Noriega says U.S. planned to invade Nicaragua

Feb. 7, 1988
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NEW YORK -- Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, indicted on U.S. charges that he sold his country to drug smugglers, said Sunday in a television interview that he met with U.S. officials in 1985 to discuss plans for an invasion of Nicaragua.

A Noriega aide also interviewed on the CBS '60 Minutes' program said national security adviser John Poindexter urged Noriega at the December 1985 meeting to find a pretext to invade Nicaragua so the United States could join Panamanian forces in the assault.

'They were going to hit Nicaragua,' Noriega told '60 Minutes' through a translator during an interview in Panama City. 'They were going to invade Nicaragua, and the only reason they hadn't done it was because Panama was in the way, and that all they wanted was Panama to get out of the way and allow them to continue with their plan.'

Capt. Moises Cortizo, a Panamanian military officer and 1980 West Point graduate who Noriega said was at the Poindexter meeting, said Poindexter wanted Panamanian forces to attack Nicaragua first, followed by U.S. troops.

'They wanted Panama forces to go in with American forces, but we'd go in first,' Cortizo told '60 Minutes' through the translator. 'Then we'd get support from the American troops that would be taking part in the invasion.'

Noriega said he turned down the U.S. proposal for an invasion. Asked why the U.S. wanted to invade Nicaragua, Cortizo said, 'I don't know. That wasn't our business. That was Mr. Poindexter's problem.'

Noriega said earlier in the interview that Poindexter also threatened Panama with economic and political retaliation if it did not help train the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

'He said Panama and Mexico were acting against U.S. policy in Central America because we were speaking of peacefully solving the Nicaraguan crisis, and that was not good for the Reagan administration plans,' Noriega said.

'The only thing that would save us from being hit both politically and economically by the U.S. would be if we allowed the Contras to be trained in Panama in their fight against Nicaragua.'

National Security Council officials declined to comment on Noriega's charges, '60 Minutes' reported.

Noriega also said the indictments were part of a U.S. scheme to renege on the Panama Canal Treaty and keep the waterway rather than hand it over in the year 2,000 as mandated by the pact. He vowed he would 'show due process of law in the U.S. has been violated in this case.'

'We will show it in U.S. court and we will show it legally,' he said.

Asked if he would come to the United States to fight the charges, Noriega said only, 'We will show that this is a political scheme, period.'

Noriega, 50, was indicted Thursday by federal grand juries in Tampa and Miami. The Miami indictment charged him with taking millions in bribes from drug smugglers to turn Panama into a haven for traffickers, allowing them to use the country as a shipping point.

The Tampa indictment charges Noriega with arranging to smuggle nearly 1 million pounds of marijuana into the United States over a two-year period.

Noriega, who faces mounting opposition at home, has been the de facto ruler of Panama since 1983 as the head of the Panama Defense Forces.

He is the subject of congressional hearings into his alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

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