WASHINGTON -- President Reagan, who strongly opposed the Panama Canal treaty, told Panamanian President Ricardo de la Espriella today he is 'looking forward to a warm working relationship' between their two countries.
Reagan met with the Central American leader for a half hour during which there was no mention of Reagan's strong opposition as a presidential candidate to the 1977 treaty ceding control of the canal to Panama.
Instead, a senior American official said the canal was operating at record efficiency and called it 'a success story.'
The official said it was a 'forward looking' meeting and while Reagan had no apologies for having opposed the turnover of the canal, 'We played the cards where they lay.'
The official noted Reagan has pledged himself to implement the treaties with Panama as 'the law of the land.'
He said the two leaders also discussed the 'destructive role' of Cuba and Nicaragua in the Caribbean region and the Panamanian leader stressed he supports the building of democracies in Central America.
The official said Panama had 'three good years -- the most successful in history in running the canal with revenues and tonnage at an all time high.'
Espriella, 48, studied at Lousiana State University and Stanford University. He has been general manager of the National Bank of Panama and traveled with the late President Omar Torrijos when Torrijos was garnering support for the Panama Canal treaties.
During the 1976 presidential campaign, Reagan insisted that the United States had built, bought and paid for the Panama Canal and should keep it.
In 1977, former President Carter and Torrijos signed two treaties dealing with the canal; the first governing its operation and defense through Dec. 31, 1999 and the second guaranteeing the permanent neutrality of the canal.
Since the canal treaties went into effect on Oct. 1, 1979, the State Department reports the canal has set new records in tonnage, ship transits and toll revenues. It also notes the Panamian Government's financial situation improved in 1980.
Panama and the United States, meanwhile, agreed Thursday to establish a commission to study the possibility of constructing a new Panama Canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at sea level.
Panamanian Foreign Minister Juan Jose Amado signed an accord with U.S. officials at the State Department for a study that will cover all alternatives for meeting the increasing demand for transit facilities.
Reagan also has another special event on his calender today -- a luncheon he hosts in honor of Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger and the other members of court. Among them will be Justice Sandra O'Connor, a Reagan appointee and the first woman to serve on the high court.
The president also is expected to keep an eye on Congress today as it prepares to vote on the balanced budget amendment before adjourning. Observers expected the vote to be close in the House.
Reagan made a special trip to Capitol Hill Thursday to applaud the signers of the petition to force the amendment out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Congress also will be acting on a continuing resolution to keep the government operating, and the White House has signaled that it has no problem with the legislation and Reagan will be prepared to sign it.