102. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rogers) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Panama—Where We Stand

Status of Negotiations

The Deputy Negotiator level talks conducted in Panama (September 27–October 12), were useful in clarifying many Panamanian misconceptions concerning the United States offer which Ambassador Bunker presented in early September.2 In general, the Panamanians—with the benefit of further explanations—reacted more favorably to a number of points and characterized the United States approach as “more positive” then they had at first imagined. Clearly, however, Panama still has significant substantive problems regarding our position on issues such as duration, neutrality, a residual defense presence, and lands/waters.

At the urging of the United States team, Panama seems prepared to make some kind of counteroffer.3 The Panamanian treaty team, however, remains divided on how to assess and respond to our offer. Thus, it is not possible to predict at this point the nature of Panama’s response or when it will be forthcoming. While we have assured the Panamanian team that we are prepared to resume discussion whenever they are ready, we have also made it clear that the next move is up to them. Until we receive a concrete Panamanian counterproposal, we are not able to do much toward narrowing the remaining differences between our respective negotiating positions.

Unilateral US Actions

In early September Deputy Secretary Clements and General Brown made a brief visit to Panama and met personally with Panamanian Chief of State Omar Torrijos.4 During their meeting Torrijos emphasized Panama’s interest in having the United States move forward [Page 269] with a series of actions outside the context of treaty negotiations. He remarked that these actions would help demonstrate our good faith in moving toward a new relationship and assist the Panamanian government in coping with its domestic political problems associated with a prolonged negotiation/ratification period. As you will recall, Colombian President Lopez conveyed a similar message to you during your meeting on September 26.5

During the just-concluded talks in Panama, General Torrijos met privately with Deputy Negotiator Bell on two occasions (October 4 and 12),6 and stressed again Panama’s interest in moving ahead with a series of US actions. Torrijos indicated that such actions should begin now, be staged over the negotiating period and be a mix of symbol and substance in both military and non-military areas. Torrijos and certain of his key advisors made several specific suggestions to our Deputy Negotiator regarding possible unilateral actions which will be examined jointly by State and Defense.

Meanwhile the Department of Defense is actively considering a variety of earlier proposals. The first, which involves the National Guard’s use of some seaplane ramps in the Zone, has already been approved and was offered to Panama last week. We expect to have Defense’s more detailed views on other possible steps next week. As these measures are identified and approved, we can decide how and when to proceed in order to contribute most effectively to a favorable political environment. We will take into account your view that these measures should be arranged in a manner which avoids the inference that they are in exchange for concessions in the negotiations.

State-Defense Coordination

The visit which Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements, General Brown and I made to Panama in early September is having a tangible impact on State-Defense relations. Following various meetings involving Mr. Ingersoll, Ambassador Bunker, Mr. Clements, and General Brown, Defense offered to name a retired Army Lieutenant General as its senior representative to the US negotiating team. No final decisions have yet been made concerning General Dolvin’s exact responsibilities and title. But, we anticipate that under a “two-hatted” arrangement he will serve both as a member of Ambassador Bunker’s team concerned primarily with Defense matters and in addition, he will operate within Defense as Mr. Clements’ personal representative coor [Page 270] dinating Defense positions concerning the negotiations. Dolvin’s appointment to the US negotiating team is a significant development and should facilitate high level Defense decisions with regard to the negotiations. For example, we expect that Dolvin will play an important role in facilitating the development of unilateral actions now under consideration in Defense. While we have not yet notified the Panamanians of Dolvin’s appointment, we expect to do so in the next few days.

In recent weeks Mr. Clements, General Brown and Army Secretary Hoffman have individually expressed a willingness to be supportive of the negotiations. Efforts are proceeding to define Defense’s role in the educational effort which the President has requested in support of the negotiations.


On October 7 the House by a narrow margin (212–201) approved the following Senate-House Conference language as a substitute for the Snyder amendment:

“It is the sense of the Congress that any new Panama Canal Treaty or agreement must protect the vital interests of the United States in the Canal Zone and in the operation, maintenance, property and defense of the Panama Canal.”

The Senate subsequently approved the language by voice vote on October 9.

Our preliminary analysis of the vote indicates that despite some gains since June, we still face strong House opposition to a new treaty. Ambassador Bunker is scheduled to appear before a closed hearing of the Fascell Subcommittee on October 21 and will separately brief Mrs. Sullivan, Congressman Metcalfe and other members of the Panama Canal Subcommittee the following day.7 We anticipate that treaty opponents will probe for a definition of our “vital” interests in the Canal and the Canal Zone and will seek clarification regarding the disclosures in Panama of our negotiating agreements to date.

While it appears that the congressional situation has eased for the moment and that efforts by opponents to pass an anti-treaty resolution are unlikely in the immediate future, initiatives by those opposed to [Page 271] a new treaty remain a distinct possibility in the coming months. To blunt such efforts we will pursue our Congressional consultations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 84, American Embassy, Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, Lot 81F1, Box 125, POL 33.3–2/Canal Treaty Negotiations/General, July–Dec 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Howard; cleared by Bunker.
  2. See Document 99. Telegram 6269 from Panama City, October 12, transmitted a summary of the Deputy Negotiator talks. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750355–0162)
  3. In telegram 259835 to Panama City, November 3, the Department transmitted an English translation of the counteroffer, which Gonzalez-Revilla had delivered on October 29. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750381–0454)
  4. See Document 97.
  5. Kissinger and Ford met with Lopez on September 25; see Document 100.
  6. In telegrams 6113, October 6, and 6271, October 13, both from Panama City, the Embassy transmitted summaries of Bell’s October 4 and 12 meetings with Torrijos. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750346–0500 and D750355–0298)
  7. Fascell chaired the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs. According to Bunker’s record of schedule, he met informally with Metcalfe and other Congressmen at 9:30 a.m. on October 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Ambassador Bunker’s Correspondence, Lot 78D300, Box 9, Ambassador Bunker’s Appointments Schedule October 1975) Talking points, dated October 22, included an update on the status of the negotiations, the Panamanian release of tentative agreements, and Dolvin’s appointment to the negotiating team. (National Archives, RG 59, Ambassador Bunker’s Correspondence, 78D300, Box 5, Talking Points + Misc. Remarks 1975)