107. Telegram From the Embassy in Panama to the Department of State1

7660. Subject: Talk with Torrijos: Negotiations. Eyes only for Ambassador Bunker and Deputies Bell and Dolvin. Refs: Jorden-Bell Telecon.

1. After talk with Torrijos on proposed GN visit to Washington, reported septel (see Panama 7658),2 I told him there was an additional item I wanted to raise. I said that as a result of my recent visit to Washington and after consultations with Ambassador Bunker and other colleagues, it was my impression that we were at a propitious moment to move forward on treaty talks with renewed vigor. I said it was my impression that he and perhaps others around him had misinterpreted the oversimplified formula of Quote no treaty before [Page 281]the U.S. elections Unquote. Perhaps he thought that meant no movement until next November. He said that this was his general impression. I said that was not the way we viewed things at all. I told him I thought the time was ripe for real progress.

2. Several things persuaded us in this direction. First, there was always a lot of tension in the air in the period leading up to the January 9 anniversary. It put some people in a much more conciliatory mood than at other times. Second, there was no doubt that his coming visit to Cuba3 would tend to harden attitudes among some people as I had told him earlier. Third, as we moved into February there would be increasing attention paid to the primary campaigns and the demands of domestic politics. Additionally, I noted that the present cast of characters involved in the treaty problem (including the President, Secretary Kissinger, Ambassador Bunker and others of us) would not remain in our present positions indefinitely. We might have a new President in January 1977. Without a finalized treaty, Panama would face the prospect of starting from scratch with entirely new personalities and new priorities.

3. I said it was my impression that Ambassador Bunker wanted to move toward a Quote political transaction Unquote on the remaining outstanding issues in the same way we had moved on earlier issues of jurisdiction, the SOFA, etc. But to achieve that, he needed to know much more specifically what Panama requires and what it desires. That meant specific proposals discussed back and forth in hard bargaining sessions. It meant the two sides facing each other across the table and talking turkey day in and day out. I said the Ambassador had been forthcoming in the September and November sessions. But all we got from Panama was complaints and mushy words. We needed straight talk and solid justifications for positions from both sides.

4. Ambassador Bunker had been waiting patiently for some response from Tack on our latest proposals. Now we had received a message from Tack that did not say a damn thing new.4 It did not move us one inch forward. I said it was possible that the Ambassador’s reaction would be to reply to Tack with a request for harder answers. If he did so, I sincerely hoped that Panama’s reply would be serious and positive. If the existing proposals will not produce a satisfactory treaty, we need to know why not and what will. Only by this approach [Page 282]can we begin to cut through the fog that has developed around the Panamanian position on outstanding issues.

5. Torrijos said he thought he understood more clearly than ever before. He had really thought we were in a holding pattern over the next months. He said he had a report on the Bell-Gonzalez Revilla talk of the previous day.5 He said he had authorized Nico to begin developing a Panamanian position which would then be approved here. Then, he thought, Bell and Gonzalez Revilla could sit down together and compare the two positions, U.S. and Panamanian, and begin to seek accommodations. It seemed, he said, that I was talking of something more serious. I assured him I was. My own personal opinion was that there had been too much working separately and then getting together for brief sessions at the top. Would it not be better to think in terms of Tack and Ambassador Bunker getting together for some intensive and detailed discussions—of what Panama wants, what it considers important, and what it truly has to have for a final agreement?

6. Torrijos asked if I was saying that our negotiators were prepared to really work during the Christmas and New Years holidays. I said that, of course, I could not commit Ambassador Bunker. But that it was my impression from Washington that our negotiators were indeed ready to work intensively from now into and through January to get general agreement on outstanding issues. Then we could turn to the lawyers and treaty technicians to begin work on specific treaty language.

7. Torrijos said I had given him an outlook he had not had before. He took it seriously. He was going to call in today (Friday) Tack, Gerardo Gonzalez and Romulo Escobar for a serious discussion on next steps. If they received a message from Bunker they would prepare a serious and forthcoming reply.

8. Torrijos repeated what he had told me before: that he thought these talks should be held in strict privacy and in Washington. I assured him we would accommodate to those wishes.

9. COMMENT: It is clear this discussion had considerable impact on Torrijos.6 He seemed to be seeing and understanding things that had not really been clear before. If a message from the Ambassador to [Page 283]Tack is not on its way, I urge one be sent as quickly as possible. 7 It could trigger a very positive response here. END COMMENT.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 84, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations, Department of State, Lot 81F1, Box 125, POL 33.3–2/Canal Treaty Negotiations/General, July–Dec 1975. Confidential; Priority; Exdis; Stadis. Drafted and approved by Jorden.
  2. Dated December 12. (Ibid.)
  3. Torrijos visited Cuba January 10–15, 1976. See Document 110.
  4. In telegram 293630 to Panama City, December 12, the Department transmitted the text of Tack’s December 10 message and Bunker’s response. (National Archives, RG 84, Lot 81F1, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations, Box 125, POL 33.3–2/Canal Treaty Negotiations/General, July–Dec 1975)
  5. Bell’s account of this meeting is ibid.
  6. In a December 13 memorandum to Dolvin and Bell, Blacken wrote: “Torrijos appears to have accepted our assurances that we are indeed ready to seek a ‘political transaction’ and is giving us the opportunity to prove it.” (Ibid.)
  7. Telegram 5337 to Panama City, January 9, 1976, transmitted a message from Bunker to Tack concerning the next round of negotiations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760007–0663)