392. Editorial Note

On February 26, 1964, at 12:31 p.m., President Johnson spoke on the phone with Adlai Stevenson, who was in Washington to testify at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Stevenson urged the President to approve the language of a proposed agreement between the United States and Panama that had been worked out by President Orlich of Costa Rica (see footnote 3, Document 390.)Johnson said to Stevenson: “I think when you say you’re gonna reconsider the treaties that the implication is you’re gonna rewrite the treaties, and that you’re gonna rewrite the substance of ‘em, and that you’re gonna get rid of the perpetuity clause, which they’re claiming, and I think [Page 833] that they’ll think that. And then the heat that’s gonna be on me when they—The New York Times—and my negotiator sits down with ‘em— they come back in—it’s gonna be something terrific.”Johnson then complained about Panama’s actions and expressed his willingness to discuss anything, but reiterated his opposition to having “to say in a written document that I am going to reconsider a treaty.”Johnson continued: “I’ve talked to the leading people who would have to consider a treaty and I couldn’t find one vote anywhere. And I think that we’re just toying with somethin’ that we couldn’t have the United States Senate—my honest judgment is I couldn’t get 20 votes for any treaty that substantially rewrote the present one.”

Stevenson presented the case for resolving the issue as soon as possible by accepting the current language, which he told Johnson he had drafted in part:

“I do think that it’s awfully important from your point of view to clear away this little mess, because it’s affecting the attitude of Latin Americans way beyond the boundaries of Panama, as you know. I feel as though we’re stuck on this dime, and that this controversy between this miniscule country and the United States is totally avoidable and unnecessary—it’s a diversion of attention from the major problems in Latin America. I just think that from the State Department point of view it’s much better to get this one out of the way with language as good as this, which is so far from where we started, we’d be well advised to do it.”

Johnson told Stevenson that he preferred to use the term “representatives” rather than “negotiators.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Adlai Stevenson;Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.14, Side B, PNO 2)

The President then spoke to Rusk about the proposed language of the agreement with Panama. “There’s no use in our debating it; we’d better just let it ride for a day or two.” The President agreed to allow Rusk to come to the White House to discuss the draft language, but told him: “I’m not going to buy what I got on my desk.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Dean Rusk, February 26, 1:10 p.m.; ibid., Tape F64.15, Side A, PNO 1)

Johnson talked to Senator William Fulbright later that afternoon: “Adlai came down and started a heat wave on Panama. He got into negotiations up there without anybody knowing it and he came up with a proposal that we turned down in the first hour when we talked to the President of Panama, and we have made positive proposals to ‘em and we think that in due time they will come around and get them, but I had to see Tom Mann and I had to see Rusk and I had to talk to Adlai for an hour …” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and William Fulbright, February 26, 3:06 p.m.; ibid., Tape F64.15, Side A, PNO 2) The portions of the conversations printed here were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.

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The afternoon of February 26 Thomas Mann sent the mission at the United Nations a variation on the Orlich text that the President would accept provided that Panama “resumes relations with the United States prior to commencement of discussions.” The revised text reads:

“The parties agree to appoint authorized representatives with sufficient powers to discuss and consider all aspects of United States and Panama relations, without any limitation whatever, to seek the prompt elimination of the causes of dispute with a view to harmonizing the just interest of both parties and their responsibilities to the Hemisphere and world trade. Both parties agree to discuss the differences existing between them without preconditions as to the positions they may consider necessary to adopt as a final result of the meetings that will take place between the authorized representatives.” (Telegram 2284 to USUN, February 26; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US)

Although there were indications from some Panamanians that the dispute would soon be resolved, by February 29 there was no official response from Panama on the revised text of the proposal set forth by President Orlich. Mann informed the White House he had been told that Sanchez Gavito, the Mexican Ambassador to the OAS, was prepared to put forth a proposal to the OAS Peace Committee that would perhaps break the deadlock between the United States and Panama on the language of an agreement. Mann wrote to Bundy that “this approach has possibilities because it gets us off the hook of being unable to agree on the pre-conditions.” (Memorandum from Mann to Mc-George Bundy, February 29;Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. III, March 1964) After consulting with Bundy that afternoon, the President approved the proposal “as a basis for negotiations to be conducted by Ambassador Sanchez Gavito, acting entirely on his own initiative. The fact of prior consultation with the United States Government will not be revealed.” (Memorandum for the record by Bundy, March 29; ibid.)