457. Memorandum for the File1

SUBJECT

  • Panama

Walt Rostow told me today that the President does not want to “provide any military assistance” to the Panamanian junta during the remainder of his Administration, unless it were a case involving vital US national security. Rostow agreed that such a situation does not currently exist.2

Rostow authorized me to talk discreetly with Covey Oliver, without putting anything on paper, to see that all decisions on MAP or public safety assistance are stalled through January 20. Rostow indicated the President’s concern covered even innocuous MAP assistance items such as spare parts, tools, field canteens, etc. on a straight sales basis. [Page 965]If State insists on the necessity for some sort of military aid, whether it involves hardware or training, the issue should be presented to the President by Secretary Rusk for decision.

I discussed this matter orally with Ben Read (S/S), Art Hartman (U), and Pete Vaky (ARA) in Covey Oliver’s absence, making the President’s wishes clear to each of them. They all affirmed that no affirmative decisions would be made on any MAP or Public Safety items without prior consideration by the President.

Samuel W. Lewis
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (part 1 of 3), May–December 1968. Secret. Prepared by Lewis of the NSC staff.
  2. On December 3 Rostow informed the President that the National Guard Commander had asked to purchase from U.S. Army stocks, $20,000 worth of field equipment and combat rations for counter-insurgency operations. Adair recommended approving the sale, which did not include weapons or ammunition. The Department authorized Defense to make the sale, but Rostow noted that Arias and his followers would create adverse publicity if they learned of the transaction. The President wrote on the memorandum: “I question this, call me. L.” (Ibid.) On December 5 a representative of the Junta approached U.S. officials requesting military assistance, particularly two helicopters, “for use by the National Guard to contain insurgency in Panama.” (Undated CIA report under cover of a memorandum from William V. Broe to Assistant Secretary of Defense Lang, December 9; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 72 D 33, Entry 5396, Panama)