As the White House minimizes George Bush's flexing of new wings, aides say the vice president will continue staking out positions apart from Ronald Reagan but with a positive look toward the future, not a critical eye on the past.
"He is more interested in pointing out what he's going to do as president than he is in criticizing anything that's going on now," Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater said Thursday as more attention was drawn to the split between his candidate and the president regarding Panama's Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.Atwater said Bush was "very clear" in declaring Wednesday that he would not bargain with terrorists or drug dealers, which Reagan is accused of doing in his secret U.S. arms sales to Iran for the freedom of American hostages two years ago and in his current negotiations with alleged drug smuggler Noriega.
A Bush aide who asked to remain anonymous denied that the vice president was criticizing Reagan in the rare break from administration unity.
As the aide put it: "He's not going to be looking back and saying, `What I would have done differently,' and, `If the president would only have followed my advice,' but what he will do in the future."
The Washington Post reported Friday that, according to administration sources, Bush was actively seeking to end the bargaining with Noriega. The sources told the Post that Bush urged the withdrawal of Michael Kozak, deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, from the talks with Noriega.
For his part, Reagan minimized Bush's words and denied that the acknowledged negotiations to oust Noriega amounted to bargaining with a drug dealer.
"I can see why the vice president said what he said," the president told a group of international interviewers, "because the impression has been given ... that we are in negotiation somehow with a participant in the drug trade and all. And I think he was making himself plain that you don't negotiate with people of that kind with regard to their activity in drugs."