99. Briefing Memorandum From Ambassador at Large Bunker to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Panama—September Negotiating Round

During my most recent visit to Panama (September 7–18) I presented a comprehensive US position paper on the remaining major [Page 262]issues in the negotiations (duration, rights of Canal Company employees, canal expansion, neutrality and lands and waters).2

As I anticipated, the Panamanians reacted rather negatively.3 It was evident that the Clements, Brown, Rogers visit had built up exaggerated expectations on the part of the Panamanians. It also became apparent that they did not fully understand our proposals.

After considering my proposal for several days they commented broadly on our position in a “Views Paper” but made no counter proposals.4

At Minister Tack’s request we held two personal meetings on September 13 and September 16 to discuss the current status of negotiations and to consider how to proceed.5

Tack suggested that he name a Panamanian negotiating team, headed by Deputy Panamanian Negotiator Nicholas Gonzalez-Revilla, which would bring to Washington specific counter proposals to our latest position and be empowered to begin working out the terms of an overall agreement ad referendum to the Chief Negotiators.

I agreed with Tack’s suggestion but emphasized that we should have to agree on the pace of negotiations—that we could not have extant a draft treaty which would become an issue in next year’s Presidential campaign.

We further agreed that my Deputy would return to Panama September 27 to explain our position in greater detail so as to prepare for subsequent arrival of the Panamanian team.

We will continue to concentrate on obtaining Threshold Agreements on the major issues before entering the next stage of treaty drafting.6

[Page 263]

As you know, the Panamanians released a statement on September 20 outlining the substance of the conceptual agreements reached thus far as well as most of the remaining major issues. 7

I have communicated to Tack my disappointment at this breach of confidentiality.8 However, I do not feel that we should overreact in a manner which might interfere with the negotiating scenario to which Tack and I have agreed. Despite the publicity attached to the negotiations in recent weeks I believe that we can proceed in a constructive manner when the Panamanian negotiating team comes to Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Ambassador Bunker’s Correspondence, Lot 78D300, Box 8, Chron July–Dec 1975. Secret.
  2. A draft U.S. proposal dated September 5 is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–80–0044, Box 13, NEG–Panama and Panama Canal Zone—April 1975–Oct 1975.
  3. Telegram [number not declassified], September 13, reported that Panamanian “Vice-President Gerardo Gonzalez was particularly vehement in his displeasure with these proposals and suggested that they be turned down by the Panamanians as unacceptable.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–78–0058, Panama 821 (Aug–Dec) 1975)
  4. The Panamanian negotiators outlined their position in a September 17 paper entitled “Position of the Government of the Republic of Panama.” (National Archives, RG 59, Ambassador Bunker’s Correspondence, Lot 78D300, Box 2, Documents Since September 7, 1975)
  5. A memorandum of conversation of the September 13 meeting is in the National Archives, RG 84, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, Lot 81F1, Box 125, POL 33.3–2/Canal Treaty/Negotiations/July–Dec 1975. No record of the September 16 meeting has been found.
  6. A September 9 draft threshold agreement is in the National Archives, RG 185, Subject Files of 1979 Panama Canal Treaty Planning Group, Box 9, Treaty Negotiations, Threshold Agreements.
  7. In a question-and-answer session following a September 16 speech before the Southern Governors Conference in Orlando, Florida, Kissinger responded to a question from Governor George Wallace by stating “the United States must maintain the right, unilaterally to defend the Panama Canal for an indefinite future.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 6, 1975, p. 524) Subsequently, on September 20, the Panamanian negotiators released a report, “ordered by General Torrijos,” that the talks had “bogged down” over U.S. insistence on the right to defend the Canal indefinitely. It also contained details of the U.S. position. (“Panama Says Talks on Canal Bog Down,” The New York Times, September 21, 1975, p. 5) In a September 20 meeting with Jorden, Torrijos explained that divulging the negotiating details was “necessary to quiet rising domestic pressures.” (Telegram 5786 from Panama City, September 21; National Archives, RG 84, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, Lot 81F1, Box 125, POL 33.3–2/Canal Treaty/Negotiations/July-Dec 1975)
  8. In telegram 226507 to Panama City, September 23, Bunker requested that Jorden convey a message to Tack expressing his disappointment over the leak. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750329–0850)