7. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Security Council Meeting in Panama

The Security Council meeting has ended with the U.S. vetoing a tendentious and unbalanced declaration on Latin America in general and Panama in particular. Vote was 13 for, one against, and one abstention (U.K.).

Until a few hours before end of the session, our delegation had worked out with Panama, with helpful intervention of others—especially France, Britain, Australia, an innocuous compromise on which there was agreement except for five words. Then, in final hours, Panama reversed course and went back to earlier unacceptable resolution.2 They were undoubtedly encouraged to do so by Cuba, Peru, Chile and others, with full backing of Soviets and Chinese.

Highlights of meetings which began March 15—with two-day break March 17–18:

Panamanian leader General Torrijos opened first session with welcoming speech that was rigid and polemical. His earlier intention to open on a “moderate” note was changed at last minute—within 24 hours of opening—under pressure from extremists in the UN and in his own entourage. His main pitch was for world recognition of Panamanian sovereignty over all its territory—meaning the Canal and Canal Zone. He also attacked “isolation” of Cuba.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Rabasa, who spoke on afternoon of first day, noted his country’s support for holding of meeting in Panama. He noted Mexican support for “right of peoples to determine their own destiny without intervention, coercion, or external pressure” and upheld national unity and territorial integrity of all states. Praised creation of Latin American nuclear-free zone. He spoke sympathetically [Page 21] of Panama’s concerns and interests and urged U.S. and Panama to work out settlement by mutual agreement. He attacked perpetuity of present treaty “especially when upon one of the parties is imposed all or almost all of the burdens and the other receives all the benefits.” In comparison with many others, Rabasa’s was moderate statement—but still not very helpful. He will, of course, claim otherwise. He left Panama after formal opening statements of first two days. There is no evidence that Mexican delegation played any significant role behind the scenes in ensuing days to press for moderate resolution or to push Panama either way.

Speech of Cuba’s Raul Roa attracted most attention on first day. It was typical Cuban invective with polemical attack on U.S. and all its actions, the kind of thing we have become accustomed to at the UN and in all other forums. There was considerable criticism in the corridors and even among Panamanian circles of the sour note sounded by the Cuban delegate.

Scali immediately responded with a short and moderate statement that chided Cubans for reverting to outmoded Cold War rhetoric that was inappropriate in view of changing world. Statement won plaudits from most delegations, including Panamanians—in private.

As meetings wore on, we made some tactical mistakes. I think we moved away too fast from our initial position of urging there be no repeat no resolution of any kind at the meeting. We went to our “fallback” resolution too fast. And we failed to win broad enough support for that approach. We also probably underestimated the sympathy and support that would go to tiny Panama in its dispute with the Colossus of the North.

We were absolutely right to veto the final resolution—which engaged the UN in a strictly bilateral issue and would have seriously prejudiced future negotiations.3

There will be plenty of Monday-morning-quarterbacking in the days ahead.4 But my guess is that this particular unfortunate gathering of the UN will rather quickly be forgotten—except in Panama—and be relegated to the footnotes of history. That is where it belongs. We can only hope that the UN itself has learned a lesson and will not [Page 22] involve itself in future when one or another member wants to use it to win support for its purely selfish purposes.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 791, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Vol. 3, January 1972–August 1974. Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. In telegram 1563 from Panama City, March 21, Ambassador Sayre stated that the U.S. and Panamanian teams were making progress on language for the resolution. (Ibid.) In telegram 1582 from Panama, however, Sayre informed the Department that there was more than a five-word discrepancy in the two sides’ drafts, and that the lead Panamanian negotiator, Foreign Minister Tack, had retreated to an earlier position. (Ibid.)
  3. For the texts of Scali’s March 20 and 21 statements and the draft resolution that the United States vetoed, see the Department of State Bulletin, April 23, 1973, pp. 490–497. The Security Council discussion of the Panama Canal is summarized in the Yearbook of the United Nations, 1973, pp. 165–169.
  4. In message PNA 142, March 22, Governor Parker provided a personal commentary on the Security Council debate. (National Archives, RG 185, Subject Files of 1979 Panama Canal Treaty Planning Group, Box 5, Msgs Jan–June 1973)