383. Editorial Note

On January 25, 1964, President Johnson telephoned Assistant Secretary Mann to inquire whether the Inter-American Peace Committee was making any progress on a draft agreement on resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Panama. Mann replied that “we do not have a solution,” and “we don’t want to agree on anything before checking with the President.” Mann said that “he did not think the President should be too optimistic because when he sounded optimistic this encouraged the Panamanians to think that we were willing to agree to what they wanted.” He told the President that he, Vance, and Dungan would be working some more on the draft and “thought it best not to bother the President until they had their homework done.” Johnson asked Mann to get the draft into shape. (Memorandum of telephone conversation between Mann and President Johnson, January 25, 12:20 p.m.; Johnson Library, Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1965)

The President received a copy of the draft the afternoon of January 25. Asked if he concurred by Acting Secretary of State George Ball, the President stated: “I don’t want to be pinned to it for another 30 minutes.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and George Ball, January 25, 2:05 p.m.; ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.07, Side B, PNO 4) Johnson then called Senator Russell and told him he thought the draft was “all right, but I just didn’t want to wrap it up and get it tied” without getting Russell’s views. The President was concerned that “there’s some sleeper in it” he couldn’t see. He then read the text of the draft agreement:

“The governments of Panama and the United States have accepted the invitation made to them by the Peace Committee with a view to reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two countries as soon as possible, and to seek prompt elimination of the causes of tension between the two countries. The parties have agreed between themselves that 15 days after having reestablished the above mentioned relations, they will appoint special ambassadors with sufficient powers to negotiate—in other words to discuss—a good faith attempt to resolve all the problems without any limitations whatsoever that affect the relations between the countries.” The draft concluded: “Each of the governments shall be absolutely free to present for discussion any matter and take any position they deem necessary. All agreements reached will be promptly implemented in accordance with the constitutional processes of each government.”

Russell indicated that the draft “sounds all right” but “the State Department will use that as a basis to—just to try to negotiate that treaty away.” The President pointed out that Tom Mann was the key official on this matter and “he’s the strongest guy over there.” Russell then noted: “I see you’ve got that word ‘negotiate’ in there, and that was what the breach was over before, wasn’t it?” He thought the issue [Page 814]was over “the difference between ‘discuss’ and ‘negotiate’.” Johnson said that “one was ‘discuss’ the problems and the other was ‘negotiate’ a treaty. I didn’t want to agree before I sat down to ‘negotiate’ a new treaty. I agreed to sit down and talk and discuss any problems but discussing a problem and negotiating a treaty is a different thing.” Johnson continued, “I don’t mind negotiatin’ on the problems—that’s what I’m anxious to do—but I’m not willin’ to negotiate a treaty in advance.” Russell then indicated that he thought that was “all right.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Richard Russell, January 25, 2:30 p.m.; ibid., Tape F64.07, Side B, PNO 5) The portion of the conversation printed here was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.

The President then called Mann and said that “he did not want the word ‘negotiate’ to appear. He said ‘agree’ or ‘discuss’ are all right. He said it could read ‘with sufficient powers to enter into a good faith agreement to resolve all the problems’” between the countries. Johnson told Mann he was ready to approve the draft with that modification. Mann said he didn’t think the Panamanians “were going to buy” the modified draft. He said he “thought their whole idea in the wording was to make it appear that we were going to scrap the old treaty and start negotiating a new one.” He said he thought “we could live with the draft we had given the President.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation between Mann and Johnson, January 25, 3:05 p.m.; ibid., Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1965) There is a recording of the MannJohnson conversation which amplified their discussion. In this recording, President Johnson said, “Well, we don’t have to live with anything they give us.” He continued, “Now, remember this: I think we’ve got the cards. I don’t give a damn what you say about Latin America— they’re goin’ to have to depend on us and they’re not goin’ to take over there. We’re goin’ to take over if anybody does, and the more they wait, the more they suffer and the more trouble they’re in, and they’ve got to come to us. We don’t have to come to them.” He asked Mann if there was anything in the modified draft that indicated the U.S. was “caving,” and Mann responded “no,” not in the modified draft. (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, January 25, 2:50 p.m.; ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.07, Side B, PNO 7) The portion of the conversation printed here was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.

On January 27 Mann called Johnson to inform him that “as we anticipated,” the Panamanians had not bought the new draft agreement and that “an impasse had been reached.” He also informed the President that the Peace Committee had “read the riot act” to Miguel Moreno, the Panamanian contact with the Peace Committee. (Memorandum of telephone conversation between Mann and President Johnson, [Page 815]January 27, 7:20 p.m.; ibid., Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1965) Mann also told Johnson that “we don’t like the language” being proposed by the Panamanians, and that they would continue their efforts to work out an acceptable agreement. (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, January 27, 7:20 p.m.; ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.08, Side A, PNO 5)

On January 29 President Johnson discussed the Panamanian revisions with Russell who felt, “this is utterly unreasonable. I thought we’d already gone too far, but when they come in and make us admit—make us agree in advance—to rewrite the treaty in some unknown way that we don’t even know, I just don’t believe any reasonable person would support that.” (Recording of telephone conversation between the President and Russell, January 29, 10:30 a.m.; ibid., Side B, PNO 4) In a conversation with Senator Mansfield later that morning Johnson told him that the Peace Committee was about to break off negotiations because the Panamanians insist that the United States “revise these treaties in advance without knowing how they want them revised, and unless we agree to that, they want to take it to the OAS.” Johnson stated, “I’m going to tell ’em that we just can’t do that.” Mansfield agreed: “That’s right. You can’t do it and you can’t give them a blank check before you sit down.” (Recording of telephone conversation between the President and Mansfield, January 29, 11:11 a.m., ibid., Tape 64.09, Side A, PNO 1) The portions of the conversations printed here were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.