President Reagan has authorized new covert action to oust Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega and has told Congress and Panama's deposed president of the move, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
A well-placed source who confirmed Reagan's action would not discuss details but said no military action is imminent, the newspaper said. Another source told the Post the authorization apparently involves activities that fall short of a paramilitary operation.Noriega, the de facto leader of Panama, is under indictment in the United States on charges of drug trafficking. In February he deposed President Eric Arturo Delvalle, who is still recognized by the United States as the legitimate ruler of the Central American nation.
Senate and House intelligence committees have been briefed on Reagan's decision, the Post said, quoting unidentified sources. An administration official told the newspaper that Reagan told Delvalle of the plan July 15.
The Post said it remained unclear whether the new covert action would be a major move to strip Noriega of power. The general has withstood U.S. economic sanctions and the indictments returned against him in Florida.
U.S. efforts to remove Noriega date to June 1987, when the administration withdrew long support of the strongman as civilian unrest rose in Panama. It subsequently was reported that Noriega had been on the CIA payroll for years.
The general is accused of converting Panama into a haven for international drug smugglers.