711F.1914/9–1346: telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Panama (Hines)

us urgent

490. Your discussions in Washington on defense sites, also Blocker’s in Panama as reported particularly in Embs despatches nos. 2345,2355 and 2373 of Sept 10, 11 and 13.20 Dept is fully cognizant and sympathetically appreciative of “political difficulties” of President and ForMin, specifically of latter, but is impelled to point out that these apparently stem from ForMin’s “unilateral interpretation” of termination clause of 1942 Agreement, interpretation made by him without consultation with us and until Aug 31 without official communication to this Govt.

While Dept is by no means unmindful of present political complications facing Jiménez Administration we are desirous and thoroughly convinced of necessity for moving forward immediately toward peacetime arrangement for strategic defense of Canal whose adequate protection in turn assures the defense of Panama and neighboring republics. Our position may be summarized as follows:

This Govt cannot accept ForMin’s thesis that present occupation of some 30 unreturned defense sites is “illegal”. Phraseology of Article I reading that use of areas terminates “1 year after the date on which the definitive treaty of peace which brings about the end of the present war shall have entered into effect” could not be clearer. As no definitive treaty of peace has been signed, our continued occupation of areas in Panama cannot be conceived as “illegal”. If Panamanian insistence on ForMin’s thesis continues to embarrass this Govt we may have no alternative but to make our position public and to make clear that termination clause means exactly what it says. In this connection Dept is forwarding draft reply to ForMin’s note of Aug 31. Proposed note will inform Panamanian Govt our interpretation termination clause.
This Govt is desirous, so soon as details can be arranged, of terminating 1942 Agreement and replacing it by new agreement based on provisions of General Treaty of 1936.
In new agreement this Govt is fully desirous of meeting Panamanian position regarding national pride and sovereignty. In confidence at appropriate time with cooperation Gen Crittenberger this [Page 1115]Govt will make available Panamanian authorities certain technical data (Embstels 554 and 574, Sept 1 and 7;21 despatch 2373 Sept 1322) justifying revision program defense Canal, particularly maintaining defense areas outside Canal Zone. Furthermore we are willing to consider advisability making in due course joint public statement emphasizing defense plan is in interest not only of Canal but also of Republic of Panama as well as Western Hemisphere. (We are confident President and ForMin will readily appreciate unwisdom in present state of world tension and negotiations for solution world problems of our making public statement specifically basing negotiations on “present state of international insecurity”. Furthermore we wish to reiterate in this connection new agreement will be on basis General Treaty and not 1942 Defense Sites Agreement.)
In addition this Govt further desirous of meeting Panamanian views is willing to have new agreement for sites on lease basis of minimum duration compatible with actual military requirements. We would for instance consider 20-year leases with option to renew rather than 50 to 99-year leases originally suggested by War Dept. We would consider plan for flying flags of both nations on defense areas outside Zone, and are likewise prepared to explore with War Dept possibility establishment of joint commission under aegis of which sites would be operated, Panamanian members thereof having access to sites at all times. Finally, Panamanian liaison officers representing Panamanian section commission might be detailed to larger areas such as Rio Hato so that local questions which might arise could be ironed out directly with US officer in command of area involved.

In summary, short of sacrificing our interpretation termination clause 1942 Agreement and of agreeing to “symbolic return” which would be inconsistent with our position, this Govt is willing to consider every feasible way of cooperating with Panama in order to meet question of local susceptibility and to put new arrangement on genuinely “partnership basis”. Please discuss foregoing with Gen Crittenberger and subsequently on oral basis with Pres Jiménez and/or ForMin.

War Dept, Washington, is being kept informed.

  1. Telegrams 2355 and 2373 not printed.
  2. Telegram 574 not printed.
  3. Not printed.