396. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Senator Richard Russell1

President: I think this is pretty much our formula and I’ve got to let them know in the morning, and it looked all right to me but there might be a catch in it and I just want to check it.

“The governments of the Republic of Panama and the United States of America have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations as soon as possible to seek the prompt elimination of the causes of conflict relative to the Panama Canal and to attempt to resolve other problems existing between them without limitations or any pre-conditions of any kind. As a result, within 30 days following re-establishment of diplomatic relations, both governments will designate special am [Page 841] bassadors with sufficient powers to carry out discussions and negotiations with the objective of reaching a just and fair international agreement which will eliminate the above mentioned causes of conflict and resolve the other problems referred to above. Any agreements that may result would be subject to the constitutional processes of each country.”

Russell: [Laughter] Well, that’s one of the most skillfully worded statements I ever read, Mr. President.

President: Well, it’s ours. We’ve had to be negotiatin’ and we’ve had new treaties and everything, and I said I’m willin’ to say I’ll meet ‘em any time, anywhere, any place, and do what’s fair and just and right, but I will not agree to negotiate a new treaty unless I think that one is required and I’m not going to agree to any precondition. I’m going to say that I don’t so they don’t get misled.

[Omitted here are several minutes of word-by-word analysis of the statement, discussion of haggling over language, and conversation related to Cuba.]

President: He [Mann] came in the other day and asked me to sign this agreement and said we’re close to it and we need to sign it now, and we attached appendix A and B, your conversation, the press—and Chiari’s, and I said, “No I won’t sign that; I just won’t do it.” He had Rusk with him; he had Bundy with him; and he had McNamara with him. All of them had recommended it and I said I’m not going to do that and he said, “Why?” And I said because Chiari says he’s going to have a new treaty and I’m not going to admit to it. I may have one— may agree to it—but I’m not going to say I’m going to have it. I said that from the first day. Now, the second thing I’m not going to say—I am not going to say in your formal statement here, you say “negotiate.” I’m not going to say I am going to negotiate a new treaty. Now, that’s in the formal statement, and that’s in Chiari’s statement, so those two things go out. So he said, we’ll do what you say. So I cut it back and sent it back to ‘em. Now they’re coming in here tonight at 8 o’clock with this statement. Now Chiari hasn’t approved it but the OAS has urged this be done.

Russell: Well, he’s gettin’ weak.

President: Well, I told them to squeeze his nuts a little more [unintelligible].

Russell: Has got him by the balls and he has to come in a little later ‘cause you’ve got his water cut off—he can’t move.

President: Now, I notified Cy Vance 5 o’clock this afternoon. They think they’re going to have a big demonstration if this happens, and that they’re gonna try and take over—the Communists are—and I just said we’re not going to have any Cuba there. They say it will be from the Communists who’ve got a foothold there and they’re going to [Page 842] be raising hell about it and are going to try to have a Communist coup when this takes place.2

Russell: Well, half of the police he’s got there can beat the socks off of ‘em.

President: Well, this General O’Meara can. They tell me he’s smart. He’s on the job and I trust him.

Russell: O’Meara’s tough as hell. You give him the reins.

President: I’ve done given him the reins; I’ve done given him the reins. I told Cy Vance at 5 o’clock this afternoon to tell O’Meara that we would not have another Cuba in this hemisphere, if he had enough men; if he didn’t, I’d send him some more.

Russell: Don’t need the men, just a little freedom of movement. O’Meara is a pretty tough fellow.

President: Well, he’s got his orders. Okay, now if you don’t see anything wrong with this I’m going to go on.

Russell: Well, it’s all right, not near as bad as I thought you’d be driven to.

President: No, you didn’t think I’d be driven to it. Now don’t go needlin’ me, Dick. What are you tryin’ to do, I’m still at work. I haven’t even had dinner and you just needle me, my friend—now don’t.

Russell: I wouldn’t be your friend if I didn’t tell you what I thought.

President: Well, now you do think it is wonderful. You didn’t think I’d run, did you?

Russell: No. No, you haven’t.

President: So help me, I’m not runnin’ yet.

Russell: No. You left the door open to get out. You haven’t run a foot yet.

President: Well, we’ve always—you’ve never said you wouldn’t sign a new—you’d do what is fair, don’t you?

Russell: Absolutely.

President: That’s all I’m going to do.

Russell: I hope so.

President: If it’s not fair and just, I’m not going to do it.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

  1. Source:Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Richard Russell, Tape F64.16, Side B, PNO 3. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. In that telephone conversation, Vance warned President Johnson that Chiari “is going to recognize US now and therefore we’re tightening up our shoe laces in case there should be any violence associated with that.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Cyrus Vance, March 9, 5:05 p.m.; ibid., Tape F64.16, Side B, PNO 2)