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Central America leaders sidestep treaty. But summiteers agree to move fast on regional parliament

The summit of Central American leaders this past weekend was billed as ``a door opening onto peace.'' But the region's five Presidents took only a hesitant step over the threshold during two days of talks here and found a long corridor of complications ahead of them.

The leaders side-stepped one of those complications by abandoning plans to sign the Contadora peace treaty by the June 6 deadline, saying they were not ready and would not be rushed. At the same time, they pleased their host, President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo, by agreeing to move fast on one of his pet projects -- a Central American parliament.

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Economic issues, however, such as steps to spur regional integration and plans for aid talks with the European Community, got relatively short shrift. This was not surprising, says Nicaraguan parliamentarian Rogelio Ram'irez, since ``there is no chance of real economic cooperation while we are still fighting each other. The political aspect has to be dealt with first.''

It was political issues that prompted a deep and wide-ranging ideological debate among the five Presidents, informed sources say. The discussion -- which apparently pitted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra against Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez -- was reflected in the summit's final declaration. The statement noted ``the differences that persist'' among Central American countries ``with respect to the concept of life and the structure of power in a pluralist democracy.''

The meeting stopped short of conferring full legitimacy on Nicaragua's ruling Sandinistas and their concept of democracy mainly by dint of Mr. Arias's efforts, officials say.

Having publicly cast doubt earlier on the results of the 1984 Nicaraguan election, the Costa Rican President would not let Managua enjoy the summit's initial insistence on ``the right of all nations to freely determine without any sort of outside interference their economic, political, and social models.''

Arias reportedly argued that Mr. Ortega could not be considered a freely elected leader. Arias reportedly pushed to add a provision to the final communiqu'e which said economic and political models must be ``the product of the people's freely expressed will.''

That pointed dig, however, left Ortega unruffled enough to agree to direct elections to a Central American parliament, the one concrete project to emerge from the meeting. Though agreement to launch the assembly was largely symbolic, in the absence of any clear mandate, it marked a victory for Mr. Vinicio Cerezo, informed sources say over arguments that the parliament should be delayed until after the Contadora treaty had been ratified. The Contadora accord, sponsored by Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, would limit the size and strength of armed forces and end foreign military presence in Central America and require signatories to take steps toward internal reconciliation with opposition rebel factions.

When that ratification might be is uncertain. Though the Presidents expressed continued faith in the Contadora negotiations, they pointed out in their statement that key military aspects of the treaty ``remain to be resolved.''

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``If we set a deadline, we are effectively killing the process,'' Vinicio Cerezo said later. ``And we don't want to kill it.''

``You only set a deadline if you want to wash your hands of the affair, or if you want to force a decision,'' added a senior Salvadorean official, who suggested that the Contadora countries may be tiring of their three-year mediating effort.

By rejecting the self-imposed June 6 deadline, a senior Salvadorean official argues, Central America is indicating a desire to take the peace process into its own hands. The official suggested that the Contadora countries may be tiring of their three-year mediating effort. While Managua clearly benefits in the short term from additional time to negotiate its claim to massive defensive weaponry to defend itself against the ``contra'' rebels, it could suffer if the Latin American Contadora umbrella falls away.

One sidelight to the summit, meanwhile, offered Nicaragua a little incidental political support. Honduras and El Salvador, which have been locked in a border dispute since 1969, agreed to take their differences to the World Court. Ortega seized on his neighbors' decision as ``underlining the validity'' of the Court. When Nicaragua filed claim 18 months ago against the United States for mining its harbors, Washington refused to acknowledge the World Court's jurisdiction.

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