399. Editorial Note

On March 12, 1964, McGeorge Bundy informed President Johnson that the delegation of five Organization of America States Ambassadors was prepared to work out with Panama the new language of an agreement that would include the most recent changes reflecting the President’s requirements, and that Mann was “very eager” to have the President’s concurrence. Johnson insisted on another look to make sure the language was right. “I know that it’s awfully important that we settle some of these things,” he told Bundy, “and they’re mounting and pickin’ up, but I’m not that anxious to settle it, and I’d just rather ride ‘em out and take the consequences than to capitulate.” He added: “Tom capitulates easier than I thought. He was the strongest guy you ever saw when he started. Are there some forces that have got him worried?” Bundy responded: “I honestly believe that he feels that he has won this one, and you’re looking for the third touchdown instead of the second.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, March 12, 10:31 a.m.; Johnson Library, [Page 849] Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.17, Side A, PNO 4) The text of the OAS language is in telegram 462 to Panama City, March 12; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US)

Secretary Rusk, Assistant Secretary Mann, and McGeorge Bundy joined President Johnson at 1:26 p.m. in the Oval Office to discuss the situation. William J. Jorden in Panama Odyssey, includes an account of the meeting in which the President’s anger and disappointment with Mann, as expressed to Bundy in the telephone conversation cited above, had not subsided. According to Jorden’s account, Mann threatened to resign and Johnson threatened to fire him, but the moment passed and the two agreed to work together. Mann also agreed to inform Ambassador Sanchez Gavito that the President would not accept the language. (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1984, pages 79–80)

On March 16, the third anniversary of the establishment of the Alliance for Progress, the OAS released the proposed language. At 12:10 p.m. that day the President addressed the Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress on the dispute with Panama:

“… The United States will meet with Panama any time, anywhere, to discuss anything, to work together, to cooperate with each other, to reason with one another, to review and to consider all of our problems together, to tell each other our opinions, all our desires and all our concerns, and to aim at solutions and answers that are fair and just and equitable, without regard to size or the strength or the wealth of either nation.

“We don’t ask Panama to make any precommitments before we meet, and we intend to make none. Of course, we cannot begin on this work until diplomatic relations are resumed. But the United States is ready today, if Panama is ready. As of this moment I do not believe that there has been a genuine meeting of the minds between the two Presidents of the two countries involved.

“Press reports indicate that the Government of Panama feels that the language which has been under consideration for many days commits the United States to a rewriting of the 1903 treaty. We have made no such commitment and we will not think of doing so before diplomatic relations are resumed and unless a fair and satisfactory adjustment is agreed upon.” The text of the President’s remarks is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book I, pages 383–384.

On March 16 at 4:40 p.m., Bundy reported to President Johnson that Mann had spoken to the OAS Ambassadors, who wanted to know whether, in the continued absence of an agreement between Panama and the United States, more mediation would be helpful. The ambassadors also inquired about a response to Panama if it asked for an agreement on the basis of the two paragraphs presented earlier in the week, and how to respond if Panama requested a U.S. Ambassador. Bundy consulted with Mann on these two points and told the President that he and Mann were in agreement that with respect to the [Page 850] offer for further mediation, “We’re inclined to say, ‘no, thank you very much, you’ve done your best, but we think that the problem is one of a meeting of minds between the two governments.’” He added: “to the first question we would say, ‘no, there is no meeting of the minds between the two parties, and we just have to recognize that there isn’t.’” As to a possible Panamanian request for the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, Bundy proposed that they reply, “why certainly, if it is understood that there is no agreement between the United States to revise the treaty.” Bundy also suggested that the United States “reopen the question of what these paragraphs say,” to ensure that Panama cannot justify that the United States has agreed to negotiate a new treaty. Johnson told Bundy that the OAS Ambassadors should “continue to play” with the two paragraphs and go back to the Panamanians “to get them straightened out and make them quit lying and saying that we’ve agreed to negotiate a treaty.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, March 16, 4:40 p.m.; Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.17, Side B, PNO 2) The portions of the conversations printed here were prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.