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National Archives

Public Papers - 1989 - December

Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on United States Military Action in Panama


President Bush met with his national security advisers Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Residence to consider the situation in Panama. They met for approximately 90 minutes. President Bush asked for options and an action plan to achieve four objectives: protect American lives, support democracy, bring the fugitive Manuel Noriega to justice, and protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties.

On Monday, the President maintained his normal schedule of activities. Plans were being made at all levels of the command structure for the operation scheduled to commence at 1 o'clock Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Bush met with the Vice President and his national security advisers in the Oval Office at about 3 o'clock to discuss final plans for the military operation in Panama. The President was briefed on the readiness of all aspects of the plan. General Scowcroft, the President's national security adviser, laid out an hour-by-hour plan for the rest of the day and evening prior to the time of launch. That plan included activities of all the Departments and Agencies and all White House staff in the carrying out of this complex arrangement. The President was satisfied the planning was comprehensive.

The President continued to conduct his normal schedule, including attending the White House Christmas Party Tuesday evening. The President received updates on the status of preparations throughout the evening. General Scowcroft and Governor Sununu [Chief of Staff to the President] visited with the President at several points. Early evening, the President called the congressional leadership to discuss the action with them.

The Deputies Committee of the National Security Council was convened at midnight to begin monitoring the operational aspects of the Panama action. They were convened by National Security Council Deputy Director Robert Gates and continued to meet throughout the night and most of the day Wednesday. The Press Office staff was alerted to prepare for an early morning briefing shortly after 1 a.m., and the White House press corps was notified accordingly. In addition, the Pentagon pool had been activated earlier in the evening to accompany U.S. forces to Panama.

President Bush arrived in the Oval Office shortly before 1 a.m. to monitor the progress throughout the night. He was wearing a dark blue sweater over his shirt and tie. The mood was businesslike, as various members of the President's security team moved in and out of the Oval Office with reports of progress.

As we outlined in Wednesday morning's briefing, the President spent most of the night calling American leaders and Members of Congress. Vice President Quayle, Secretary Baker, Governor Sununu, and national security adviser Scowcroft spent most of the evening with the President in his private study, occasionally stepping out to make phone calls to various leaders around the world. Secretary Cheney, General Powell, Director Webster, Attorney General Thornburgh, and others carried out their respective functions at their appropriate control center.

The President was somber throughout the night, worried about the possibility of casualties and anxious for any word of specific military progress. He watched the White House announcement of the military action on the television in his study. He made notes on 5 by 7 blue Presidential notepads as he talked to various leaders. He reported to aides that the phone calls were going well, mostly supportive. Everyone the President called was appreciative of his making the effort on this early notification.

The President retired to the Residence at approximately 4 o'clock in the morning, when it was decided that he would address the American people at 7 a.m. The President returned to the Oval Office at approximately 6:30 a.m. to review his remarks and make editorial changes. Because of the time involved, the President was not able to use the teleprompter normally associated with the Presidential statement. The President read from the typewritten print, making notations in the margin only minutes before air time.

After delivering his address to the Nation, the President remained in the Oval Office for the rest of the day, meeting with diplomatic representatives. All other events previously scheduled for the day were canceled, with the exception of the presentation of diplomatic credentials, so that the President could concentrate on the action in Panama. He continues to receive military updates from General Scowcroft, General Powell, Secretary Cheney, and others. Vice President Quayle spent a good deal of time with the President during the day discussing the progress of the operation. The President received a series of reports on the success of the military in securing various objectives of the preplanned mission.

At approximately 3 p.m., the President met with his national security advisers to receive an operational update, which we commented upon in a previous press statement. The President's operational briefing was similar to the one given to the press at 5 o'clock this afternoon by General Kelly [Director of Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff] in the Pentagon.

This evening the President will again attend the Christmas Party and then retire to the Residence. He is pleased by the military precision and smoothness of the operation. The President has been told by military leaders that this has been one of the most effective and efficiently conducted operations in some time. The President will continue to receive monitored reports throughout the evening on the status of the Panamanian situation.

The President's national security advisers who met with him at various times during the last 3 days included Vice President Quayle; Secretary of State Baker; Secretary of Defense Cheney; Director of Central Intelligence Bill Webster; General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Brent Scowcroft, the President's National Security Council adviser; Robert Gates, deputy national security adviser; and Richard Thornburgh, Attorney General of the United States.

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