393. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk 1

President: What’s the news on your front today?

Rusk: Well, I think that maybe your press conference helped ease things—the tension—a bit on this Panama business.2 I think we may find a way to get some progress there. Cyprus: we’re expecting word from the Turks about—

President: On Panama, what are we going to do? Is Tom Mann getting Mexico to say that we are anxious to talk any time, anywhere about anything, period?

Rusk: That is the present ploy. That is the present move so that the two governments would not have to say anything, but the OAS would simply recommend that they establish relations and get to the conference table. But you’ll have a chance to see any text before any agreement is given on it. Have you had any reactions to your press conference from the Hill today?

President: No.3

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Panama.]

President: Now, on Panama I think if the Mexican thing doesn’t work today, we ought to come in some other place, and somebody ought to say tomorrow, we want to talk any time, anywhere, about anything. We’re ready. Let’s press them; let’s shove them a little bit.

[Page 836]

Rusk: Right.

President: If we need to call Chiari again, maybe we ought to get in direct communication with him and say, “why don’t we resume diplomatic relations and sit down. We got a number of plans for improving this thing if you’ll do it, and we may not have an agreement for a year or two, but there’s no reason why we ought to stand off and bark. It’s not helping your economy and it’s not helping ours.”

Rusk: Right.

President: I’d let them be squeezed a little more down there. I think that before they go Communist, that they’ll go American. That’s my judgment. If you squeeze their nuts just a little bit—I think we’ve been too generous, The New York Times and Washington Post with them— and now we’ve showed we’re a little reluctant. I think that maybe they’re more willing to come along if we shove it up to them.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source:Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Dean Rusk, Tape F64.15, Side B, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. In a press conference on February 29 President Johnson stated he realized that the treaty with Panama had been written in 1903 and modified from time to time, that “problems are involved that need to be dealt with and perhaps would require adjustment in the treaty.” He also said that “Just because Panama happens to be a small nation, maybe no larger than the city of St. Louis, is no reason why we shouldn’t try in every way to be equitable and fair and just. We are going to insist on that. But we are going to be equally insistent on no preconditions.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book I, p. 325)
  3. In a telephone conversation with the President that evening, Senator Fulbright, reacting to the President’s press conference statement on Panama, told Johnson: “I thought you put it very well.” The President responded: “All right. You just stay with me and we’ll do all right.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and William Fulbright, March 2, 8:50 p.m.;Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.16, Side A, PNO 2) Earlier that day George Ball had told the President: “I thought you did splendidly, and I thought you advanced the possibility of working something out.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and George Ball, March 2, 11:50 a.m.; ibid., Tape F64.15, Side B, PNO 2)