400. Memorandum From the President’s Press Secretary (Salinger) to President Kennedy 1

SUBJECT

  • United States-Panama Negotiations

Fabian Velarde, Press Secretary to President Chiari of Panama, came to see me today and said he had been directed to communicate with you, through me, rather than through normal diplomatic channels.

In November he said you sent a letter to President Chiari in which you said that you would look into the Panama Canal problem personally and as soon as the needs of the United States with regard to the Panama Canal had been determined you would respond promptly “in a few months.”

Mr. Velarde said there had been soundings on the possibility of inviting President Chiari to the United States at which time there might be a chance to start discussions as well as a joint statement on a treaty.

Meanwhile, Velarde said there is a continuing discussion of a sea level canal and arguments as to whether to do it or/and when to do it. Such a canal, of course, would have serious economic consequences for Panama; that continuing discussion on this sea level canal is delaying the start of the negotiations.

Velarde said we should understand that next May schools and universities will open in Panama; he said there are key student groups that are controlled by the extreme left and any further delay would give them an opportunity to stir up problems for the present state of harmonious friendship between the United States and Panama. He said when the Foreign Minister of Panama saw Secretary Rusk in Punta del Este, the Secretary indicated the answer would be forthcoming in March. Velarde said there is impatience to get an answer and that much further delay would cause problems. Mr. Velarde said it is the feeling of the President that an answer must come before May.

Mr. Velarde said that the President should understand that he would be most welcome in Panama and throughout Latin America; it [Page 822] would be a source of great satisfaction if you could go to Panama and personally open negotiations. Mr. Velarde plans to remain in Washington for the next 24 hours and then go to New York for a few days. I assured him we would give him some kind of answer as soon as possible.

Pierre Salinger
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.19/3-1562. Secret. Filed with a March 15 covering memorandum from Charles E. Johnson of the NSC staff to Carol Moor of the Department of State Executive Secretariat, which states that it was to be treated as an unnumbered NSAM, so that the White House would be informed of actions relating to it. A March 12 memorandum from Kennedy’s personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, to Ball, also attached to the source text, states that the President had asked her to send it to Ball and that he would like an up-to-date report on “these negotiations.” A handwritten note indicates that Ball had talked to Special Assistant to the President Ralph Dungan, who would inform the President that the canal study was underway.