389. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

President: Adlai has got a new formula that starts us out where we were the first day to negotiate a treaty—a new treaty—with the Panamanians.2

Bundy: Oh, I don’t believe it.

President: And he doesn’t see anything wrong with it, and if he were Secretary of State and the President both he would negotiate it. And, so I thanked him and told him to put it in the mail and send it down. You watch for it.

Bundy: (Laughter) What am I supposed to do with it, make him burn it, or answer?

President: Oh, he was kind of sniffy. He said that I hope that you won’t reject it out of hand; I hope you’ll carefully consider it.

Bundy: Well, we’ll do that.

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President: ‘Cause the quicker you settle this one the better off you’ll be, and so forth. And the truth of it is I think Mr. Chiari wants to settle it.

Bundy: Uh huh. Uh huh. Has he had anything from the Panamanians or is this out of his own head?

President: Oh, I think he’s just gettin’ into a field where—he’s been down talking to the State Department about it and they added to it, “without any prior commitments.” Now, were you in here the other day when we had the Senators here?

Bundy: No sir, I was still on that short holiday (laughter).

President: I wish you’d been here and heard the hell I caused by just mentioning it.

Bundy: Yeah.

President: And I’m not—well, anyway, we just want to carefully consider it, weigh it and everything, and then do nothing about it.

Bundy: Right.

President: I’m not going to use—the two words I’m not going to use are “negotiate” and “revising the treaty.”

Bundy: Yep.

President: I told them that to begin with, and the quicker they find that out, the better off they’ll be.

Bundy: Right.

President: And, if we can get any other language—I think that we say that when we say we’ll talk to ‘em about anything, anywhere any time.

Bundy: We’ve got a good sentence in tomorrow’s speech on that. It says we’ll talk about all problems, and we’ll, you know, we can do it any time and any place. There’s no problem. And I think, Mr. President, that there’s a new formula that ought to be looked at, which is that we ought to get some third party to say what they think they want to sit down and talk about, and we say what we think we ought to talk about, and then we just agree to talk about it. We don’t care what Chiari says he’s going to do. He can say, “I’m going in to revise the treaties,” and we say “we’re going to discuss.” That wouldn’t bother you, would it? He can propose anything he wants.

President: Well, I’d let him cool off for awhile.

Bundy: That’s what I—you know, my honest judgment, I’m sorry to say, is that I think there’s not a five percent chance of settling this before their elections.

President: I think that’s right.

Bundy: I think it’s easier just to play it along. Now, there are some hazards down there, and Panama is not in the best of condition, and [Page 828] there’s some losses in moving this direction, but the losses—we’ve taken an exceedingly clear position—the losses in moving away from that are very much greater. I’ve seen the polls on this subject, and I’m sure you have—the position of the U.S. Government—

President: Well, I just brought over a picture of Ted Sorensen and his girl, and Walter Winchell is on the same column, and he’s got the damnedest diatribe about how we’ve been mistreated you ever saw.

[Omitted here is a brief discussion unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy; Tape F64.13, Side B, PNO 7. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. During a conversation a few minutes earlier with Johnson, Stevenson suggested that Chiari was interested in the following formula to resolve the impasse with the United States: “the two parties agree to appoint negotiators to discuss and review all aspects of U.S.-Panama relations, including the Canal Zone. The President responded that, “we could’ve agreed on that, Governor, the first day.”Johnson stated that this language would give the impression that the United States would re-negotiate the treaty, or at least that is the way the Panamanians would view it. Stevenson suggested that the language did not include a pre-commitment to re-negotiate the treaty, and he asked Johnson to consider it seriously rather than rejecting it immediately. The President was not convinced. (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Adlai Stevenson, February 20, 5 p.m.; ibid., Tape 64.13, Side B, PNO 6)