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Castro calling.

Fidel Castro is back in the news, with a flurry of conciliatory gestures. Last month, when Representatives Bill Alexander, Jim Leach and Mickey Leland visited Cuba, Castro made several proposals for improving relations with the United States. He indicated that he fully supported the Contadora process and said he was prepared to cooperate actively in finding a peaceful solution in Central America, even to the point of withdrawing military advisers, observing limitations on the size of regional armies, halting cross-border support for guerrillas in the region and acceptin procedures to verify compliance in each case.

A few days after his marathon talks with the Representatives, Castro repeated his desire for better relations to a delegation of U.S. Catholic bishops who were visiting Cuba. He also agreed to discuss church-state problems with Cuban bishops. Days later, Castro was at it again, this time assuring a group of senior journalists from The Washington Post of his willingness to talk about outstanding disputes between the two countries.

Those overtures have provoked much speculation in the press. Did the invasion of Grenada frighten Castro into adopting a more conciliatory attitude? Or was it economic distress? Or Reagan's hard-line policies toward Central America?

The answer is almost certainly none of the above. Although there is a heightened specificity and intensity to the Cuban leader's gestures, such placatory moves are not new, nor do the most recent ones indicated any fundamental shift in Cuba's position. On a number of occasions in 1981, for example, Castro signaled his readiness to cooperate in working out a political solution in Central America. In December of that year, after the Reagan Administration had said it wanted action rather than words, the Cubans suspended all military shipments to Nicaragua. The White House simply ignored that.

In March 1982, Castro told a group of visition U.S. professors and reporters that he was prepared to join with other interested parties to forge a lasting peace in Central America. He reiterated that offer to Senator Lowell Weicker when the latter visited Cuba in March 1983. And in July of that year, Castro publicly indicated his willingness to consider withdrawing his military personnel from Nicaragua and observing an arms embargo for the entire region, provided the United States followed suit. A few days later, President Reagan said he had not intention of discussing that offer or anything else with Castro.

Why has Castro apparently been willing to accommodate U.S. concerns in Central American? Obviously he thinks it would be in Cuba's interest to do so. Cuba would benefit from an easing of tensions and from increased trade with the United States. But, basically, Castro knows perfectly well that the best either side could expect from armed confrontation in Central America would be a long and bloody stalemate. Thus, it is good politics to seek a compromise.

A negotiated solution is in the interest of the United States as well. The United States is understandably concerned about Soviet and Cuban influence in Nicaragua, about the size of Nicaragua's army and its intentions, toward its neighbors and about the support Cuba and Nicaragua provide the Salvadoran guerrillas. If Cuba and Nicaragua are willing (as they say they are) to enter into verifiable agreements that address all those matters, wouldn't it be worthwhile to sit down and talk to them?

One might expect the United States to push for such a resolution. But has it? Absolutely not. The response to the latest feelers was in the traditional mold. Spokesmen in the State Department pooh-poohed the proposals brought back by Representative Alexander and his colleagues as just another of Castro's tactical maneuvers. But how do they know without testing him?

Why this blind opposition to a diplomatic process that seems so clearly in the U.S. interest? Primarily because the Administration doesn't want a compromise. It wants to get rid of the Sandinistas, not negotiate with them, so it will discourage any agreement that leaves them in power. It is not even interested in a regional convention that would halt support for guerrillas: that would mean stopping U.S. support for the contras, which the White House is unwilling to do. It clings to the hope that the rebels can bring down the government in Managua.

Since the contras have almost no chance of achieving that objective, the United States is left with two choices: it can stick to its goal of ousting the Sandinistas, which would mean eventually committing American troops; or it can seek to change objectionable Sandinista policies through diplomatic agreements. If it chooses the latter course, Cuban cooperation would be extremely useful. Cuba should be involved in any effort to reach a negotiated settlement in Central America. The Administration cannot have it both ways; it cannot in one breath say, Cuba is part of the problem, and in the next say, We refuse to discuss it with Castro.
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Title Annotation:U.S. ignores Cuba's suggestions for peace in Central America
Author:Smith, Wayne S.
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 23, 1985
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