President Bush called Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega, a one-time leftist firebrand, and said the two countries should be able to cooperate in such areas as reconciliation, democracy, and job creation.

Ortega, who fought U.S.-backed rebels as Nicaraguan leader during the 1980s, took the call on Monday, two days ahead of his formal installation for his second tour as president.

Bush also called outgoing President Enrique Bolanos to thank him for his service. Bolanos has been friendly toward the United States.

The administration has welcomed the more moderate image Ortega has been projecting compared with the period two decades ago when, as president, his best friend was Fidel Castro and his favored garb was military fatigues.

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said Bush "expressed his strong commitment to the well-being of the Nicaraguan people and our continued interest in a relationship with Nicaragua." He specifically mentioned the trade agreement that Central American nations have signed with the United States and the Millennium Challenge Account.

In 2005, a $175 million Millennium Challenge program for rural development was approved for Nicaragua. Millennium Challenge grants are designed to provide support for countries that have open markets, invest in their people and are governed well in other ways.