404. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Visit of President Chiari


  • Ambassador Arango, Panamanian Ambassador to US

The President

Dr. Carl Kaysen—Deputy Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Mr. Edwin M. Martin—Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs

[Page 829]

Ambassador Arango delivered to the President separately a letter from President Chiari and a memorandum.2 In response to the President’s request as to whether he had any comments to make, he said his President was very pleased to be able to accept the invitation to visit the United States and would leave it to us to select the precise dates between June 12 and June 18. He also called attention to the final paragraph of the memorandum in which reference is made to the fact that President Chiari hopes that a joint communiqué can be issued in which reference is made to the subjects listed in the memorandum.

The President said that the Assistant Secretary would convey to the Ambassador our suggestions with respect to the date. He then went on at some length to indicate that he thought it extremely important to the success of this meeting, to which he was looking forward with a great deal of pleasure, that there be in advance an understanding of the purposes of the meeting. It would be most unfortunate if he and President Chiari approached the meeting with different purposes, as this would surely involve serious disagreement, and, if these differences became public, might even create bad relations between the peoples of the two countries, something he was sure everyone agreed should be avoided if possible.

President Kennedy said there were a number of things we might be able to do to meet some of the concerns President Chiari had about our relationships with regard to the Canal. On the other hand, there were other things, which required modifications in the treaty, which it would be difficult to do quickly. If it became known that this was even under discussion, there would be a lot of criticism from various US quarters which would create a very bad atmosphere for the visit. He said changes of this sort had to be discussed and fully prepared before it was possible to accomplish them. He did not want to bar discussing the things that were of interest to the Panamanians, but thought it very important to have agreement as to basic purposes so that the publics did not expect concrete results on a wider scope than those apt to be secured. He suggested that the Ambassador get together with Dr. Kaysen and the Assist-ant Secretary to prepare an agreed statement of the purposes of the visit which would be used for background briefing for the press in the two countries,3 so that undue expectations would not be aroused. He also [Page 830] indicated that he would cover this point in his reply to President Chiari’s letter.4

Ambassador Arango said he understood the President’s position fully and had made it clear to President Chiari that there were difficulties about getting concrete results immediately on some of the matters in which President Chiari was interested. He said he talked just Saturday5 with his President and told him it was a very good letter and that he was very glad he had accepted the invitation. He also said he thought the phrasing of the final paragraph of the memorandum left the way open for having these matters referred to as “under consideration” or “subject to further examination” without requiring that definitive results be achieved.

The President welcomed this and said that he hoped in the next 24 hours we could work out the background document to which he referred. He then went on to say he would like Dr. Kaysen to make a visit to Panama sometime in the next few days to discuss with Ambassador Farland and other people the situation there and get a first hand feel for the various political aspects of it and an appreciation of the physical situation in the Canal Zone. The Ambassador said he was sure he would be most welcome.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Panama, General. Confidential. Drafted by Martin and approved in the White House on July 2. The time of the meeting is from Kennedy’s Appointment Book. (Ibid.)
  2. Both dated May 17. The texts were transmitted in telegram 919 from Panama City, May 19. (Department of State, Central Files, 719.11/5-1962)
  3. Telegram 761 to Panama City, May 24, reported that Martin and Kaysen had met with Arango and prepared draft points, which described the subjects covered in Chiari’s May 17 letter and memorandum and the line the conversations might take without any commitment by either side as to what action might be taken. Telegram 762 to Panama City, May 24, transmitted the draft points. (Ibid., 719.11/5-2462)
  4. In a May 24 letter to Chiari, Kennedy wrote that he welcomed “the opportunity to explore with you the many aspects of the relations between our countries and to review our mutual concerns and problems as Presidents.” (Ibid., 719.11/5-2462)
  5. May 19.