Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs (Wise)

Participants: Ambassador Frank T. Hines, U.S. Embassy, Panamá.
CPA—Robert Newbegin
CPA—M. M. Wise

Upon the receipt this morning of the Department’s telegram 515 of October 3, Ambassador Hines telephoned to state that the instruction was very “upsetting”. He stated that in the light of his conversations in Washington and subsequent exchanges of communications he failed to understand the Department’s action in not giving him more freedom of procedure in the negotiation of the defense sites matter. He said that the Department would have to have confidence in his ability to handle this very delicate situation if progress is to be expected.

With respect to the presentation of our interpretation of the termination clause of the 1942 Defense Sites Agreement, Ambassador Hines said that to take action at this time in the sense of the Department’s telegram 515 would undoubtedly result in a change of administration. He said the problem really boiled down to whether we wanted to present the note or negotiate a new defense sites agreement. He said that if the Department insisted on delivery of the note he would not wish to be held responsible for the repercussions which could seriously jeopardize our efforts to reach an agreement for the continued use of defense sites in Panama. He felt the State Department might be allowing itself to be influenced too much by opinions from the War Department on the defense sites question.

The Ambassador was informed that instructions under reference were purely departmental decisions, not instigated by any pressure whatsoever from the War Department. He was told that the Department had in mind setting the record straight and in getting on with the negotiation of the new agreement. The Ambassador was asked if Dr. Alfaro would not be in a position to receive and understand the confidential delivery of a note, giving our interpretation of the 1942 accord, particularly in view of all that had gone before, if he were told that it was necessary to clarify the record. The Ambassador said that the Panamanian authorities would not be in a position to understand the note at this stage of the negotiations. The Ambassador stated that if it were left at his discretion he would get this Government’s interpretation [Page 1121]to the Foreign Minister at a propitious time and in appropriate language.

The Ambassador said that the Panamanian authorities had now met with the Army and had been given detailed technical explanations as regards the needs for a new defense sites agreement. He pointed out that in a recent conference the Panamanian authorities had indicated general approval of the principle that radar coverage is essential to the defense of the Panama Canal and, accordingly, recognized the necessity for this Government’s operating some 18 air warning stations in the Republic.

With respect to an interim agreement, the Ambassador expressed failure to understand the Department’s view that its negotiation would be an inefficient and unnecessary step in progress toward final agreement. He said the Panamanians needed some interim action for public consumption prior to the conclusion of the new defense sites agreement. He felt that in proposing the interim agreement he was acting within his instructions. The Ambassador said that in view of the Department’s instructions that it was desirable to proceed now “on a partnership basis” (telegram 490 of September 18) he had presented the draft proposed interim agreement to the Foreign Minister and the President and was now awaiting a memorandum of reply which had been promised him. He implied that it would be most embarrassing now for all parties concerned to disapprove an interim arrangement.

To summarize, the Ambassador felt that the presentation of our interpretation of the termination clause of the 1942 Agreement at this time would be unwise and that we should certainly proceed with the negotiation of the interim agreement. The Ambassador was told that this matter would be brought immediately to Mr. Braden’s attention and that until the Embassy heard further from the Department the Ambassador was authorized to delay delivery of the proposed “interpretation” note. In the meantime, the Ambassador was to receive the Panamanian reaction to the proposed interim agreement and report to the Department.

In concluding the conversation, reference was made to the Ambassador’s and General Crittenberger’s recently submitted suggestions that the return of the Talara base at Peru29 be delayed. The Ambassador was informed that a definite commitment had already been made to the Peruvian authorities and that it appeared too late to change the plans. It was explained that due to recent incidents at Talara, delay in turning over the base could produce serious repercussions in Peru.

  1. For documentation, see pp. 1206 ff.