105. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Vance’s Delegation1

231665. Tosec 100003. Cherokee—for the Secretary from Christopher. Subject: Evening Reading Following is text of Monday’s2 evening reading:

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

5. Canal treaty hearings. The key problem which surfaced at today’s opening Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Panama Canal Treaties concerns alleged discrepancies between the United States and Panamanian interpretations of key provisions of the treaty. Citing public statements made August 19 and 22 in Panama by Romulo Escobar3 (the Panamanian Chief Negotiator), Senators Baker and Stone claimed that there are significant differences of interpretation between the two countries concerning the U.S. right to act to preserve the neutrality of the Canal, the right of expeditious passage for U.S. warships, Panama’s obligation to keep the canal open in the event it becomes unprofitable, and U.S. rights to construct a sea level canal. Both Baker and Stone recommended that Panama be asked to provide a written statement to clear up any divergence of views. Ratification of the treaties may well hinge on our ability to deal with this problem, and we have begun working with the Panamanians to solve it. Senator Baker also asked that the committee have access to all negotiating records and other documents which might be pertinent to resolving these issues. On the latter point, Cy said we would be cooperative in providing the committee necessary background materials.

The hearings lasted over four hours and were attended by thirteen of the sixteen committee members. Senators Church, Case, Javits, Glenn, Biden and McGovern pursued lines of questioning which were [Page 305] helpful in establishing for the record many of the advantages of the treaties.

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–1213. Secret; Cherokee; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Denis Lamb (D), cleared in S/S, and approved by Christopher.
  2. September 26.
  3. Senators Baker and Stone cited speeches Escobar gave before the Panamanian National Assembly on August 19 and at a news conference on August 22 in which, according to an undated memorandum from Christopher to Carter, Escobar purportedly said the following: “1. The Neutrality Treaty did not give the U.S. the right to intervene in Panama; 2. “Expeditious passage” for U.S. warships and auxiliaries did not give the U.S. “privileged passage” even though the U.S. would say so in order to sell the treaty; 3. Panama would not be obligated to keep the Canal open after the year 2000 if it became unprofitable; 4. No option was given to the United States to build a sea-level canal.” (Carter Library, Congressional Liaison Office, Jeff Neuchterlein Subject Files, Box 237, (Panama Canal Treaty—Congressional Strategy), 5/27/77–9/29/77 (CF, O/A 193))