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US Sounds Conciliatory Toward Nicaragua's Ortega


The United States said Tuesday it wants to have continued good relations with Nicaragua, where leftist former President Daniel Ortega appears headed for victory in Sunday's election. The State Department says the state of relations will depend on the platform of the new Managua government.

Though some members of the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress had expressed concern about the prospect of a return to power for Mr. Ortega, the State Department is voicing hope for a continuation of good relations with Managua after the apparent victory by the leftist politician.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said he was withholding a final judgment until certified election results are in, and until U.S. officials have heard the report of international observers on the conduct of Sunday's vote.

However, McCormack said the United States has made a commitment to Nicaragua through the U.S.-Central American free trade agreement CAFTA, and a U.S. Millennium Challenge aid project active in parts of Nicaragua under the political control of Mr. Ortega's Sandinista party. He expressed hope the relationship can go forward:

"They have an interest in continuing that relationship. We've also worked on debt relief for them," he noted. "So we, the United States, have made clear that we want to have a good relationship with the Nicaraguan people and we've acted on that, we've shown that."

McCormack said ultimately the platform of the incoming Nicaraguan government will determine bilateral ties.

The United States had an antagonistic relationship with Mr. Ortega's Marxist government in the 1980's and backed Contra rebels in a proxy war against his Soviet-backed administration.

Though Mr. Ortega says he has moderated his political views since then, some U.S. officials, including Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, have warned that a Sandinista return would scare off foreign investors and jeopardize Nicaragua's participation in CAFTA.

Some congressional Republicans have urged economic action against Managua in the event of an Ortega win.

Spokesman McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a telephone conversation Tuesday with former President Jimmy Carter, who is in Nicaragua to monitor the election and has said the relatively-minor problems noted were not severe enough to affect the outcome.

Mr. Carter has met with Daniel Ortega and urged reconciliation between him and Washington.

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