406. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 64105. On Panama, Secretary Rusk, Mann, and I would now like your authority for Bunker to propose the following letter to Moreno for possible delivery by both governments in identical notes to the Chairman of the OAS Council. We do not believe the Panamanians will accept this solution, but we do believe it is useful to offer it as a means of getting basic responsibility fixed back on Panama.2 [Page 860]The operative paragraph is paragraph 2, and you will want to check it word for word.

The word “re-examine” is safe, and I think we should stick with it at this stage. We could also use nearly any other word except “negotiate,” but I think we should allow the Panamanians to make further suggestions if they have enough interest.

If you approve this move by word to Valenti or Connell, Bunker would present this proposal to Moreno tomorrow, along with a clear statement that this is the best we can do and that he should not expect any softening of the U.S. position because of the Fulbright speech. FBI reports make it clear that Moreno and Chiari have put undue weight on Fulbright’s remarks,3 thinking that they indicate public pressure in the U.S. for an early settlement on terms more favorable to Panama than those we are proposing.

Bunker believes that this offer of identical notes will regain support for us in the OAS Committee.

Draft letter follows:

Note: In second paragraph in place of re-examine, we might use deal with.

Draft Note—United States

Your Excellency:

1.
I have the honor to advise Your Excellency that the Governments of the Republic of Panama and the United States of America have agreed to resume diplomatic relations as of today’s date.
2.
In order to seek the prompt elimination of the causes of conflict existing between them, my government will also appoint without delay a special Ambassador with sufficient powers to re-examine all the issues between the two countries, without limitation or preconditions of any kind, with the objective of reaching a fair and just agreement, subject to the constitutional processes of each country.
3.
The Government of the United States of America desires to express its gratitude for the untiring and invaluable efforts of the members of the Inter-American Peace Committee, the Council of the Organization of American States, the General Committee and the Special Delegation, without which this constructive result would not have been possible.
4.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

Ellsworth

Bunker Ambassador

Representative of the United States of America on the Council of the Organization of American States

His Excellency

Dr. Juan Bautista de Lavalle,

Chairman of the General Committee of the Council of the Organization of American States,

Acting Provisionally as Organ of Consultation.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. III, March 1964. Secret. The telegram bears a handwritten note by Jack Valenti that reads: “LBJ approved by phone to Secy Rusk, 3/30/64.”
  2. The Consul in Panama (Taylor) reported on March 28 that, with the Panamanian elections scheduled for early May, “Chiari’s present seemingly rigid stand motivated by political considerations.” He also indicated that “Senator Fulbright’s remarks have bolstered Chiari’s belief that if he stands firm he will eventually obtain close to what he originally stipulated.” (Telegram 514 from Panama City, March 28; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US) Regarding Fulbright’s remarks, see footnote 3 below.
  3. On March 25 Fulbright made a speech advocating that the United States renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty. Johnson complained: “I’m just within an inch of gettin’ an agreement with them and every time I do, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or some damn fool Senator gets up and knocks it off.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Spessard Holland, March 25, 4:40 p.m.; Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape 64.20, Side A, PNO 10) The President also complained to Bundy that “they all assume Fulbright speaks for the administration.” Bundy responded that it was “extraordinary that Fulbright would take such a stance.” The President replied, “Fulbright’s that way, though. He is very unpredictable.” Johnson also recalled Truman’s onetime quip that Fulbright was only “half-bright.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy, March 25, 4:35 p.m.; ibid., PNO 11)