President Bush's national security adviser, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, said Fridaythat the United States had begun consulting foreign governments to see whether any would accept Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama if he could be persuaded to give up power.
On the plane flying Bush from Washington to Texas for a speech, Scowcroft declined to tell reporters which countries he had in mind.Efforts last year by the Reagan administration to persuade the Panamanian leader to leave were in vain, and few nations have expressed interest in giving him haven.
Even so, Scowcroft's statement was seen as evidence of Bush's determination to drive Noriega from office and possibly an indication that he expected ultimately to be successful.
As the first fresh troops sent by the president to Panama arrived there, administration officials fanned out in an effort to increase the international pressures on the Panamanian leader to quit.
Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger used unusually strong language to describe Noriega, saying "the United States has made it clear, and will continue to make it clear, that as far as we're concerned, he's a gangster and ought to leave."
Eagleburger, interviewed on the NBC News program "Today," said, "We're working with our friends in the hemisphere and in Europe to try to get them to agree that they should condemn this election and this fraud."
He was referring to the election last Sunday, which international observers said opponents of Noriega won handily. The general has declared the results null.
Eagleburger said about 10 Latin American governments had spoken against Noriega. "I think it's fairly clear that there is a fairly good, strong reaction within the hemisphere against what went on in that election," he said.
State Department officials indicated that the Bush administration hoped the Organization of American States, the group that links the United States with Latin American and Caribbean countries, would take the lead in persuading Noriega to relinquish power.