one of the top think-tanks here called CIDE (Center for Research and Economic Teaching). Mr. Arriola and other such analysts in touch with the peace process say the three countries are beginning to accuse Mexico of pushing too hard and of turning Contadora into a ``Mexican national project.''

More importantly, Arriola and other analysts here and in the US say that the Reagan administration is showing little enthusiasm for the talks at this stage. Until a change occurs in either the US position or that of the four Contadora countries, the analysts believe there is little chance of the talks being reconvened. Thus, they say, the talks, if not entirely dead, at least will be dormant for the next few months.

The current stymieing of the talks dates from a surprise decision by Nicaragua last September to sign an agreement that had been drafted by the Contadora group and the other Central American countries.

Since neither the US nor its Central American allies ever expected Nicaragua to agree to sign, they had not followed the drafting process very carefully. Instead, they had permitted the inclusion of several points that were basically unacceptable to them.

Chief among these points was an agreement calling for the rapid withdrawal of all foreign military advisers from the whole region. This would have included US advisers in El Salvador and Honduras as well as Cubans in Nicaragua. It also called for the withdrawal of all foreign military bases in the region. This would have meant the closure of US bases in Honduras.


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