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U.S. will get tough with Sandinistas, Baker says

Secretary of State James Baker set tough terms Thursday for normalizing U.S. relations with Nicaragua if the Sandinistas win Sunday's election and reserved the right to determine if the contest is fair. Baker's testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee means U.S. hostility toward the Nicaraguan government would not automatically end if the Sandinistas win at the polls.

He said the United States would insist on "a substantial period of good behavior," including an end to support for leftist insurgents in neighboring El Salvador and reconciliation with domestic political opponents _ before ending economic sanctions and restoring full diplomatic relations.

The secretary accused the government of President Daniel Ortega of intimidating opponents and poll watchers and denying visas to congressional observers.

The leading opposition group _ the United National Opposition, led by Violeta Chamorro _ has received U.S. aid in its election bid.

Baker said the Unites States is "prepared to recognize a government that wins a free election." But he then set conditions that must be met for the restoration of normal relations and asserted U.S. authority to judge the elections.

"Before we talk about normalizing relations (if Ortega is re-elected), .


. we must see a sustained period of good behavior.

"The .


. United States must be satisfied that there will continue to be open political space in Nicaragua. Then we can consider beginning to look at how we might normalize" relations, including lifting the trade sanctions.

Answering a question from Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., Baker said, "It seems to me that if you believe in democracy you believe in respecting the results of a free and fair election."

But, he added, "the United States must reserve the right to make the judgment (as to) whether the election is free and fair."

Observer groups will assess the election and "arrive at reasoned judgments" about its fairness, the secretary said. "But, in light of experience, the United States needs to make its own judgment."