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U.S. STAYS UPBEAT, BUT VATICAN TIRES OF ROCK AROUND CLOCK

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A White House spokesman, minimizing a controversy over loud rock 'n' roll and the fate of Manuel Noriega, said Friday that talks to extract the ousted dictator from the Vatican Embassy "continue in a positive vein."

With the stalemate over the ousted dictator entering its sixth day, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said, "The Vatican is doing a fine job. We appreciate their efforts. We will continue to work with them."The Vatican complained about the apparent attempt by U.S. troops to rattle Noriega by playing rock 'n' roll music through loudspeakers arrayed around the embassy compound. The Vatican called the Americans "occupation forces."

A statement by the Vatican's spokesman in Rome said, "An occupying power cannot interfere with the work of a diplomatic mission or demand that a person who is seeking asylum there be handed over to it."

In recent days, U.S. forces have played an ear-shattering medley of songs such as "No Where to Run" and "Born in the U.S.A." near the embassy grounds.

The stated U.S. reason for the music is to prevent electronic eavesdropping.

A Vatican spokesman said, "If this interference, these little incidents, were to continue, it would be a rather serious question."

Fitzwater, accompanying President Bush on a Texas holiday, declined to comment on when the music might stop.

Bush wrapped up a three-day hunting trip Friday and traveled to Houston in the evening for dinner at the Bayou Club with his wife and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Fitzwater said the dinner conversation was expected to focus on Panama.

Fitzwater said Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and longtime hunting companion Will Farish killed a total of 20 quail on the hunting trip on a private ranch outside Beeville, Texas.

Bush arranged to spend part of Saturday golfing with Scowcroft. The president also planned a trip New Year's Eve day to San Antonio to visit Americans wounded in the Panama invasion. Administration officials said Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, extending a tradition begun by President Ronald Reagan, will exchange pre-taped New Year's Day greetings Monday.

Fitzwater denied any rift was developing between the administration and the Roman Catholic Church.

"They have been very cooperative," he said. "It is a difficult situation. Our discussions with Vatican officials continue in a positive vein. We appreciate the papal nuncio's efforts to resolve the current situation."