UPI White House Reporter
WASHINGTON, Dec. 25, 1989 (UPI) -- President Bush, advised that organized Panamanian resistance to U.S. forces had effectively ended, spent part of Christmas Day discussing dwindling options for prosecuting Gen. Manuel Noriega, who sought political asylum at Panama's Papal Nuncio.
Bush interrupted Christmas festivities with his family at Camp David to huddle with national security adviser Brent Scowcroft for a briefing on the military situation in Panama and the obstacles the United States faces in prosecuting Noriega on drug charges, White House spokesman Sean Walsh said.
Bush and Scowcroft also discussed developments in Romania, where the government of hardline Communist President Nicolae Ceausescu has been toppled.
Noriega, on the run in Panama since the United States sent troops there last Wednesday, surrendered to the Vatican embassy in Panama City Sunday, seeking political asylum.
Spanish Foreign Minister Francisco Fernandez Ordonez confirmed Noriega had asked for asylum in Spain, but said Spain would have ''to await further developments.'' Ironically, two years ago, the Reagan administration worked frantically to encourage Noriega to go into exile in Spain.
A Vatican spokesman said Monday Noriega will not be turned over to the U.S. because there is no extradition treaty covering the case. Such a move also would be contrary to the church's centuries-old practice of providing sanctuary.
Bush's so-called ''deputies committee,'' formed as a crisis-management team after the White House decided not to assist in an October coup attempt against Noriega, met Sunday night to explore ways to get around the extradition obstacle.
State Department legal experts also pored over their books to explore U.S. options. Douglas Rose, an official of the department's Panama Task Force, said, ''We're not in a position to say anything yet.''
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lundquist, Pentagon spokesman, told United Press International that ''organized resistance has effectively ended.''
He said the thousands of U.S. forces in Panama will concentrate now on assisting the new government to restore public communications and ''to bolster the police force'' to prevent further fighting and looting.
Lundquist said Noriega's decision to surrender ''was a significant turn of events'' which basically caused remaining pockets of supporters to lose their cause.
The Pentagon, meantime, revised its American casualty figures to 23 killed in action; 303 wounded and two civilian dependents killed with none missing.
He also said 290 members of the Panamanian Defense Forces were killed, up considerably from the previously announced 166. There were 121 Panamanian soldiers wounded and 3,780 captured, Lundquist said.
Meantime, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney visited the troops in Panama and shared Christmas dinner with them. He also delivered a personal message from Bush to the servicemen, saying there is ''no greater love'' than a man who would give his life for a friend, and that they were fighting for the ''just cause of freedom and democracy.''
In terms of troop morale, Lundquist said ''Operation Just Cause'' might have been called ''Operation Just Because.''
''Those who gave their lives,'' he said, ''believe restoring democracy was a just cause.''
Bush attended Christmas Eve church services at Camp David and exchanged gifts with his family Monday morning before his noon briefing with Scowcroft.
The president plans to fly to Texas Wednesday for several days of quail hunting and a visit to San Antonio military hospitals, where servicemen injured in Panama are being treated.