The General Assembly on Friday denounced the U.S. invasion of Panama by a vote of 75 to 20, with 40 abstentions, in what was seen nonetheless as a surprisingly strong measure of support for Washington.
The resolution, sponsored by Cuba and Nicaragua, also called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama. With the official backing of the nonaligned nations, the measure would normally have carried at least 100 votes, but the number in favor was less than half the world organization's total membership of 159.
Although General Assembly resolutions carry no legal force, there was strong evidence of pressure by Washington to muster its allies. Of NATO's 16 members, only Spain voted for the resolution, while Greece and Iceland abstained.
Britain and France joined the United States in a triple veto last Saturday of a similar resolution brought before the U.N. Security Council. It won the support of all other members of the 15-nation body except Finland.
Eduardo Vallarino, the new ambassador of Panamanian President Guillermo Endara, told reporters that he was pleased with the vote. He was granted credentials to enter the General Assembly by the United Nations, although under an agreement between the United States and the sponsors of the resolution, a member of the previously accredited Panamanian delegation, who had switched to support Endara, spoke for Panama after the vote.
By the same accord, former supporters of ousted Gen. Manuel A. Noriega who refused to recant were barred from the floor. Vallarino conceded that the new government gained votes since Noriega took refuge in the papal mission in Panama City on Christmas Eve, thus ending his resistance.
"We are now the only government in town," he said.
Vallarino said that he expects to present his credentials to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who was absent Friday, next week.
In addition to the unusually solid vote of the NATO allies and Japan, the resolution drew a higher number of abstentions than expected, particularly from the former British Caribbean states and Arab nations.
But every Latin American nation backed the condemnatory resolution with the exception of El Salvador, the lone negative vote, and Honduras, which abstained. Speakers explained that their countries' action was based on their historic opposition to foreign intervention, but some joined Costa Rica in condemning the resolution's sponsors for failing to criticize Noriega's dictatorship.
Those who expected to see a break from the past by newly non-Communist Eastern European states were disappointed as all but Poland followed the lead of Soviet Ambassador Alexander M. Belonogov, who termed the Western veto of Security Council action "regrettable."
U.S. Deputy Ambassador M. James Wilkinson, speaking in the absence of Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, also chided the General Assembly for refusing to support democracy in Panama "against the backdrop of a breathtaking and pervasive transition to true democracy all around the world."
He added: "The role of the United States is not to enforce the will of history by intervening in favor of democracy where we are not welcomed by the people. We champion democracy, but are not its gendarme."
Wilkinson justified U.S. intervention on the basis of the Panama Canal treaties, but he pledged that U.S. forces "will withdraw as rapidly as Panamanian forces can restore security. We are confident this will take place in a short time."