28. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Nixon1

SUBJECT

  • Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations

Background:

Ambassador Bunker’s recent talks in Panama were highly positive. An entirely new and favorable climate has been created for continuing negotiations. The talks also disclosed a new flexibility on the part of the Panamanians regarding the Canal negotiations. The prospects seem good for resolving this long-standing issue within the next year.

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Proposed Actions:

We need to sustain the momentum generated in the renewed talks. We can, at the same time, minimize the risks of any spontaneous Panamanian actions against the Zone similar to those that occurred in 1964. The 10th anniversary of those riots will be on January 9.

Ambassador Bunker has recommended—with the concurrence of State and Defense Departments (see memo at Tab A)2—that we make a few unilateral gestures to Panama. In addition to improving the negotiating climate, these gestures would reduce international criticism of our position in the Zone and serve as additional evidence that our “new look” at Latin America has been initiated and is producing results.

The gestures would involve announcing your intention to seek legislation next year authorizing Executive Agreements that would: (1) transfer title and jurisdiction to Panama over two small airstrips the US no longer requires, and (2) authorize Panama’s national lottery to operate in the Zone. The Defense Department agrees that transfer of the airstrips would not diminish in any way our ability to operate and defend the Canal.

A small number of members of Congress oppose making any concessions to Panama, now or ever. They might be tempted to attach riders to the proposed legislation aimed at limiting the US negotiating position regarding any new treaty. However, based on Ambassador Bunker’s consultations to date with key congressional leaders,3 we are confident such efforts would not succeed. Ambassador Bunker will be meeting again with congressional leaders to prepare the way for your announcement before he returns to Panama after Christmas.

We hope the US-Panama talks can be resumed on December 26 or 27. A White House announcement of the measures described above will be most important to the success of this second round and will enhance our negotiating position. For maximum impact, the announcement should be made December 27 or 28.4

OMB has been advised of the proposed legislation and does not object to the suggested White House announcement of your intent to seek these measures.

Bill Timmons concurs in this proposal.

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Recommendation:

I recommend that you:

1. Approve submission of the legislation mentioned above.

2. Authorize issuance of a White House press statement announcing in the period December 26–29 your intention to seek such legislation. 5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–266, Under Secretaries Committee Memorandum Files, Under Secretaries Study Committee U/SM 136 [1 of 3]. Secret. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. Tab A, a December 14 memorandum from Rush to Nixon, is attached but not printed.
  3. See Documents 22 and 23.
  4. Telegram 250667 to Panama City, December 27, transmitted the text of the announcement, scheduled for 11 a.m. on December 28. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  5. The President initialed his approval of both recommendations.