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

Ambassador Davis telephoned long distance from Panama with respect to his telegram No. 22 of January 12 which unfortunately had not yet been received in the Department (investigation brought out the fact that the transmission had been garbled). The message concerns a proposed press statement to be given out by the Embassy in connection with recent statements made in the National Assembly of Panama and by President Diaz at a press conference on the possibility of defense sites negotiations between the United States and Panama.1

The Ambassador expressed the view that these Panamanian statements represent an encouraging development and provide an indication that results are being obtained from the Embassy’s program of the past several months. He stated that the recent statements could be taken as an indication of the Government’s viewpoint on defense sites negotiations, as well as evidence that certain other political groups in Panama consider public opinion toward negotiations to have changed during the past year. The Ambassador explained that this favorable view is not unanimous by any means and cautioned against over-optimism on our part, emphasizing that some of the opposition has yet to make its position known. He said that this opposition could be expected to hit back but that it is not yet possible to predict the exact reaction. The Ambassador went on to say that he does feel that we can take satisfaction in that through the recent statements in the [Page 702] Assembly at least two of the important segments of Panamanian political organization have put themselves on record as favoring a conciliatory and forward looking position with respect to future negotiations.

The Ambassador said that it was with this background that his telegram No. had been sent. He stressed the desirability of urgent consideration of his proposed statement in the Department and asked that we make every effort to give him an answer today. He stressed the fact there have now been pronouncements by both the Diaz administration and by leading members of the National Assembly and that the moment is timely for a statement by the Embassy. He stressed the fact that the press is extremely anxious to have a release from him today and that immediate action would mean that the United States position would receive the fullest possible publicity. The Ambassador was assured that his views would be brought urgently to the attention of appropriate officers of the Department and that the delay in the receipt of his telegram would be investigated.

The Ambassador then mentioned statements recently attributed to the Department from the Under Secretary’s press conference2 and other sources. He expressed the opinion that it is unfortunate to have the impression prevalent that this Government is insisting that Panama make an offer to enter into negotiations. He declared that this interpretation of our position has been taken up and exploited by our critics; and he considers it unfortunate to give the impression that it is our position because (1) it appears petty and (2) the implication that we have a plan ready for presentation to Panama immediately on indication of Panamanian receptiveness to negotiations is not borne out by the facts. Ambassador Davis asserted that the Embassy’s position as expressed publicly in Panama to the effect that matters concerning defense sites negotiations have been held in abeyance since last February has proved sound. He explained that this position, which was agreed on during his consultation in the Department, has been adhered to in all public statements made by the Embassy since his arrival there last May and that it has been of real assistance to Panamanian leaders of moderate tendencies who wish to be helpful in improving relations between the two countries.

[Page 703]

The Ambassador in conclusion once again stressed the desirability of an early release by the Embassy and requested that his proposed statement be given immediate attention in the Department.3

  1. In telegram 22, Ambassador Davis had reported in part that President Domingo Diaz Arosemena had stated, at a press conference on January 12, that his government might consider reopening base negotiations after his administration had reached a decision on the proposed civil aviation agreement. The Ambassador had asked permission to issue a statement emphasizing that he had no instructions to open base negotiations and that the U.S. was not awaiting a Panamanian initiative in the matter. (711F.1914/1–1249)

    For documentation on the civil aviation agreement, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, pp. 698699.

  2. Telegram 644 from Washington, October 20, 1948, reported Acting Secretary Lovett to have said at a press conference the same day that there had been no change in the situation regarding U.S. defense sites in Panama since U.S. evacuation of the last bases outside the Canal Zone the preceding February (711F.1914/10–2048).

    For the exchange of notes between the United States and Panama, February 16 and 20, 1948, which terminated U.S. occupation rights to the sites, see Department of State Bulletin, March 7, 1948, p. 317. For documentation on defense site negotiations with Panama during 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, pp. 664 ff.

  3. Telegram 29 from Washington, January 19, 1949, informed the Ambassador that the Department believed a press statement would prolong the defense sites controversy and possibly harm the civil aviation negotiations (711F.1914/1–1849). However, telegram 46 from Washington, February 4, 1949, reported that in response to an allegation in Drew Pearson’s newspaper column that secret defense site negotiations were under way between the two countries, a departmental spokesman had stated that this was not the case and that the exchange of notes of the preceding February (see footnote 2 above) still held good (711F.1914/2–449).