427. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1


  • The Panama Canal Negotiations
I have just talked at length with Bob Anderson and he tells me that the political problems of the Panama negotiations are now getting ripe for a brief report to you. I agree with him. There are decisions in the offing which only you can make and which I think you will want to make directly with Bob.
The essence of the situation is that Anderson and his team are very clear now on the need for a Joint US–Panama Authority to run the present Canal under the new treaties with Panama. You have approved this idea in principle, and for discussion, but there is no final Presidential decision, and still less any public White House position.
In discussing this idea on the Hill, in a preliminary way, Anderson’s colleagues, Jack Irwin and Bob Woodward, have found substantial preliminary resistance from the House Subcommittee led by Mrs. Sullivan, and also from Senator Hickenlooper.
Anderson himself has stayed away from the House Subcommittee so far. He does not want to be in the position of giving them a fat target before there is a definite US Government position. He fears that if he were to advocate the Joint US–Panama Authority before you have made your own decision, he would be inviting public and definite opposition from Mrs. Sullivan and others.
Anderson is convinced that the Joint Authority will be indispensible to a successful negotiation. He is also convinced that real US interests can be protected, essentially by giving both Presidents a veto of changes in the existing code which covers the existing Canal. Anderson & Company therefore plan to make a flat recommendation to you in favor of a Joint Authority.
The next question is that Bob needs to know whether you want him to be the spokesman or whether you wish to announce your decision yourself, perhaps to an appropriate group of bipartisan leaders. He and I are inclined to think that if the President and Commander-in-Chief were spokesman on an issue of this sort, the chances of effective [Page 906] support would be greatly increased. This is, of course, what happened when you announced that you planned to negotiate these new treaties last December.

Anderson is now preparing a definite and clear recommendation on the Joint Authority for submission to you.2 He can come in and get your decision either in the latter part of this week or after Labor Day. We think our tactics should be decided fairly soon because the Panamanian Congress is in October, and our own Congress should know our position before it goes home. On this basis, may I make an appointment through Marvin Watson for Anderson:

Later this week3

Early next week

Speak to me

I have talked to Larry O’Brien about the problem of Mrs. Sullivan—and probably Dan Flood—and he thinks we have a lot of ways of handling this sort of opposition, and that on the Hill in general it is well understood that it is time for change in US–Panama relations. I will plan to ask him to join in the Anderson meeting (if he hasn’t gone off to deliver the mail).
McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Mc-George Bundy, Vol. 13. Confidential.
  2. Document 428.
  3. None of the options is checked, but Bundy wrote at the top of this memorandum: “Hold for Panama meeting Thurs.” The President met with Anderson and Irwin in the Oval Office at 1:55 p.m. on September 2. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of this meeting has been found, although a September 14 memorandum from Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Jack Vaughn to Rusk indicated that “The President approved” the Anderson and Irwin recommendations “and directed Ambassador Anderson to canvass the Congress to ensure that there would be sufficient Congressional support.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 33–3 PAN)