378. Telephone Conversation Among President Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann), and Ralph Dungan of the National Security Council Staff1

[Omitted here is the opening portion of the conversation which was not recorded. According to Mann’s record of the conversation, which covers the opening portion of the discussion, Martin reported that the OAS Peace Committee informed him that Chiari had agreed to three things: (1) “The Panamanians will not withdraw their personnel from Washington and we will not need to withdraw our personnel from Panama”; (2) “All conversations between us and the Panamanians will be conducted through the Committee and the Committee wants it this way. Mr. Mann said he thought this was a good idea”; and (3) “According to Velarde (press secretary) Panamanians are now agreeable to settling the bus strike on reasonable terms. Mr. Mann said this was very important.” (Johnson Library, Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 4, 1964–April 30, 1965)Martin’s report of the Peace Commission’s 5:30 p.m. meeting, January 13, 1964, is in USCINCSO telegram SC1188A, January 14. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Panama, Riots, Vol. II, Part A, January–February)]

Mann: Solis said—that’s the Foreign Minister—he has told the Committee that they are now willing to agree that if they have bilateral talks with us—new relations—and if we fail to reach an agreement, Panama will recognize the old treaty—the 1903 treaty and the two amendments still stand. In other words, this means they’re not revoking the treaty, and that is, I think, very important. According to the Foreign Minister, they estimate the talks will take 2 to 3 years before they’re concluded. That will give us plenty of time, and it will take [Page 802] plenty of time to go into all these things in depth. Takes the heat off immediately, and this is also important.2

Now, the Panamanians, according to the Committee, always— they’ve been shifting so fast you can’t be sure—are now willing to resume relations and begin talks on the whole range of problems between the U.S. and Panama, which would include treaties, and undoubtedly would include their demands for treaty revision. They would agree at the same time to continue law and order in the Zone and avoid violence, which is the main point. There would be no agenda to these talks and no pre-commitments on our part. We would not commit ourselves to anything; just begin to talk—negotiate. The question that the Committee asked Ed Martin is, how soon would he be prepared to begin talking. The Panamanians have said it may take them a couple or three months to get ready. We should answer that we would be ready in a month and sooner, if necessary. Just to keep the record straight on this.

Dungan: After O’Meara has satisfied himself that order has been restored—would be a couple of days.

Mann: Now, the Panamanians were, I think, unreasonably, but nevertheless—I am sure this is an important political factor—disturbed about our references to the soldiers. They don’t know yet about Vance meeting with the press, on the record, which is still going on—or was a couple of minutes ago—and they don’t know about the Secretary’s television conference. I thought I would call Ed about those so he can get word to the Committee beforehand and prepare them on these in case there’s something in there, and if we get this—if we can get this, Mr. President, I think we’ve achieved substantially everything that you asked us to. I think it’s a good deal for us.

President: What do we get out of it besides a lot of talking with them and their raisin’ hell about revisin’ the treaties?

Mann: Well, the first thing you do is—that situation down there is so explosive that we avoid large-scale, major large-scale casualties— prevent it. Give us time to get tempers time to cool down there and sit down and look at the thing, and there may well be things that we can readily agree to, and try to find a basis for agreement between us and [Page 803] the Panamanians. That preserves all our vital interests and, I think this is something we should [unintelligible].

Dungan: You’re not, Mr. President, if you move back exactly to the position that the United States was in prior to the time of this outbreak—and you have gained, it seems to me, for what it’s worth, the approbation of all of Latin America. Position, I think, is much stronger in Latin America because we have stood up strongly, you haven’t been oppressive, and you haven’t lost a bloody thing. You’re no different on the treaty revision part than you were before the outbreak began.

Mann: We’re not conceding anything yet except that we’re ready to talk. That’s all we’re—

President: You don’t think there will be an interpretation placed on setting these conferences that we’re implying that we’re goin’ into ‘em with good faith to revise the treaty?

Mann: Well.

Dungan: As a matter of fact, Mr. President, it seems to me after you’ve had an opportunity—now I realize that there’s a distinction between the substantive and political—but after you’ve had a chance to review a lot of these issues and after they’ve been talked through over a couple of years, it probably will be—you will come to the conclusion that you will want some treaty revision without substantially changing our sovereign right or your “as is” sovereign rights in the Canal Zone.

Mann: I agree with you that the way this was phrased is very important.

Dungan: Very.

Mann: What I suggest on that is that we, through the Committee with the Panamanians in both ways we will—discussion will include something like the whole range of U.S.-Panamanian relations. Try to avoid—

President: I sure don’t want to imply that I’m goin’ to sit down and talk to ‘em about changes that I’ll make in the treaties and revise the whole thing, and all they got to do is burn the USIS, Embassy, and then we come in—hat in hand—and say come on boys, we’ll let you write your ticket.

Mann: We’ve agreed, as I said earlier, that there are no preconditions. We’re not committing ourselves to any treaty revisions.

President: Well, just make that awfully clear in our statement—all right?

Dungan: And also, they’re very insistent on not giving any of this publicity, is that right, Tom?

Mann: Right. I’m coming to that. The Committee, not the Panamanian Government, is putting the pressure on both us and the Panamanians to avoid official statements to the press until we can get [Page 804] time to talk and let tempers cool down. In the long run, Mr. President, we’re going to be judged by our deeds and not our words.

President: But you may not be around to judge ‘em if they think we’re sittin’ down to revise some treaties, Tom.

Mann: Well, that’s true, and I think we have to go up on the Hill and explain very clearly what—

President: Did you go up there this mornin’?

Mann: Haven’t been up yet, sir, but I’m waiting for Vance to get through.

President: Uh huh.

Dungan: I called Dan Flood this morning.

President: How did Vance get along? Anybody know?

Mann: We don’t know yet.

Dungan: Not finished yet.

Mann: I think I will get up this afternoon and talk to Vance and work out a plan to get in touch with some key people on the Hill.

President: I think that’s very good. Okay. Anything else?

Mann: That’s all, sir, but is it all right to say that we will agree to—

President: I think we can always agree to talk and listen. I don’t want to imply that we’re—by so doin’—that we’re making any commitment of any kind.

Mann: All right, sir.

President: I want to be fair and want to be reasonable and want to be just to these people, and if we’ve got problems with wage scales or arrogant military people or Zonites that cause these troubles, or any improvement or changes we can make, we’re anxious to do it—wage scales, or whatever it is. But if they think that all they gotta do is to burn a USIS and shoot four or five soldiers and then we come runnin’ in and—hat in hand—well, that’s a different proposition.

Mann: No, I think this is clear. We’ve won our point. We’re not going to negotiate under duress—that is, until law and order is restored.

President: What do you mean that they’re upset about what we said about the soldiers? Do you mean about their behavin’ admirably under extreme provocation?

Mann: Yes. [chuckle] They’re the most unreasonable people, Mr. President, you can imagine, but we still have to live with them [unintelligible].

President: Well, you better go on and get started on your other Canal—

Mann: Well, that’s what I think, too.

President: I do, too, and I thought so before you got back here. So, the quicker you get on it, the better off we’ll—

[Page 805]

Mann: I’ll tell Ed that we will agree to tell the Committee we will agree to discuss the whole range of U.S.-Panamanian relations.

President: Have you talked to Secretary Rusk and McNamara?

Mann: I talked to Ball—Mr. Rusk is at dinner, but I think I will touch base with him …

President: Did you talk to McNamara?

Mann: Not yet.

President: Talk to McNamara and if it’s agreeable to them, it’s okay by me.

Mann: All right sir. Thank you very much.

President: Bye.

  1. Source:Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation among President Johnson, Thomas Mann, and Ralph Dungan, Tape F64.05, Side B, PNO 4. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume. According to Mann’s record of this conversation, he called the President to advise him of the latest information he had received from Martin in Panama, and Dungan was in Mann’s office during his telephone conversation with the President. (Ibid., Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 4, 1964–April 30, 1965)
  2. In his assessment of Martin’s discussions with the Peace Committee on January 13, Bundy told the President that, “in sum, they show a substantial back-off by Solis from the position taken by Chiari with Mann.” Bundy informed the President: “There is some evidence that the Panamanians are feeling for a way to get discussion going without sticking firmly to their talk of agreement to discuss revision of the treaties. This is clearly what the Peace Committee wants and is pressing them for. But when directly pressed on this point, Solis did not budge and the formal position is just as it has been—the Panamanians say that relations are broken and will remain broken until we agree to discuss revision of the treaties.” (Memorandum from Bundy to the President, January 14; ibid., Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. I, November 1963–February 1964)