OTTAWA — Secretary of State George P. Shultz on Monday urged Panamanian strongman Manuel A. Noriega to "step back" from power to enable Panamanians to live under democratic rule.
Shultz's comments marked a sharp escalation in U.S. pressure on Noriega, commander of Panama's only military service, to relinquish his position as the power behind the government of civilian President Eric A. Delvalle.
Shultz confirmed reports that Assistant Defense Secretary Richard L. Armitage visited Panama City earlier this month to call on Noriega to relinquish power.
"That is our message and we want to be sure that they have it clearly," Shultz said.
(In Panama City, Noriega denied Monday that Armitage had asked him to resign, asserting that their talk had "nothing to do with any pressure" on him to step down.)
Shultz declined to say whether Washington also wants Delvalle's military-backed administration to step aside.
"I'll just stand by my statement and not pontificate on Mr. Delvalle," Shultz said. "Just how this (change of government) should come about and how it would affect individuals remains to be seen."
But he noted that Delvalle took office as the result of an election, albeit one that opposition parties called fraudulent.
Shultz talked to reporters during a one-day trip to Canada for meetings with External Affairs Minister Joe Clark.
Shultz said that an anti-Noriega demonstration by an estimated 1,000 Panamanians over the weekend showed "there are a lot of people in Panama who agree with the basic thought that we've expressed" that the military should end its control of the country.
The demonstration began after Noriega left Panama on Saturday for a visit to the Dominican Republic, touching off rumors that he had gone into exile. When he returned to Panama on Sunday, the general said his trip was intended to test the reaction of the United States and the domestic opposition.
Shultz said the United States realized from the start that Noriega's trip was a vacation that had nothing to do with efforts to persuade him to step down.
Shultz and Clark signed three new U.S.-Canadian agreements intended to modernize the extradition treaty between the two countries, improve cooperation against terrorism and paper over a dispute about the passage of U.S. warships through Arctic waters claimed by Canada.
The extradition agreement, which updates a pact signed in 1971, is intended to make sure that parents who kidnap children in custody disputes cannot escape across the U.S.-Canadian border. It specifies that "parental kidnaping" is an extraditable offense.
The measure also narrows the scope of the exemption for "political" crimes, requiring extradition of persons accused of terrorism or crimes of violence regardless of the claimed motivation.
In general, the agreement eliminates a list of specific extraditable crimes and provides, instead, that a prisoner may be extradited for any offense that is considered a crime punishable by at least one year in prison in both countries.
The terrorism agreement is intended to enhance already close cooperation by increasing the exchange of information about terrorists and by avoiding duplication in research and development of anti-terrorism technology like methods of detecting easy-to-hide plastic explosives.
Shultz and Clark conceded that the new Arctic agreement does not settle a longstanding dispute between the two countries over Canada's claim of sovereignty over the waters of the Arctic archipelago, including the strategically significant Northwest Passage. Instead, the two countries established rules that will permit U.S. Navy and Coast Guard icebreakers to use the waters provided they obtain Canadian permission.
Victory for Canada
Clark described the agreement as a victory for Canada because it gives Ottawa control over use of the waters. He dismissed as "hypothetical" a question about the circumstances under which Canada might withhold permission for passage by a U.S. ship.
Shultz said the two nations "agreed to disagree" on the sovereignty of the Arctic. He said the new pact provided a practical way to resolve the dispute which began in 1985 when Canada protested the passage of the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea.