President Reagan said Friday that the reduction of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Panama will not harm efforts to battle the flow of drugs into America and indicated the cutback is not permanent.
"We're concerned right now about some of our people there and I think that this is just a measure we're taking and probably temporary," Reagan said.State Department officials reported Thursday that the United States has decided to reduce its diplomatic presence in the troubled country but will keep the American military command at full strength.
The decision was taken on the advice of Ambassador Arthur Davis and could lead to the closing or severe reduction of regional operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department and the U.S. Customs Service, three officials told The Associated Press.
Reagan was queried about the personnel reduction during a photo session in the Oval Office with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner.
Asked if the reduction would hamper efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, Reagan responded, "No, I don't think we're doing anything to reduce our ability to interdict drugs."
The three officials stressed there woud be no cutbacks in the U.S. Southern Command or in the Panama Canal Commission, although other administration sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of the extra security personnel sent to Panama last spring by the Pentagon would be withdrawn gradually.
The extent of the diplomatic cutback was not immediately determined, but one of the officials said up to 160 jobs could be affected.
"We're doing it because the lessons of history have taught us that when we are in a potentially confrontational situation, it makes sense to reduce potential vulnerability," one of the officials said.