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Reagan Speaks Up on Noriega, Fitzwater Says

United Press International

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater today denounced as “nonsense” a report that President Reagan has remained mute at Cabinet meetings while top aides argued the fate of Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Fitzwater also said he suspected that Vice President George Bush’s silence at Cabinet meetings would be a model for future vice presidents.

The White House spokesman made the comments in response to questions about a Wall Street Journal report that senior officials have complained that Reagan “has consistently remained passive and mute at numerous Cabinet meetings while Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued over Panama policy.

“That’s nonsense,” Fitzwater said. “The President presides, directs and makes decisions.”

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Fitzwater said the President permits debate at Cabinet meetings. “‘The State Department is out of line,” he added, signaling the suspected source of the newspaper report.

Fitzwater commended Bush for indicating that he remained mute at Cabinet meetings to avoid having his comments in “kiss-and-tell” books and to reserve his opinions for the ears of the President alone.

“He has defined an appropriate role for a vice president,” Fitzwater said. “He has defined a position of confidential adviser to the President, and I suspect future vice presidents will want to follow that mold.”


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