405. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

Bundy: [Tape begins mid-conversation] from Moreno who says that they just don’t think that they can sell—and keep the peace—a straight resumption of relations on these two statements.2 Ambassador Bunker would now like to go back to Moreno and suggest that there be a resumption of relations on the basis of a letter that we would send [Page 858]to the head of the OAS, which I’d like to read to you, because I think it’s a good play:

“I have the honor to advise Your Excellency that the Governments of Panama and the United States of America have agreed to resume diplomatic relations as of today’s date, exchange of Ambassadors forthwith. My government will appoint without delay a special representative together with a representative of government of Panama—will be empowered to review all the issues between the two countries and to seek a fair and just resolution of these issues.”

Then there’s a paragraph thanking the OAS for its constructive and untiring and invaluable work, etc. This would be just a way of letting them off the hook of the fact that we’re not going to buy those two paragraphs. The question of whether we would go back and renegotiate the two paragraphs could be left down the pike and we wouldn’t have to cross it. As I say, Ambassador Bunker, who’s close to this, thinks there’s—you know—a fighting chance that this would work, and I see no pain in it. Is that all right with you?

President: Now what do we do when we write ’em that? Do we embrace the two paragraphs?

Bundy: No, we do not. We do not refer to the two paragraphs, and we’re simply standing on your statement in this letter. Yeah. No, we do not, Mr. President, and we’ve made it clear to Moreno that those two paragraphs are not agreed and that we have not accepted them, and we cannot at this stage accept them. That’s been made very clear to him today, and what we’d like to do is to let that sink in overnight and then go back to him tomorrow and say, now we’ve got another idea which is that we could write the OAS and say we’re going ahead that we’re going to review all these issues and seek a fair and just resolution—doesn’t refer to the Panama Canal, doesn’t mention negotiations, and it doesn’t mention the two paragraphs.

President: What makes you think that they would take this if they wouldn’t take anything—

Bundy: Gives him something to say, that we have given one more statement of our intent to seek a fair and just resolution and that—what I think—I think the reason Ambassador Bunker wants to do it is not so much that the expectation of agreement is necessarily very high, but that we’re quite sure that this will be regarded as a forthcoming act from Lavalle’s point of view—the head of the OAS Council—and that that would give us pressure against Panamanians from other Latin Americans, instead of having the position in which they say they seem to be the ones who are being forthcoming with respect to the OAS recommendation. I myself think, Mr. President, to be honest with you, I’m not quite as optimistic as Ambassador Bunker, but I can’t see that we lose anything by trying this one more, and I think we gain to the degree that the OAS people begin to think we’re the ones who put the [Page 859]ball back in their court. If it doesn’t work, then at least it’s their play, and we aren’t being asked what our next step is.

President: Well, I don’t understand it. It doesn’t have any appeal to me, but if you and Rusk think it’s all right, and think it’s the thing to do, I’d go ahead.

Bundy: Well, the real question is whether it has any negative to you, Mr. President.

President: No, no.

Bundy: And I don’t see anything in that—it’s a perfect—it’s a diplomatic play.

President: No, it doesn’t have any negative. The reason it doesn’t is because I can’t see what purpose it serves.

Bundy: [unintelligible] any positive in it either [laughter].

President: That’s right, but I don’t want—I don’t quite understand it, and I don’t want to be obstinate. If you and Rusk think it’s all right, it’s all right with me.

Bundy: We do, yes sir, and so does Tom.

President: All right.

Bundy: Aye, aye, sir.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, Tape F64.20, Side B, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. Reference is to Johnson’s statement of March 21 and Chiari’s communiqué of March 24; see Document 401 and footnote 2, Document 403.