San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. Sen. Dodd: Diplomacy is ‘Always Complicated’

MANAGUA – Acknowledging “areas of concern,” yet hesitant to define U.S.- Nicaraguan relations as troubled, U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, the senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, returned to Nicaragua this week as part of a U.S. fact-finding tour of Central America.

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Dodd (D-Conn), along with his freshman colleague Bob Corker (R-Tenn), met with Vice President Jaime Morales. The two senators also met with opposition lawmakers Victor Hugo Tinoco, Eduardo Montealegre and Francisco Aguirre, who provided them with a long list of concerns.

By contrast, the short and cordial meeting with the vice president focused on issues of common interest, such as immigration, military cooperation, Nicaragua’s waiver for U.S. aid, disarmament of SAM-7 missiles, and foreign relations.

No substantive decisions were made. During the meeting, Morales presented Dodd with a new biography on Gen. Augusto C. Sandino, inscribed with a cheery message from President Daniel Ortega reading, “This is a history of invasions, occupations and death – to prevent it from being repeated it must never be forgotten.”

Dodd, however, is already quite familiar with the history of the region.

In the 1980s, the congressman led the U.S. Senate observation group to the Central American Peace Accords, pushed for a ceasefire in El Salvador, lobbied for an end to U.S. military aid to contra insurgents in Nicaragua, and negotiated the Sandinista government’s release of U.S. citizen Eugene Hasenfus, a CIA contractor who was shot down over Nicaragua and taken prisoner while making a supply drop to contras in 1986.

Though Ortega earlier this week joked that Dodd is an old Sandinista sympathizer, the senator, who will leave Capitol Hill this year, tried to avoid labels, especially when asked if the U.S. government still considers Nicaragua a “partner in democracy” after the U.S. cut development aid under the Millennium Challenge Account and trimmed other forms of assistance because of serious concerns about governance issues here.

Dodd told The Nica Times after his meeting with Vice President Morales that diplomacy is “always complicated,” but said the United States and Nicaragua “clearly have a working relationship, there’s no doubt about that.”

He said the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has a “positive attitude” about working with others, and tries to find common ground rather than dwell on differences.

“I think that’s a mature relationship, and it’s the way it ought to be,” the senator said.

However, he added, “I think to call it one thing or another is always a mistake – It’s a rather simplistic, one-dimensional view of diplomacy.”

Regarding Nicaragua’s contentious 2008 municipal elections and the upcoming elections on the Caribbean coast, Dodd said the electoral process remains “a point of discussion” between the two countries.

Though he stressed that it is “not the U.S.’ job to decide elections here,” he said Washington will be keeping an eye on Nicaragua’s electoral process in the future.

This week’s stopover in Nicaragua was part of the two senators’ five-country whirlwind tour of Central America to meet with the heads of state of Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras.

Nicaragua was the only country where the U.S. lawmakers did not meet the president, who left the night before to fly to Mexico for this week’s Summit for Latin America and Caribbean Unity.

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