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Cablegate: Nicaragua Sofa Letter: Potentially Difficult Road

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O 252113Z MAR 08
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2317
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA IMMEDIATE 1857
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS IMMEDIATE 1241
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO IMMEDIATE 5111
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RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J2/J3/J5// IMMEDIATE
RUEADWD/DA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAHQA/OSAF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUENAAA/SECNAV WASHDC IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 000348

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DEPT FOR WHA/CEN - GREENE AND NYMAN
DEPT FOR PM/SNA - DETEMPLE
DEPT FOR L/PM - HEROLD
SOUTHCOM FOR ADM STAVRIDIS AND FPA
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR JAG
OSD FOR OSD(POLICY) - WALTER EARLE
NSC FOR ALVARADO AND FISK
DHS FOR USCG

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2018
TAGS: PREL MARR MOPS KTIA NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA SOFA LETTER: POTENTIALLY DIFFICULT ROAD
AHEAD

REF: SECSTATE 2677 (NOTAL)

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli for reasons 1.4 b & d.

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY. After nine weeks of delays on the part
of the Foreign Ministry (MINREX), on March 14 we were finally
able to meet with Ministry and Nicaraguan Army officials to
formally deliver the draft text of the letter regarding the
bilateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and talking
points per reftel instructions. We had initially believed
that the government's prior reluctance to engage with us on
SOFA was due to its misunderstanding about the process of
concluding the agreement. However, during the meeting, it
became clear that the Nicaraguan side may have serious
reservations about the content proposed in our draft
agreement. The meeting with MINREX Director for Immunities
Maria Esther Chamorro was cordial, but without tipping her
hand Chamorro indicated there were concerns about at least
three items: the language regarding carrying weapons, the
granting of tax exemptions that pertain to the proposed
administrative and technical staff (A&T)-equivalent immunity,
and the entry/exit protocols. We were able to assure our
counterparts that our draft proposal was open for discussion
and not a fait accompli, as they had initially feared. We
also clarified that the proposal was not blanket permission
for any U.S. Armed Forces personnel to enter Nicaragua.
Chamorro said her government would not be prepared to discuss
the proposal further before the March 24. We reiterated our
desire to conclude an agreement quickly and avoid further
cancellations of training and humanitarian activities. END
SUMMARY.

2. (C/NF) On March 14, nine weeks after receipt of reftel, we
were able to formally meet with Foreign Ministry (MINREX)
officials to deliver the SOFA dipnote draft text and talking
points per reftel. NOTE: In January, we did pass the draft
text informally via email after a week of having our initial
meeting requests to MINREX repeatedly postponed. END NOTE.
We explained that our goal in requesting a meeting had been
to determine whether there was agreement or near-agreement on
the dipnote text before sending a formal, signed version. We
noted that our proposed text was virtually the same as the
2007 exchange of notes -- the only significant change being
the 2008 list of operational activities. We added that we
were open to any concerns and emphasized our desire to
conclude an agreement quickly, given that two months had
already passed and some operations had already been canceled.
We had initially believed that the government's reluctance
to engage with us on SOFA was due to their misunderstanding
about the process of concluding the agreement. However,
during the meeting, it became clear that some there may be
serious reservations about the content proposed in our draft
agreement.

3. (C/NF) Our meeting had originally been scheduled with
three senior officials -- Maria Ester Chamorro, Director of
the Immunities Division; Mario Rodriguez, Director of the
International Agreements Division; and Lorena Martinez,
Director of the South America Division (and former Director
of International Cooperation) -- however, when we arrived
Chamorro was the only Director present. We were somewhat
surprised to see Gregorio Torres, our normal counterpart from
the North America Division, who had been scrupulously
avoiding us on this issue for the previous two months. Also
present, in uniform, was a LTC Estrada, from the Nicaraguan
Army. Rodriguez and Martinez never appeared for the meeting.
Chamorro was clearly in the lead for MINREX. She had
clearly been through the draft text, as it was highlighted in
several places and, as the discussion progressed, it became
clear she had identified several points of serious concern
about the dipnote text.

4. (C/NF) Chamorro was cordial, but without tipping her hand
she indicated concerns about at least three items, namely,
the language regarding carrying weapons, the granting of tax
exemptions that pertain to the proposed A&T-equivalent
immunity, and the entry/exit protocols. Chamorro indicated
that her government needed additional time for internal
consultations and said the Ministry would contact us once
they were prepared to discuss the proposal further. She
cautioned that nothing would be possible before the March 24
end of Holy Week. LTC Estrada noted that the 2008 list of
planned operational activities had already been approved by
the National Assembly and published in "La Gaceta,"
Nicaragua's "Federal Register." He added that the Army had
been disappointed that some activities had already been
canceled due to the absence of an agreement. He added that
the Army supported a quick resolution that would avoid
further cancellations, though he deferred to MINREX on the
legal and procedural requirements that were necessary to do
so.

5. (C/NF) We assured Chamorro that our draft proposal was
open for discussion and not a fait accompli, as she had,
apparently and incorrectly, initially feared. We also
clarified that the proposal would apply to those individuals
and units deployed to Nicaragua as part of one of the agreed
operational activities, and was not blanket permission for
any U.S. military personnel to enter Nicaragua without cause.
We closed noting our disappointment that the two-month delay
had caused some operational activities to be canceled, and
reiterated our desire to conclude an agreement quickly to
avoid further cancellations of training and humanitarian
activities.

6. (C/NF) Over the weekend, the Ambassador raised the SOFA
with Vice President Jaime Morales, who responded that he was
shocked by the slow pace of progress and said he would raise
the issue directly with President Ortega. Also, on March 24,
the Ambassador telephoned FM Santos to convey our concern at
the lack of progress on the SOFA and to urge quick action.
Santos replied that the SOFA had come up on the margins of
his participation in the OAS Ministerial during the week of
March 17. He said that his staff was concerned with one
minor point in the text, which he couldn't recall, but asked
that he be sent a clean copy of the draft text. He promised
to press his staff to resolve this issue quickly.

7. (C/NF) COMMENT. When we arrived at MINREX for our March
17 meeting there seemed to be some confusion about whether we
actually had an appointment. We have noted before that it
has become increasingly difficult to engage with the Foreign
Ministry, on even the most basic of issues. Our
working-level contacts seem increasingly unable to assist
with the most routine of requests, which requires us to
"bundle" issues for the Ambassador to raise directly with the
Foreign Minister episodically.
TRIVELLI

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