387. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Panama.]

Mann: Now, the other thing is more important. On Sunday morning,2 I had a long talk with Sanchez Gavito—the Mexican—and he’s worked up an idea which he’s put on paper. It says that in case the Rio [Page 823]Treaty is—the Council votes to invoke the Rio Treaty as Panama has requested and there will be a commission—a five man, five nation commission set up which will act as a mediating body between the U.S. and Panama [unintelligible]. Secondly, that there would be a U.S.-Panama—plus one other—a three man commission to investigate the facts, what happened. Now he sent over this morning to Ralph Dungan a copy of this draft. I’ve suggested several changes, after talking with the Secretary, and most of these have been bought, subject to your approval, by us. I think that this resolution, if it goes through, would be satisfactory from our point of view—just as satisfactory as we can expect at this time in the meeting in the OAS. Tonight this draft will probably be circulated, and I just wanted to be sure you had—or Ralph, or somebody, I haven’t been able to get him this afternoon—had an opportunity to—

President: Ralph’s here now, but he’s talkin’ about appointments. He hadn’t talked about the Mexico draft.

Mann: All right. Well, he’s got the papers, and—

President: Well, he keeps them on deep freeze up there. He never does let me see what he gets—

Mann: And if I could talk to him one minute, I could get him the latest information I have on these drafts.

President: Now, I’ll tell you what I think. I think the Secretary ought to make a full scale speech outlining what happened in Panama, and just saying we’re ready to talk, willing to talk, eager to talk, but we’re not gonna negotiate a treaty in advance. But he ought to say that our flag went up by our kids; they made a mistake; they came in and shot our soldiers; we gave them birdshot; we tried to defend ourselves the best we could, but they burned our USIA office; and just outline what horrible things they did without sayin’ they’re horrible. But let the world know it. John McCone told me that every country he went to—Spain was just up in arms, France couldn’t understand it, Great Britain thought it was terrible; Germany thought—couldn’t understand why we had started shooting in Panama, because we’ve been—

Mann: We’ll start drafting a speech right away.

President: I’ve just been beggin’ you all to do it, and I know damn well my Johnson City instinct tells me that you oughtn’t to sit on your can and do nothin’, and I’ve made one or two statements myself. But the New York Times says that we’ve said nothin’, and I just think it’s awful that we just sit here like a bunch of mummies and run under the ground, and I think you ought to have a full—

Mann: We’ll do a draft and I’ll tell you about the—

President: John McCone talked to the head of every government in Europe, and every one of ’em think we’re terribly wrong, and our [Page 824]side has never been given, and when he explained it to ’em they said, “well where in the hell has your Secretary of State been.”3

Mann: All right, we’ll start drafting away on that and get it out.4 Now, should I talk to Ralph about these latest changes?

President: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, Tape F64.10, Side A, PNO 5. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. February 2.
  3. During a February 6 luncheon meeting with Rusk, McCone restated that “world opinion was thoroughly convinced that the United States actually invaded Panama, killing Panamanians,” and that he “could not understand the reluctance on the part of the President and Rusk to admit participation of Castro Communists in the Panama situation.” (Memorandum for the record by McCone, February 6; Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80–B01285A, Memos for the Record, January 1–April 5, 1964)
  4. In a telephone conversation with the President on February 5 Mann reported that Secretary Rusk was planning to make a statement on February 7 that would correct a number of misconceptions in the press on the events in Panama. He also reported that work was continuing on the Gavito plan, and that the meetings in the OAS were proceeding well. “I thought Bunker handled himself extremely well,” he said. “The Latins are—nearly all of them expressed, when they voted for the Rio Treaty, said they were not passing on who was guilty and who was innocent. They made that very clear, and I think that was very helpful.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Thomas Mann, February 5, 10:35 a.m.; Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.10, Side B, PNO 3) Rusk addressed the dispute with Panama at his press conference on February 7; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 24, 1964, pp. 274–275.