US participation in any peace-keeping mission that follows an armistice in Bosnia "has to happen," he told NBC television. "I don't think we can turn our backs on that."
Mr Clinton has pledged to contribute about half the ground troops, up to 25,000 Americans, to a Nato force once the warring factions in Bosnia sign a peace treaty.
With a US-brokered cease-fire set to begin at midnight, members of Congress are questioning the wisdom of Mr Clinton's promise and demanding that he obtain their approval before committing any troops.
Three Republican presidential hopefuls, Senators Bob Dole and Phil Gramm and the commentator Pat Buchanan, have been outspoken critics, with Mr Dole saying the President has failed to make his case to the American public for sending troops.
Mr Panetta said Mr Clinton would welcome Congress taking up the matter, but the President "believes that, like all other presidents, he is not about to give up on his prerogatives as commander-in-chief."Reuse content