President Reagan has sent an emissary back to Panama for more talks aimed at the removal from power of ruler Manuel Antonio Noriega, and the administration wants the issue cleared up before the Moscow summit, an official said Monday.
"It would be desirable to clear it up while the president's on our own soil," said Michael Armacost, undersecretary of state.Reagan leaves Washington on Wednesday for a stopover in Helsinki, Finland, before arriving in Moscow on Sunday.
The president, at a ceremony in the Rose Garden dealing with world trade, was asked if there would be an agreement with Noriega before Wednesday. "We're not going by time; we're going by quality," Reagan said.
Asked whether he was prepared to drop the drug-trafficking indictments against the Panamanian general, Reagan said, "Nothing's been settled. It's still in the works."
Michael G. Kozak, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary, returned to Panama after briefing Reagan and other top officials over the weekend on negotiations for Noriega's removal. Kozak had spent virtually all of May in Panama trying to work out an agreement.
Armacost said that Kozak "wasn't going down with an ultimatum" and that it was uncertain whether the negotiations would be resolved before the summit.
"Kozak is back down there, and I don't expect that the president's going to want to spend his time in Moscow talking to Mr. (Mikhail S.) Gorbachev about Noriega," Armacost said. He said negotiations with the Panamanian leader were proceeding.
Kozak's latest trip comes amid uncertainty about the administration's strategy in dealing with Noriega.
Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, the national security adviser, said Sunday that Reagan was undecided on approval of a deal for Noriega to step down. Powell said the United States has put the plan "on the table."
The proposal calls for the United States to continue recognizing ousted President Eric Arturo Delvalle as Panama's legitimate leader rather than Noriega's handpicked choice and the current president, Manuel Solis Palma, Powell said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation."
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, interviewed on ABC-TV's "This Week With David Brinkley," also denied reports that the Reagan administration had agreed to recognize Palma as part of the deal for Noriega to step down.
"No, I don't know where you get that understanding. There's nothing to that," Shultz said.
The secretary also said the United States "has had a lot of discussions" with Noriega, "but we haven't concluded any agreement."
Powell, who attended a 21/2-hour session at the White House on Saturday with Reagan, Shultz and other senior advisers, said U.S.-Panamanian negotiations are "on hold," but the administration has proposed a deal.
"It's on the table. All the elements have not yet come together, the president has not yet made a decision," Powell said.
"The president has agreed for the deal to be put on the table, but it has not gone to closure," he said.
Powell said Reagan has not yet decided on the deal because "dropping an indictment of this nature is a very serious matter."
An administration official, who requested anonymity, said Friday that U.S. and Panamanian negotiators have tentatively agreed on a deal that calls for Noriega to leave Panama for nine months starting this August and for the United States to drop drug smuggling indictments against him.