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Officials Concerned About Delvalle’s Security

April 7, 1988

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ President Reagan’s top aides voiced concern Thursday about the safety of deposed Panamanian President Eric Arturo Delvalle and stressed that the United States recognizes him as the Central American country’s rightful leader.

White House chief of staff Howard Baker and national security adviser Colin Powell said the United States continues to maintain contact with Delvalle in the wake of the arrest warrant issued against him in Panama.

″Delvalle, as far as the government of the United States is concerned, is the lawful president of that country,″ Baker told reporters, ″and we’ll be greatly concerned if General (Manuel Antonio) Noriega were to attack the vested authority of Panama, and we will watch that very carefully.″

Baker and Powell, staying at an oceanside hotel not far from the mountaintop ranch where President Reagan is vacationing, said they were still checking out some aspects of the move by Noriega to have Delvalle arrested.

Delvalle has been in hiding since Feb. 26, when he was toppled from power following a failed attempt to fire Noriega as chief of the Panamanian Defense Forces.

Baker and Powell, who were traveling to Rancho del Cielo later Thursday to brief Reagan on Panama, Afghanistan and other issues, said they put no stock in reports that Delvalle, frustrated over Noriega’s continued grip on power, was considering giving up his quest to reassume power.

″I’ve had no indication of that,″ Baker said. And Powell said, ″No, in fact his representatives have said that is not the case. He is still very much the president of Panama. We recognize him as such. We know of no plans on his part.″

Delvalle’s wife, Mariela Delvalle, had said Wednesday that her husband received assurances from the United States of new steps to dislodge Noriega.

Asked about that Thursday, Powell replied, ″I’m not going to describe what options we may have under consideration or what our conversations have been with President Delvalle.″

Baker said ″we’re fully prepared to deal with″ contingencies, but he did not elaborate.

Asked whether he thought Delvalle was in an increasingly perilous position because of the warrant, Powell said, ″I don’t believe that is the case, but of course we are in touch with him and we are concerned about his security and we will be in touch with him, make sure he is satisfied with his security.″

Powell also said ″we have channels open″ to Noriega, but said that ″I’m not going into any detail as to what those channels are or what might be passing (through them).″

Panamanian government prosecutor Alvoro Visuetti announced on television Wednesday night that arrest warrants had been issued against Delvalle; Gabriel Lewis Galino, a former Panamanian ambassador to the United States, and Juan B. Sosa, Delvalle’s ambassador to Washington, who remains in the U.S. capital.

The warrant against Delvalle accuses the deposed president of crimes against the state and the nation’s economic security.

Powell would neither confirm nor deny Thursday a report in the Los Angeles Times saying that an interagency task force has recommended that Reagan invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to stop payments by U.S. businesses and individuals to Panama or any of its governmental agencies.

Powell, in response to questions, said he did not rule out the possibility that Reagan would invoke the seldom-used law authorizing the U.S. government to seize tax payments and other monies.

″I said we had IEEPA under consideration and we had not made a decision on that.″

The United States has slapped a variety of economic sanctions on Panama already, including the freezing of its assets in the United States and the withholding of payments to the Panama Canal Commission.

But administration officials have been showing growing impatience with the fact Noriega remains despite the economic, political and military pressure brought against him.

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