The Reagan administration so far has rejected using military force to oust Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, a White House spokesman said Saturday.
Marlin Fitzwater scoffed at reports of a clamoring within the State Department for tougher measures to push Noriega out, saying the Panamanian problem has presented a "fertile ground for rich imaginations."Several news reports have said that Secretary of State George P. Shultz urged in high-level White House meetings that the United States attempt to kidnap Noriega, who is under indictment in this country on drug-trafficking charges.
Fitzwater on Saturday sought to minimize reports indicating the administration was weighing military or covert action moves to get Noriega out of power.
And Shultz, speaking with reporters in Rome Saturday as he continued a Mideast peacemaking mission, sidestepped questions about his advice to Reagan.
"We debate various possible options," Shultz said. "But basically, this is a question of a person who no longer is wanted in his country. The position of the United States government is that he should go. Everybody agrees about that. He's been indicted."
Shultz steadfastly refused to get into a debate about the options he has proposed, saying that "I never comment on speculative news articles."
The Los Angeles Times reported in Saturday's editions that Shultz and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams also had urged the dispatch of about 3,000 U.S. military forces to Panama to further undermine Noriega's grip on power.
The State Department, it said, was displeased with the Pentagon's decision to bolster the U.S. military presence in Panama by sending about 1,300 troops, many of them military police officers.
But Fitzwater described the deployment of these forces, beginning early this week, as simply "a continuation" of the U.S. effort to strengthen security for Americans in the troubled Central American country.
"There have been any number of offensive plans raised, but to this point, they have been rejected," he said.