137. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Panama 1

188714. Subj: Proposed Security Council Meeting in Panama. Ref: State 186768.2

For the Ambassador.

We have prepared following message for you to deliver to Foreign Minister Tack, in the event you have no objection, by means of a confidential letter under your signature. By that format we seek to avoid the formality of a diplomatic note, and hope Tack will appreciate the effort to be informal on this subject. We seek also to try to preclude his rushing to the press with it, characterizing the message as an unacceptable ultimatum. Finally we seek to assure that, having a written message, Tack will feel constrained to show it to Torrijos, rather than to brief him orally—and probably inaccurately—on the substance of the message.
Should Tack demand a formal communication, you may say plainly that the interests of both parties indicate the need for informality and that we cannot provide such a communication.
“Personal and confidential. Dear Mr. Minister,
“I write to you privately, on instructions from my government, to supplement the personal and confidential letter from President Nixon to General Torrijos delivered recently by Ambassador Finch. I write also to supplement the letter I delivered to you recently from Ambassador Anderson.
“The subject, Mr. Minister, is the proposal of the Government of Panama to hold a meeting of the Security Council in Panama City next March.
“First let me say that my government appreciates the straight-forwardness with which the Government of Panama has dealt with us on this proposal. Your Representative at the United Nations has candidly made known to us, as he has made known to the Representatives of other governments, that the Panamanian Government desires to use such a meeting, although perhaps not officially, as a forum in which to place before the world the views of Panama on the Panama Canal issues, and to engender support for its position throughout the world and particularly in the United States.
“Moreover, you yourself—knowing from the outset of our opposition to the proposal on a variety of grounds—were good enough to seek our views, our reconsideration of the matter, and our ultimate support.
“My government wishes to return this notable courtesy, Mr. Minister, by being equally straightforward.
“Your government has now received reiterations from the very highest level of the United States Government, in writing and in personal conversation, that we are ready at any time to pursue treaty negotiations—indeed, that we are anxious to pursue them, and that we are in a position to be flexible at the negotiating table. We wait only the presentation of a new set of negotiating positions from the Government of Panama in response to the most recent set of negotiating positions of the United States, laid before you many months ago.
“Your government has also received, Mr. Minister, an expression of hope at the highest level of the United States Government that a climate may be maintained in which we can quietly and constructively resolve the differences long existing as a result of the Panama Canal Treaty relationship and, more generally, in which we can quietly and constructively conduct our bilateral business. I believe I am not mistaken in my recollection from earlier conversations with you and General Torrijos that an informal understanding exists on the desirability of maintaining such a climate. I believe also that I am not mistaken in recognizing several distinct manifestations of that understanding on the part of your government in the last week or so. That recognition is a source of gratification to my government.
“Given the longstanding readiness of the United States to pursue negotiations, and given what we take to be a mutual interest in maintaining an agreeable climate for the conduct of our affairs, it has been difficult from the outset for my government to comprehend the purpose of the Panamanian Government in proposing this meeting. I should add, Mr. Minister, that the other governments with which the United States has been routinely consulting on this proposal, simultaneously with the routine consultations of the Panamanian Government, may well have some similar difficulty. Understanding as they do from your representative at the United Nations that Panama seeks to expose its views on the Panama Canal issues and to collect support for them, those governments might well ask, “Is this not a matter of a purely bilateral problem, clearly susceptible of a peaceful resolution once the parties involved can once again pursue actively the negotiations?”
“Now that President Nixon has delivered to General Torrijos his personal words on our readiness to negotiate and to work with your government in maintaining an agreeable climate, my government would find it more difficult still to comprehend the purpose of the government of Panama were it to persist in its proposal for such a meeting. That is particularly so, Mr. Minister, as a result of Ambassador Finch’s feeling that he and General Torrijos agreed specifically that a mutually satisfactory treaty relationship could not be negotiated through the world press.
“What my government has no difficulty in comprehending, Mr. Minister, is that a Security Council meeting in Panama City could result in the creation of a climate—in your country, my own, and in the international community—so antipathetic to the goal of mutual understanding and trust that my government’s ability to negotiate outstanding treaty issues in a forthcoming and flexible way might well be restricted.
“To elaborate, I can predict that the American people and the American Congress would view such a meeting as an effort to generate external pressure on the United States, and would deeply resent that effort. I can also predict that they would view it as casting doubt on the good faith of Panama in the attempt to negotiate away the differences between us. The President of the United States could not ignore such sentiments.
“I could elaborate also on other reservations of my government to the proposal, but I am certain you have heard of them from your representative at the United Nations. You may also have heard of them, through your representative, from other members of the United Nations. They are aware, to cite only one reservation, that the Security Council is not currently considering any matters relating in particular to Latin America, so that there is no appropriate basis for an agenda [Page 262]suited to a meeting in Latin America. I believe it fair to state that these reservations have a persuasive quality among United Nations members, including those on the Security Council.
“In the spirit in which you sought my government’s reconsideration of the Panamanian proposal, my government now asks for Panama’s reconsideration. We have two thoughts. One is that a meeting in Panama City would impair, perhaps seriously, the prospects for an improved relationship between us. The other is that the Government of Panama may in the exercise of its sovereignty and wisdom choose to seize upon the reaffirmations of my President as an instrumentality helpful to the prestige of Panama in deciding to pursue, not a provocative course, but rather the peaceful and constructive one of negotiation.
“I close this private message to you, Mr. Minister, by putting myself at your disposal to continue our straightforward exchange on this subject should you wish to do so.”
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 3 SC. Confidential; Immediate. Drafted by Bell; cleared by Herz, Armitage, Finn, Crimmins, Ward, and Hurwitch; and approved by Charles A. Meyer. Repeated to USUN.
  2. Telegram 186768, October 12, advised USUN to “tailor our representations to others in manner best designed to suggest ‘way out’ which sympathetic Latin American delegations and, hopefully, other SC members can use to persuade Panama to withdraw its proposal.” Points to be made were that a special meeting might hamper negotiations in progress concerning the future status of the Canal, that there were no Latin American issues currently under Security Council consideration, that reviving earlier Latin American issues would revive cold war divisions, and that current Latin American issues were better suited to consideration by the OAS. (Ibid.)