Well, on Wednesday, December 20th, I ordered U.S. troops to Panama with four objectives: to safeguard the lives of American citizens, to help restore democracy, to protect the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties, and to bring General Manuel Noriega to justice. All of these objectives have now been achieved.
At about 8:50 p.m. this evening, General Noriega turned himself in to U.S. authorities in Panama with the full knowledge of the Panamanian Government. He was taken to Howard Air Force Base in Panama, where he was arrested by DEA. A U.S. Air Force C - 130 is now transporting General Noriega to Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. He will be arraigned in the U.S. District Court in Miami on charges stemming from his previous indictment for drug trafficking.
I want to thank the Vatican and the Papal Nuncio in Panama for their evenhanded, statesmanlike assistance in recent days. The United States is committed to providing General Noriega a fair trial. Nevertheless, his apprehension and return to the United States should send a clear signal that the United States is serious in its determination that those charged with promoting the distribution of drugs cannot escape the scrutiny of justice.
The return of General Noriega marks a significant milestone in Operation Just Cause. The U.S. used its resources in a manner consistent with political, diplomatic, and moral principles.
The first U.S. combat troops have already been withdrawn from Panama; others will follow as quickly as the local situation will permit. We are now engaged in the final stages of a process that includes the economic and political revitalization of this important friend and neighbor, Panama.
An economic team under the direction of Deputy Secretary of State Eagleburger and Deputy Secretary of Treasury Robson is just returning from Panama. A team of experts has remained on hand there to assess the full range of needs. We will continue to extend to the Panamanian people our support and assistance in the days ahead.
Panamanians, Americans -- both have sacrificed much to restore democracy to Panama. The Armed Forces of the United States have performed their mission courageously and effectively, and I again want to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of them. And I want to express the special thanks of our nation to those servicemen who were wounded and to the families of those who gave their lives. Their sacrifice has been a noble cause and will never be forgotten. A free and prosperous Panama will be an enduring tribute.
Thank you all very, very much.
Note: The President spoke at 9:40 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.