WASHINGTON — Vice President George Bush charged today that Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel A. Noriega has maintained his hold on the Central American nation because Libya's Col. Moammar Kadafi has sent him millions of dollars in financial support.
Bush, in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, refused to disclose who told him of the aid, except to say his information was based on "several reliable sources."
In a speech that focused on foreign policy, Bush cited the Administration's efforts to "protect civilian rule in Panama against Noriega."
"Noriega should go and Noriega will go," Bush told his audience.
'One Reason Why'
"So far he has stood up to the considerable economic pressures we have applied, and I can tell you one reason why," Bush said. "Several reliable sources indicate that he is receiving millions of dollars in support from Libya."
Without elaboration, he appeared to lend some credibility to recent statements by a Panamanian military defector that he picked up three arms shipments from Cuba and once waited for a $50-million payment from Libya--which never materialized.
In an odd twist, Bush's comments came the same day that Libyan leader Kadafi said in a television interview that he favors Bush's election because the vice president "has suffered the irrationality of Reagan."
Asked by reporters about Kadafi's endorsement, Bush replied: "I'm going to ask him to reconsider."
The vice president also reiterated his claim that he did not know about Noriega's alleged involvement in drug trafficking until the Panamanian leader was indicted in this country.
1986 Drug Campaign
A questioner noted that Bush had led an Administration anti-drug effort when the U.S. ambassador to Panama urged the State Department to repudiate Noriega for drug activities back in 1986.
"I did not know about Noriega's personal involvement until this legal proceeding came to fruition," Bush said.
With the Republican presidential nomination in his grasp, Bush has been attacked by the three Democratic presidential aspirants--Michael S. Dukakis, Jesse Jackson and Albert Gore Jr.--for being tied to an Administration that allegedly tolerated Noriega's drug involvement.
Bush's remarks about Noriega came as the Panamanian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest to the United Nations today alleging U.S. violations of Panama's sovereignty during a fire fight involving U.S. Marines this week.
The protest said U.S. troops closed a major Panamanian highway just outside the capital for three hours Tuesday night after fighting broke out between "soldiers of the United States and an unknown group."