402. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Ambassador Moreno of Panama
  • Ambassador Bunker of the U.S.

SUBJECT

  • Panama–U.S. Relations

I met Ambassador Moreno at the 1925 F Street Club for a private, off-the-record talk. I made it clear to him that I was doing this on my own responsibility and that it was important that the subject of our discussion should be kept confidential and not divulged to the press.

I said that it seemed to me President Johnson’s statement of March 212 had been most constructive. In some ways it was broader and went beyond the OAS communiqué of March 15.3 It indicated to me that there was now a genuine meeting of the minds between the two presidents. Furthermore, we had struggled over words and semantics for [Page 854]two and one-half months, to date without results, and it seemed to me that the time had come to substitute action for words. I suggested that one of several procedures might be followed.

1.
President Chiari might issue a statement welcoming President Johnson’s statement, indicating that as a result of the statement there was a genuine meeting of the minds, that it was obvious that both sides wished to resolve their difficulties and that therefore, the Government of Panama was prepared to resume diplomatic relations with the United States.
2.
The Government of Panama might authorize Ambassador Moreno to state that in view of President Johnson’s statement of March 21 that the United States is prepared to review every issue that now divides the two countries and every problem which the Panamanian Government wishes to raise, the Government of Panama is prepared to resume diplomatic relations to be followed by the appointment by both countries of special representatives with full authority to discuss all problems and with the responsibility for seeking solutions.
3.
We might deliver joint or simultaneously separate notes to the OAS saying that both governments are resuming diplomatic relations and expressing appreciation to the OAS for its efforts to bring about an understanding between the two governments.

Ambassador Moreno said he felt that in some ways, the “agreement” of March 15 was more specific than the wording of the President’s statement. I pointed out to him that there had been no “agreement”, that in the course of negotiations here we had agreed to several texts which Panama had not accepted and they had agreed to a text finally which we had not accepted. It seemed to me that having gone through 28 texts we had about exhausted the possibility of finding mutually acceptable wording and that the time had come to act. I thought that now it must be evident to both sides that our procedural objectives were really identical; i.e., we both wanted to resume diplomatic relations, we were both ready to discuss, consider, review—whatever words one wished to use for the process—all of the problems existing between us in an effort in good faith to find fair, reasonable and just solutions. That being so, let us get on with the job.

Ambassador Moreno said that there had been a good reaction in Panama to President Johnson’s statement and that President Chiari would make a statement this afternoon regarding it. He would try to get the text as soon as possible. He commented that he felt there might be criticism in Panama on the procedure I had suggested on the ground that the Government was backing down still further from its original position and acting on the basis of wording less precise than that in the March 15 communiqué. I replied that it seemed to me that President Johnson’s statement was no less precise and, in fact, was more [Page 855]comprehensive, and therefore in a way more favorable to Panama. Ambassador Moreno then said that he would want to talk with his Government and would keep our conversation on a strictly confidential basis.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/Panamanian Affairs Files: Lot File 66 D 329. Confidential. Drafted by Bunker. Copies were sent to Mann and Allen (RPA). A copy was also sent to Rusk under cover of a memorandum by Bunker on March 24.
  2. See Document 401.
  3. Released on March 16, it reads: “The Governments of the Republic of Panama and of the United States of America have agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations as soon as possible to seek the prompt elimination of the causes of the conflict relative to the Panama Canal and to attempt to resolve other problems existing between them, without limitations or preconditions of any kind.
    “Consequently, within 30 days following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, both Governments will designate special ambassadors to carry out discussions and negotiations with the objective of reaching a fair and just agreement which will eliminate the above-mentioned causes of the conflict and resolve the other problems referred to above. Any agreements that may result would be subject to the constitutional processes of each country.”