U.S. officials dismiss Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega's offer to resign by May 1989 as "little more than a ploy" and say the United States will insist that he leave Panama "the sooner the better."
The U.S. reaction came moments after Panama's chief of state, Manuel Solis Palma, told Panamanians of Noriega's offer in a nationally televised speech Monday night in that country."We stand by our previous view that Noriega should go, and the sooner the better for Panama," said Anita Stockman, a State Department spokeswoman.
Solis Palma said Noriega had given his word "as an officer and a gentleman" to step down before Panamanian elections scheduled for May 1989 if his conditions which include talks with opposition leaders are met.
William G. Walker, deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, said Noriega's offer "totally ignores the reality of the situation."
"Almost everyone in Panama wants him out tomorrow and wants him out of the country," said Walker, who was in Panama last week to discusss terms under which Noriega might step down.
A State Department statement released by Stockman said: "We believe the offer is little more than, one, a ploy to attempt to legitimize the illegal Solis Palma regime by calling for negotiations between it and opposition groups and, two, an effort on the part of Noriega to maintain direct or indirect control of the Panamanian Defense Forces."
Noriega is under indictment on federal drug charges in Florida. The United States has dried up the flow of money to Panama, which uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, in the effort to force him out, and the economy is near collapse.
"Noriega is the problem, and his preoccupation with remaining on the scene despite overwhelming domestic opposition will only ensure continued economic and political instability there," the State Department said.