- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

The Bush administration has suspended $2 million in military aid to Nicaragua after a high-level U.S. delegation failed to produce the immediate destruction of 1,000 shoulder-fired SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles in the Central American country.

A senior administration official told The Washington Times the suspension is the first step in a more concerted effort to force the elimination of a weapon that Washington views as a national security threat.

The official said the State Department had hoped a delegation led by acting Assistant Secretary of State Rose M. Likins last month would persuade the Nicaraguan military and opposition Sandinista party to agree on the destruction of the weapons. Ms. Likins issued a statement afterward saying that President Enrique Bolanos had reaffirmed his commitment to destroy the missiles.

But the administration official, who asked not to be named, said Mr. Bolanos has little power over the issue and that Ms. Likins’ delegation received a rude reception from other Nicaraguans.

“It did not go well,” said the official. “Little was accomplished.”

The Washington Times first reported in January that a joint Nicaragua-U.S. sting caught two Nicaraguans trying to sell an SA-7 they thought was going to Colombian terrorists.

U.S. diplomats announced the suspension of aid Friday night in the capital city of Managua.

The administration official said the arrests buttressed Washington’s suspicions that elements of the Nicaraguan military have hidden as many as 400 SA-7s and plan to sell them on the black market for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mr. Bolanos’ power has been limited by Sandinista elements inside the military and the national assembly. The assembly has voted not to allow the president to destroy military equipment unless lawmakers give their explicit permission.

The missiles are left over from Soviet shipments in the 1980s to aid the ruling Sandinistas in their war against a U.S.-backed insurgency. The Sandinistas subsequently lost power in national elections, but the Marxist party has gained seats in local and assembly elections in recent years and has loyal officers well-placed in the military.

The SA-7 seized in January did not match any serial number of missiles inventoried by the Organization of American States.

In the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, an SA-7 could be smuggled into the United States and used to shoot down a passenger jetliner.

At the State Department yesterday, spokesman Adam Ereli said the $2 million “is a small part” of overall economic assistance of $46 million annually and that it was put on hold while the Nicaraguan government resolves its differences.

Mr. Ereli refused to single out the Sandinistas for criticism. “I don’t have a comment on one party or another party,” he said.

In Managua, Defense Minister Jose Adam Guerra told the Associated Press his government has decided to destroy some missiles, but keep a reserve arsenal of about 400. He said U.S.-Nicaraguan relations have suffered “a chill that we can recover from.”

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