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Public Papers - 1989

Exchange With Reporters on the Attempted Overthrow of General Manuel Noriega of Panama


Q. Respectfully, Mr. President, can we ask you to make an exception to your rule on photo ops because we'd all like to know what you can tell us about Noriega?

The President. Yes, you can. I think that given the anxiety and the state of the rumor mill, why, it's appropriate.

The first concern that I have as President of the United States is the safety of American citizens, and of course that would include American forces that are there under our treaty rights with Panama. Secondly, there are a lot of rumors. We are staying in very close touch with SOUTHCOM [Southern Command of U.S. joint forces]. We have very able military officers who are advising us of the situation on the ground.

But, beyond that, I would simply add to the rumors if I commented further, and we are watching the situation. The number one priority: the lives of Americans. There were rumors around that this was some American operation, and I can tell you that is not true.

Q. Mr. President, in the past you have said that your argument is not with the PDF and that you would be willing to help them in any eventuality. Is this such an eventuality?

The President. Well, again, that's part of the confusion. Nobody is sure what's happening there. Our people on the ground have the best idea about that. But I would repeat, in the hopes that it be conveyed instantly to Panama: We have no argument with the Panamanian Defense Forces. We have no argument with them. We've had good relations with the Panamanian Defense Forces. And our argument has been, as has many other countries', with Mr. Noriega, who aborted the democratic will of the people of Panama; and that's where our argument was, and that's where our argument is.

And so, if you can use all these cameras to get that message to the people of Panama, I really think it would be a good thing for peace, and I think it would be a good thing in terms of a historic relationship between our two countries that I value and that all Americans want to see improved.

So, sally forth and do your best.

Q. Mr. President, we played no role in this coup?

The President. This is the end. I just answered the last question on Panama. I answered that question. Go back and listen to the tapes.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House during a meeting with Soviet Defense Minister Dmitriy Yazov.

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