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A genuine coordination of the contra policy with the Contadora process, the Duarte initiative and the Habib mission is the best of several troublesome choices, and it is worth more of a try than the U.S. has been willing to make to date. Faced as it is with a near mutiny on Capitol Hill, the Administration may have little choice but to convert the diplomatic option from a fig leaf for the military option into a good-faith effort.
Even if a settlement along the Contadora lines were achieved, it would be extremely difficult to monitor and enforce, and the U.S. might be left with few cards in the future once the contras were out of the picture. Achieving the settlement in the first place would be difficult enough under any circumstances. It would probably be downright impossible without the stick of the contras to go along with the carrot of diplomacy. That is why the Congress should approve the Administration's contra aid package, and it should do so without attaching any of the strings that have been proposed, such as escrowing the aid in order to "give peace a chance" or setting a deadline for the diplomats to reach a deal. Any such conditions would serve only to tell the Sandinistas that they have nothing to worry about. It would embolden them to go through the charade of serious negotiations while waiting for the deadline to expire. In fact, if there is to be a deadline, it should probably work the other way: while the U.S. makes a good-faith effort at diplomacy, it should hold open the possibility of what Shultz calls, with an ambiguity that is as prudent and deliberate as it is ominous, "sterner measures" later on, if the Sandinistas prove intransigent or if they violate the agreements they sign. --By Strobe Talbott