409. Summary Record of the 526th Meeting of the National Security Council With the Congressional Leaders1

Various Subjects

The President opened the meeting with the Congressional Leaders by saying that his purpose was to bring them up to date on recent developments. Various Council members would report on current situations. He first called on Secretary Rusk for a summary of developments in Brazil.

[Omitted here is discussion of Brazil (Document 208) and Vietnam ( Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume I, Document 107).]

The President then turned to Panama and read the declaration which he said he would make this afternoon if the Council approved.2 He summarized the U.S. position on the Panama negotiations, i.e., that we would not accept preconditions but we were prepared to review with the Panamanians all problems. He characterized the declaration as containing nothing offensive to either side and as stating the same position he had taken during his first telephone conversation with President Chiari of Panama3 which took place immediately after the incident in Panama. He informed the group that he had chosen former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Anderson as his Special Ambassador to conduct the negotiations with the Panamanians.

Senator Mansfield and Senator Fulbright interrupted to state their belief that the agreement proposed by the President was an excellent one.

The President then announced that he was seeking Panamanian agreement for Jack Vaughn as U.S. Ambassador. He summarized in detail the career of Mr. Vaughn.

The President asked whether the Council approved the declaration, and hearing no objection, the President said we would proceed to give our statement to the OAS group. He then praised Ambassador Bunker for his contribution to reaching an agreement.

Secretary Rusk explained that we could not accept any precommitment with respect to negotiation with the Panamanians because, if we did not reach any agreement, we could be accused of bad faith. If the [Page 865] Panamanians denounced the existing treaty they could use a charge of our bad faith in arguing before the International Court that the treaty was no longer valid. There is no reference to the Panama Canal in the agreement. We are not calling attention to this because if we did we would create a problem for President Chiari. Chiari’s opponents could say he had retreated from his position that he would not renew relations with the U.S. until we had agreed to renegotiate the treaty. Secretary Rusk said that the solution of the current phase of the Panama problem would clear the atmosphere for OAS action on the Cuban arms cache in Venezuela.

The President said that our insistence on talking without preconditions was our first and last position. We may be prepared to accept changes in the treaty but we could not do so until the Panamanians had agreed to talk without preconditions.

There followed a brief procedural discussion as to how Special Ambassador Anderson would be formally empowered to proceed. Confirmation by the Senate is not required because he will have the personal rank of Ambassador.

Senator Hickenlooper said the Panamanians had denounced the treaties. What would we do if in the first discussion the Panamanians took the position that no treaty existed? Secretary Rusk replied that as far as he knew the Panamanians had not denounced the treaties. They recognized the existence of the treaties and their language attacking them had not gone so far as to claim that they had no validity.

Senator Morse said that the Panamanian agreement was a great agreement and he congratulated the President and the Secretary of State. He said, however, he felt obliged to say that he disagrees entirely with the program for South Vietnam.

[Omitted here is further discussion of Vietnam.]

Turning to Panama, Senator Saltonstall said that in his view the problem there arose because of the attitude of U.S. citizens in the Canal Zone. He asked what we were doing to improve this situation. The President replied that Deputy Secretary of Defense Vance had gone down to Panama, had reviewed the situation, and had recommended certain changes which have already taken place. In addition, General O’Meara, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Southern Command, is to make additional recommendations on this subject.

[Omitted here is discussion of Africa.]

The President then read a draft press statement which would be issued following the conclusion of the meeting (copy attached).4 The statement was approved by those present.

[Page 866]

The President then read a statement which he is going to make to the OAS Ambassadors at 4:00 PM covering the Panama agreement (copy attached).5

Senator Humphrey stated that the President’s statement on Panama was excellent. He said our forbearance and patience had paid off.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam, Cuba, and Cyprus.]

The President then explained to the group that he had put in a call to President Chiari of Panama on the assumption that the meeting would be finished. President Chiari was now on the line and he said he would now talk to him. (The photographers entered to take pictures.) The record of the conversation is attached.6 Only one side of the conversation was audible to those present. At the conclusion of the conversation the President commented that President Chiari had broken into English at the end to say, “That’s the way to do it,” then returning to Spanish.

[Omitted here is discussion of Zanzibar and Indonesia.]

The President asked all those present to go with him to the Fish Room to meet the OAS Ambassadors gathered there to hear the President’s statement on Panama. The Cabinet Room had to be vacated so that the television cameras could be put in place.

Bromley Smith 7
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. 1, Tab 7, 4/3/64. Top Secret. Drafted by Bromley Smith. The meeting lasted no later than 3:35 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) McCone has a much briefer account of the Panama discussion in his record of this meeting. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (McCone) Files, Job 80–B01285A, Memoranda for the Record)
  2. See footnote 3, Document 407.
  3. Document 370.
  4. Not attached but an apparent reference to a statement made to the White House correspondents by Press Secretary George Reedy, at 3:40 p.m. (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. I)
  5. Not attached; printed in Department of State Bulletin, April 27, 1964, pp. 655 and 656, and American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 366–367.
  6. Not attached; for the transcript of this telephone conversation, see Document 410.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.