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Rumsfeld Says Nicaragua Will Destroy Missiles As Promised

By Eric Schmitt
THE NEW YORK TIMES


KEY BISCAYNE, FLA.

Political obstacles have stymied Nicaragua’s pledge to destroy its arsenal of portable anti-aircraft missiles, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday he received assurances this week that the remaining arms are being properly secured.

Rumsfeld has been pressing the Nicaraguan government for more than a year to eliminate all of the shoulder-fired missiles supplied by the Soviet Union and Cuba during the 1980s. American intelligence officials have said that the missiles are prized by terrorist groups, who might use them to down commercial airliners.

So far, Nicaragua has destroyed about half of the 2,000 missiles under government control, Pentagon officials say, but none since February when the National Assembly, dominated by opponents of President Enrique Bolanos, stripped him of the authority to dispose of the weapons. The Assembly required that Bolanos seek its approval for any further destruction of the arms, but has yet to grant such approval.

“Progress has been made,” Rumsfeld said at news conference here to conclude a two-day meeting with Central American defense and security ministers. “There have been obstacles put in the way of completing the program for the destruction of those missiles. And for the present time, the obstacles have slowed that progress.”

In an interview on Wednesday with reporters traveling with him, Rumsfeld praised the Bolanos government and Nicaraguan armed forces for trying to honor its promise to destroy the arms, and he blamed the National Assembly for the impasse.

In a meeting on Wednesday with Nicaragua’s defense minister, Avil Ramirez Valdivia, Rumsfeld said he had “been assured that the existing missiles are being maintained in a secure manner, which is reassuring.”

Earlier this year, after a Soviet-made SA-7 missile was purchased on the black market in Nicaragua in a sting operation by an undercover team of American and Nicaraguan law enforcement agents, the Pentagon suspended military aid, including training and equipment, to Nicaragua.

But in response to the Nicaraguan military’s cooperation in securing the remaining missiles during the political stalemate, the Pentagon recently allowed military aid to resume. “It became a political issue,” said the Pentagon’s top Latin American policy official, Roger Pardo-Maurer.