450. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 82561. Herewith the line Secretary Rusk is taking on Panama. State 254600 to Panama.

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At present seems to us we have three immediate objectives:

Prevent civil strife and bloodshed;
Seek some solution to political crisis that will preserve as much constitutionality as possible; and
Avoid to the extent we can having US be target enmity of significant elements of Panamanian nation.

What happens in Panama on heels of Peru will also be relevant in terms encouraging or discouraging similar acts other countries.

We believe following is appropriate scenario for immediate future:
We should not facilitate any attempts by Arias overturn junta by violence. All your reports thus far and intelligence assessment here indicate he cannot now be successful and any effort would only lead to bloodshed without satisfactory solution. It may in fact be necessary at some future point to actively discourage Arias from all political activity, and we may have to return to our original posture of asking him again to refrain from political activity while in the zone.
We believe that we should now approach junta and guardia through appropriate informal channels and tell them compromise with Arias coalition and utilization some formula of constitutional government is critical to nature of our future relationships, and that US attitude toward new governments will be guided thereby. We understand this may eventually mean giving up on Arias, but critical now to see if his government can be utilized to form new civilian or part-civilian government. For example, we note CIA sitrep here indicates coup leaders have asked First VP Arango to assume presidency but he has thus far refused.

Per telcon,2 approach to Aleman will be made along following lines.

“You know that a complete break with constitutional government is much more difficult for other countries to deal with than is some variation on the original constitutional arrangement. First preference would be to see if something can’t be worked out for Arias to return. If this proves impossible, how about a government headed by Arango? The worst situation would be for a military junta to set itself up completely apart from the constitution.”

In addition you are now authorized have Seddon make similar discreet and quiet approach to Guardia officers making same points and pointing out in appropriate tone how difficult it will be for us to continue be of assistance to Guardia in long-run future.
All such approaches are, of course, to be quiet, unofficial and undertaken with utmost discretion.3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 99, October 10–15, 1968. Secret.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. On October 12 the IRG Group discussed appropriate U.S. action in response to the coup in Panama. In reporting results of this meeting to Adair, Oliver noted: “key question is as to manageable and desirable extent to which U.S. should seek to influence formation of new ‘respectable’ government by Junta.” (Telegram 254640 to Panama, October 13; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 2 PAN) A report on these discussions is in the minutes to the IRG meeting, held 8:40–10:40 p.m. October 13. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/IG Files: Lot 70 D 122, 5451, IRG/ARA Minutes)