I heard the 7 o'clock news this morning and shortly afterwards President Bush phoned me to say the American troops had moved against General Noriega. I recalled that the present President, who has just been sworn in, President Endara had been elected at the beginning of May. And at the IPU in London in September I called on General Noriega to step down and let the democratically elected President take up his office. The President told me what had happened and I told him we would fully support him in the action he was taking to bring to an end this rule of terror. I believe he is right to do so. I believe this is what friends are for—to support at this time, I believe, it was a courageous decision. And I believe that the more leaders of Government who believe passionately in democracy make clear their support for actions of the United States the more swiftly that action will be brought to a conclusion. Of course, every action has a risk and it is important that it be successful.
You say courageous, Prime Minister, but why should President Bush move against a sovereign power?
Because there had been a democratic election on the 7th May, a proper President had been elected and in fact the ousted President refused to step down. You know all the terrible events there have been taking place in Panama. You know that General Noriega is wanted in the US on drugs allegations in the US. We're fighting a battle against drugs as well and the rulings of democracy should be upheld. The American troops are there in Panama and that and the democratically elected President and I think made the difference.
What, if any, support has the President asked for?
The President told me what had happened and of course at these times, particularly when we have all criticised General Noriega very heavily—and he has deserved criticism and he has run a rule of terror. People have criticised President Bush for not acting before—he has now acted and we should support him. [end p710]
What role do you think Britain has in this?
Supporting and making clear our support for someone who is trying to uphold the result of a democratic election. And to move to end a reign of terror and you know some of the American troops have had a very difficult time there. They're inside the Canal Zone trying to see that the Shipping goes through effectively. They're having a more and more difficult time.
Will you recognise the new Panamanian Government?
We recognise countries so we recognise the Government which is in charge. To us President Endara is the democratically elected President who has now been sworn in.
Have you had consultations with other Heads of Government?
When in fact you receive a message like this, you know the full background, you are required to make up your mind quickly. Yes, no action is without risk and President Bush 's decision was courageous. But we should be pleased he is upholding democracy and has taken this action. I believe what he is doing is right. Friends and believers in democracy should support him. It gives a great morale booster to those soldiers who are fighting and don't forget it is they who have to bear the brunt of backing up or upholding democracy and they deserve our support.
Prime Minister, isn't it dangerous to fight a tyranny with non-democratic means though, by military action like this?
Goodness me, you know you can always find questions, whenever you ask me, have always been on the down side. Someone has to uphold democracy. There were terrible things happening in Panama. It was a tyranny. Recently an American soldier had been shot. The democratically elected President was not allowed to take office. The country was riddled with drugs and in the streets people walked with fear. Be supportive of a President who has had the courage to start to bring that to an end. Has the democratically elected President now in office and will support him and see this operation successfully to a conclusion. People who do this deserve our gratitude and our support and so do the soldiers who have had to do this.