539. Memorandum of Meeting1 2

[Page 1]


  • The President
  • President Demetrio Lakas of Panama
  • Arnold Nachmanoff, NSC Staff


  • Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations

President Lakas asserted that there was a great deal of pro-United States feeling in Panama. However, one issue united all Panamanians—the Canal. He stated that Panamanians felt it was necessary to do something about the Canal arrangements soon. They could not continue much longer with the “government within a government” in the Canal Zone. President Lakas regretted that this would be a problem for President Nixon because the Americans in the Canal Zone regarded the Zone, in effect, as their country, and would oppose any change in the situation. He understood and sympathized with their attitude, since many of them had resided in the Zone for two or three generations. However, Panamanians could not continue to accept a separate police force, judiciary, etc., with jurisdiction over Panamanian citizens. President Lakas asserted that Panama does not want the Canal. He regarded the United States not only as the defender of the Canal but as a “big brother” to Panama and, indeed, to all the Americas. Panama did not want to operate the Canal either, he stated.

President Lakas asked President Nixon if he was prepared to work out a deal on new Canal treaty arrangements. President Nixon stated that he had great confidence in Ambassador Anderson, who is a reasonable man. If Ambassador Anderson and the Panamanian representatives could agree on a reasonable arrangement, the President indicated he would be prepared to try to sell it to the Congress. He noted that this should be done soon, however, since we would not want this issue to get tied up in the 1972 election.

[Page 2]

The President stated that he understood that exploratory talks were being held, and that we do not know if we have the basis for a deal yet. He felt, however, that if both sides were reasonable, it should be possible to work something out. He was not familiar with the details, and would have to rely on Ambassador Anderson to work those out with the Panamanian representatives.

President Lakas then asked the President if he was prepared to do away with the “government within a government” as part of the arrangement. The President indicated he would be sympathetic to a change in this situation. He reiterated, however, that Ambassador Anderson would have to work out the details, and that both sides would have to be reasonable. The President again stated that if something could be worked out he was prepared to try to sell it to the Congress. He indicated that Ambassador Anderson would be informed of this conversation.

President Lakas expressed his appreciation and stated that if a new arrangement could be worked out, he would make every effort to sell it in Panama. He wanted to be sure it was perfectly clear that Panama was not interested in the Canal, that Panama did not want to operate or defend it. Panama was interested in the question of jurisdiction over individuals in the Canal Zone. He asserted that this was not a question of money but a question of dignity; he had not come to beg for anything.

The President summarized his position: he stated that President Lakas could tell his colleagues in Panama that President Nixon would be reasonable about this issue; that if a satisfactory arrangement could be worked out he would be willing to try to sell it in the United States. He felt something could be worked out if both sides were reasonable. President Lakas said he would not tell anyone about this conversation until he returned to Panama to discuss it with General Torrijos.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 33–3 PAN. Confidential; Limdis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon, Nachmanoff, and Lakas met from 12:09 to 12:40 pm. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary).
  2. Presidents Nixon and Lakas both agreed that if new Canal treaties could be worked out, both would try to convince their respective governments to approve them.