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Cablegate: Bilateral Commission with Nicaragua On Hold

VZCZCXYZ0015
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0087 0321959
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011959Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9407
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA 5202
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0502

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000087

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/RBEAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR CS NU
SUBJECT: BILATERAL COMMISSION WITH NICARAGUA ON HOLD

REF: A. 2007 SAN JOSE 01451
B. 2007 SAN JOSE 01768

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Per Ref B, Costa Rica and Nicaragua had
agreed, at least in principle, to resume "binational
commission" meetings as a tool to resolve long-standing
bilateral disputes. At meetings between President Ortega and
President Arias in Managua last August and in San Jose in
November, the two heads of state confirmed their support to
re-establish the binational commission as a potentially
useful tool to resolve their border, migration and security
disagreements. At the November San Jose meeting, the two
governments agreed that the first session would take place in
late January at a town in southern Nicaragua. Ortega also
said he would abide by the future decision of the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) on one of the most
controversial issues, the settlement of the Rio San Juan
dispute. Despite Costa Rican MFA requests to get a date and
place for the bilateral commission meeting from the GON, the
GOCR has yet to receive an answer and does not expect these
meetings to resume in the immediate future. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) In a surprise Ortega visit to Costa Rica last
November, Presidents Arias and Ortega discussed several
sticking points in their bilateral relationship, including
border, migration, and security disputes. They agreed to
resume binational commission meetings, on hold since October
2006, to further dialogue and seek resolution of these
outstanding problems, most notably the Rio San Juan
controversy, now at the ICJ in The Hague. Binational
commission meetings between the heads of state and other key
players were reactivated in 2006 by Costa Rica FM Bruno
Stagno, after a nine-year hiatus. At the conclusion of
Ortega's visit to Costa Rica in November, Arias and Ortega
agreed that the next binational commission meeting would take
place at the end of January in Nicaragua.

3. (U) Nicaraguan Ambassador to Costa Rica Harold Rivas also
confirmed to us in December that the meetings would resume,
indicating Nicaraguan willingness to try to improve
relations. At that time, he predicted the meetings would
take place at the end of 2007 or beginning of 2008.

4. (SBU) The Costa Rican MFA has requested from the GON a
definitive date and place for the commencement of these
sessions. An MFA spokesperson told us that despite two
recent requests, the GON remains mute about the issue.
Ambassador Rivas recently indicated to us that Nicaraguan
diplomacy was quite "busy at this time." MFA contacts told
us it was possible that Nicaraguan FM Santos was not taking
any action in view of President Ortega's total control of
foreign policy, but also speculated that Ortega's
deteriorating relationship with the Nicaraguan Legislature
might be precluding him from making a decision on this topic.

5. (SBU) Despite protracted border disagreements, practical
cooperation between Costa Rican and Nicaraguan law
enforcement authorities does exist at the very busy and
chaotic border crossing point of Penas Blancas. For example,
when Costa Rican Drug Control Police (PCD) had difficulties,
due to inadequate equipment, last December inspecting a
tractor trailer they suspected of carrying drugs, they asked
for and received assistance from their Nicaraguan
counterparts. The result was the joint seizure of over 600
kilograms of cocaine.

6. (U) Per Ref A, on January 15, Costa Rica filed their reply
("replica de la demanda") on time to the ICJ at The Hague
regarding the Rio San Juan border controversy. Nicaragua now
has until July to file their counter-reply
("contra-memoria"). Once this happens, the written stage of
the adjudication process will finish and the Court will have
to set a date for formal hearings.

7. (SBU) COMMENT. It comes as no surprise that there is
little progress in the formation of the binational commission
between Costa Rica and Nicaragua to resolve old conflicts. A
long history of personal dispute and poor cooperation between
Arias and Ortega mean this process will plug along slowly.
Despite Ortega's seeming acceptance of a future decision on
the Rio San Juan dispute, on January 21, Nicaragua reiterated
a proposal for an extrajudicial settlement to resolve the
issue. We do not expect the GOCR to accept it. On a
positive note, practical counterdrug cooperation on the
border seems to indicate the willingness, at least at the
local level on both sides of the border, to enhance regional
security cooperation.
BRENNAN

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