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Shultz Says U.S. Won’t Second-Guess Mrs. Aquino for Releasing Communists

March 7, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State George P. Shultz gives the new Philippines government high marks for the way it’s tackling the country’s problems, and he refuses to ″second-guess″ the release of four prominent Communists from prison.

Shultz, in an interview Thursday, said Philippines President Corazon Aquino was trying to open the political process, improve the economy and reform the armed forces.

″She has clearly emerged as a figure with a capability of sizing up a situation and making decisions,″ he said.

The releases, which included that of Jose Mario Sison, a founder and first chairman of the Communist Party, are part of Mrs. Aquino’s policy of reconciliation with Communist rebels. The Philippines military objected to freeing them.

But Shultz played down the Communists as a potential threat to the Manila government. He said they had boycotted the elections ″and in a sense discredited themselves.″

Mrs. Aquino, he said, was offering the rebels a chance to take part ″in the legitimate political process″ while also planning changes in the economy to give people ″a better crack at opportunity.″

The result, Shultz said, is that people who were ready to go along with the Communists ″are not ready to do so.″

Sizing up Mrs. Aquino’s first nine days in office, Shultz said, ″She has a game plan and she is playing that out.″ Regarding her release of the four Communists, Shultz said, ″I don’t want to try to second-guess this or that move.″

At the same time, he said, the Reagan administration would depend on ″the interplay of law″ to decide the disposition of items taken to Hawaii last week by Ferdinand Marcos and his associates.

But Shultz, describing the former president as in poor health and experiencing ″a difficult period,″ said properties that Marcos rightfully owns ″are his, as far as we are concerned.″

Another U.S. official said the Philippines government had sent a letter to the State Department requesting the return of the contents of all 300 crates of pesos, jewels and documents flown to Hawaii.

The official, who demanded anonymity, said the department had not responded. But he said, ″We are cooperating with the Philippine government.″

Marcos and his wife, Imelda, have taken refuge in Hawaii. Shultz said the United States was obliged to provide them with safe haven because Marcos had not fired on the Philippines people after the United States ″pleaded with him not to use force″ in the final tumultuous days of his 20-year reign.

Special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib was to report to Shultz today on the situation in Manila and later to President Reagan.

The administration has held out the prospect of emergency aid to the Aquino government. He said Habib and Ambassador Stephen Bosworth had tried to determine ″how we can most constructively help the Philippine people and government under these circumstances.″

Interviewed by The Associated Press in his office, Shultz ruled out making ″concessions″ to the Soviet Union to secure arrangements for a summit meeting this summer.

However, he said it was not clear that the Soviets were insisting on progress on arms control as a condition for another meeting between General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Reagan.

″They have a way of having this person say something and that person say something, and so on,″ Shultz said.

But he said the Soviets had not responded to a U.S. invitation to hold the meeting here in late June or late July.

″We certainly do not feel that we should do something to induce them in order to have a meeting,″ he said.

Shultz said a summit could generate agreements on nuclear weapons restraints, troop reductions in Europe and ease ″all sorts of problems around the world.″

He said Reagan and Gorbachev made a start last November at their Geneva meeting. ″We’d like to continue down that road,″ Shultz said. ″But if they don’t want to do that there’s nothing we can do. It takes two to work at these things properly.″

In fact, Shultz said, the Soviets had not responded to efforts by the United States to arrange a meeting between him and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. ″We made suggestions on that which they have not responded to,″ he said. ″So the ball is really in their court.″

On another subject, Shultz refused to rule out sending U.S. troops to Nicaragua in the event Congress rejects Reagan’s request for $100 million in military and economy assistance for the rebels fighting the Sandinista government.

Although Shultz said there was no plan to use force, he added: ″It’s never a good idea to foreclose yourself entirely from things. It’s just not a smart way to proceed.″

In the Middle East, he said, the United States remained eager to promote Arab-Israeli peace talks, but so far, the administration was unable to ″point to something that’s a major achievement.″