141. Circular Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Posts 1

198256. Subj: Possible Security Council Meeting in Panama.

We continue to be seriously concerned at prospect of SC meeting in Panama not only, and not even primarily, because of effect such meeting may have on our negotiations with Panama but because of damaging implications for the UN and for the hemisphere generally. We believe it is time that these implications be explained more widely to selected governments so that they can better determine where their own interests lie in this matter.2
It is clear to us that if Panamanian proposal were formally made in SC today it would pass; and it is likely that in 1973, when composition of SC is still less favorable to us, it would be even more apt to pass. We have thus decided that our efforts should not be concentrated on mobilizing blocking 7 votes in SC, which is a losing proposition and one that could only antagonize Latin Americans, but that we must try to persuade others that it is in their interest to dissuade Panama. At a [Page 267]minimum, the cumulative effect of doubts expressed by others about the wisdom of the idea would improve the chances of our bilateral efforts to get Panama to drop it. Such doubts could be expressed even by SC members that are already pledged to support the Panamanian proposal if it is put forward, and by non-members of SC that have an interest in effective functioning of the SC.
For reasons having to do with current state of US-Panama relations which also involve other issues, we do not at this time wish to generate diplomatic campaign in Latin American capitals. USUN should however continue its work on LA delegations, but LA addressee posts may use contents this telegram to make points only if question of Panama SC meeting is raised with them.
Leaving aside the bilateral question of the Panama Canal, we think there are persuasive reasons why a meeting in Panama would be undesirable:
Meeting is not in interest of effective functioning of Security Council. Charter provides SC shall be organized so as to be able to function continuously in order to be immediately available in case of emergency. Of 15 SC members, only six have resident representatives in Panama. SC reps of other SC members would be seriously handicapped in communicating with their respective governments. This would not just inconvenience them and their govts but could create very serious problems in event of crisis in another area requiring immediate SC consideration and action.
No Latin American issues are currently under SC consideration. While an agenda could be contrived under some vague heading, there are legitimate doubts whether this would be proper. Moreover, others could use such precedent in the future to the detriment of the prestige of the SC and for mischievous purposes. If it is said that LA situation could be discussed only in general terms, the answer is that it is not feasible to confine SC discussion to generalities. In practice, specific regional issues are bound to be debated. This would amount to artificial stimulation of debate on subjects not requiring SC attention at this time.
There is also general question (more applicable to LA countries) whether it is wise for UN attention to be focused on LA issues in apparent circumvention of the OAS which is existing forum best qualified to discuss them, at least in initial stages. Would not precedent created by airing of LA issues in UN erode status and prestige of OAS and plague that organization at a later time in conflict situations that cannot yet be foreseen? (Note: This is not an argument to be pressed since if Panama asked for OAS endorsement it would probably receive it; but the general argument is valid and should give LA’s concern.)
While there are no active LA issues on the SC agenda, there are dormant LA issues still formally on the agenda from meetings of past years and these could be raised by any SC member. We cannot believe that their discussion (e.g., the Cuban issue) would be fruitful at this time. If revived, they would probably lead to bitter debate involving US, USSR and PRC which would bring the cold war to Latin America and in which divisions among LA’s, too, would be emphasized. (LA countries not on SC, including Cuba and Chile, would of course be entitled to participate in debate on Latin American issues.) We fail to see how this would be to advantage of the UN, or indeed of the majority of LA countries.
It is not certain that Panama wishes to use meeting in its capital to focus attention on the Canal issues. While this is what Panamanian Rep in New York freely states, the Panamanian Foreign Minister has told us that purpose is only to enhance the prestige of their country and that they do not intend to press the Canal issue themselves. This raises question whether enhancement of prestige of a SC member is adequate ground for the Council to be moved from headquarters. On other hand, we do not really believe that meeting held in Panama could fail to involve the Canal issue, which is currently under bilateral negotiation, even if host govt wished to avoid discussion. Host govt could easily lose control of this matter to other govts intent on roiling the waters.
Whether or not Panama wishes to use the SC venue to influence bilateral negotiations, we thus have general question whether meeting should be held in a capital where bilateral negotiations are bound to be affected. Would this not establish damaging precedent? Many SC members (especially LA republics) have bilateral problems of one kind or another with neighboring countries. It is hard to tell what future SC members might use fortuitous fact that they were on the Council to generate (wittingly or unwittingly) pressure against another country.
In short, and leaving aside the aspect of effect of SC meeting in Panama on US-Panama relations, it seems to us that venue would not be beneficial to Panama or the UN itself. In absence of concrete LA issues to debate, discussion would degenerate into broad and general statements along lines of GA debate speeches. If attention were focused on regional issues, debate would be divisive and would produce unhelpful resolution in which outside powers would manipulate Latin American issues that do not need to be discussed. In either case result would not be conducive either to prestige or efficacy of the Security Council whose potential role in preserving world peace should not be downgraded.
It is along foregoing lines that we wish action addressee posts, unless they perceive objection, to talk to host govts at appropriately [Page 269]high level. (We can assume that NY Reps of all present and prospective UN members have already been approached by Panamanians.) It should be noted that we are not lobbying for votes. What we are hoping is that SC members, even those who feel they would have to vote for Panama venue in a showdown, will recommend to Panama that it avoid bringing the matter to a head—or that such countries would at a minimum express their misgivings to Panama. To the extent that USUN can get LA’s to weigh in in New York, this is by no means discouraged.
There remains of course the aspect of US-Panamanian relations and, specifically, the Canal issue. We do not wish to place any emphasis on that aspect, but when asked posts can state that in our opinion there are prospects for a negotiated solution; we are optimistic about early resumption of the negotiations; and we intend to be flexible and have so told the Panamanians. Our ability to continue flexible and forthcoming posture in negotiations could, however, be seriously jeopardized by an atmosphere of confrontation created by SC discussion of the Canal issue.
For New Delhi. We appreciate that India is probably not only committed to Panama meeting but unwilling even to voice misgivings to Panama, but leave it to your discretion if our views might be outlined to GOI.
For Mogadiscio, Conakry and Khartoum. We realize that host govts are unlikely to be helpful and leave to your discretion how far to go in pressing our points. Should the point be made, however, that Africans have already had their SC meeting and it only fair that LA’s have one too, you can point out that Addis SC meeting was in response to OAU initiative, that there were active African issues on SC agenda, and that meeting produced evidence of regional unity on those issues. All of these elements are lacking in case of Panama.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 3 SC. Confidential; Routine. Drafted by Herz; cleared by Hurwitch, Rodger P. Davies, Fessenden, Robert W. Moore, and Claude G. Ross; and approved by Assistant Secretary DePalma. Sent to USUN, Paris, Canberra, Vienna, Tokyo, Jakarta, Brussels, Rome, Mogadiscio, Conakry, Nairobi, Belgrade, New Delhi, and Khartoum; and repeated to Buenos Aires, Caracas, Bogota, Montevideo, San José, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Managua, Brasilia, London, Moscow, and Geneva.
  2. These points were also mentioned in telegrams 4212 and 4213 from USUN, both October 28. (Ibid.)