WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 1989 (UPI) -- President Bush said Monday the Panamanian situation is ''a tremendous concern'' but refused to say what actions the government might take in response to the weekend killing of an American soldier or to remove Manuel Noriega from power.
''We don't discuss what plans we have,'' Bush said. ''We don't feel inclined to. All presidents have options but they don't discuss what they might be.''
Bush, in an Oval Office interview with wire service reporters, said Noriega, who maintains a state of war exists between Panama and the United States, ''has totally put down by force'' efforts to establish democracy in his country.
While describing his first year in office as ''a pretty good year,'' Bush said his frustration over Panama was ''enormous.''
''It's been an enormous frustration to me,'' he said, ''a matter of tremendous concern to the president.''
On Saturday a U. S. serviceman was shot by Panamanian soldiers. The shooting followed by one day Panama's declaration of a ''state of war'' against the United States for what it claimed is U.S. aggression and the National Assembly's formalizing of Noriega's power by naming him head of government.
On other major foreign policy issues, Bush:
--Was adamant in saying he planned to attend February's Andean drug summit meeting in Colombia, saying that ''I don't want to send a timorous signal'' to the drug cartels, and that he would go ''to be supportive of (Colombian) President (Virgilio) Barco.''
--Said he would not make ''any naive, unilateral'' cuts in the military budget -- expected to be about $292 billion in fiscal 1991 -- until arms control agreements are in place. ''If people are looking for us to make massive cuts now, I say 'look, help us get the kind of agreements' (needed for superpower security).''
--Brushed aside critics of his secret dispatch of top level emissaries to China as ''not playing with a full deck,'' and defended the renewed opening to China on grounds he does not want to ''isolate'' 1 billion people in China.
--Expressed ''enormous frustration'' over the continued holding of nine U.S. hostages in Lebanon and said he regrets he has been ''unable to facilitate their release.''
In a retrospective mood about his first year in office and dwelling almost exclusively on foreign policy issues, Bush appeared satisfied with the results, saying, ''I'm more confident, but not arrogant.''
The hoarse-sounding president rejected the perennial presidential complaint that the office is the ''loneliest job in the world.''
He said a president has to ''get all the information'' he can and ''then make a decision. I don't want to be in a position that this is the loneliest job in the world,'' he said.
On the changes overtaking Eastern Europe and the thaw in superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, Bush made it clear he would continue to act with prudence.
''We are having a massive re-evaluation of intention as well as threat,'' he said. His first priority, he added, was to go forward with a strategic long-range arms control agreement, but noted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ''still has an enormous arsenal.''
He said the Malta summit meeting with Gorbachev ''was extremely helpful in a lot of ways'' and ''we're determined to move forward'' on reducing conventional arms in Europe, as well as a strategic pact.
Bush also declined to say whether his emissaries to China, including national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger extracted any concessions on human rights or other issues from Chinese officials.
''Stay tuned,'' he said.
In stressing his commitment to attending the Feb. 15 drug summit, Bush brushed aside rumors reported over the weekend that Colombian drug dealers had put out a $30 million contract on his life. ''There's nothing to it,'' he said.
At the same time, however, he told reporters to take the message to the American people that ''we will not take unnecessary risks.''
Bush also said there had been no response to the peace overtures he had made to Iran during his inaugural address.
''I don't think we're missing anything,'' he said. ''I haven't seen anything that is particularly hopeful.''
Overall, Bush said, ''We see democracy on the move in 1990 and I want to be sure we play an active role in this unprecedented change.''
Domestically, he noted some disappointments, including the failure to get a Clean Air Act. But he described the legislation to bail out failed savings and loans as ''a major accomplishment,'' adding, ''I continue to worry about S&Ls.''
''So it's been a year of new beginning for us,'' he said. ''I think we're on the brink of tremendous opportunity.