107. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Christopher to President Carter1

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

Panama Hearings. Senator Dole yesterday released a confidential cable from our Embassy in Panama outlining Panamanian concerns over differences in Treaty interpretation between us and them.2 Dole was scheduled to testify today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Under the circumstances, we felt it desirable to emphasize that the Administration stands by its interpretation of the Treaties, to try to defuse some of the controversy over the degree of our right to “intervene” in Panama, and to indicate that there is an on-going process of consultation with the Panamanians which may reconcile differences of interpretation.3 I sent the attached letter to Senator Sparkman, which he read into the Committee record at an appropriate moment in Dole’s testimony.

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Dole was criticized by Senator Glenn and some others for releasing the confidential cable. Dole, who had castigated Ellsberg,4 used the Ellsberg defense: the issue is so important that the American people have the right to know.

The Committee heard other hostile witnesses during the day, including Congressman McDonald of Georgia whose testimony included the following criticism of Torrijos: “One brother Moises Torrijos, also known as “Monchi,” has a currently impending indictment in the United States for trafficking in narcotics. Nevertheless, Omar Torrijos appointed “Monchi” as the Panamanian Ambassador to Spain.”

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]


Letter From Acting Secretary of State Christopher to Senator Sparkman 5

Washington, October 5, 1977

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The explanation of the Panama Canal Treaties offered by Administration witnesses before your Committee last week is accurate.6

Under the new Treaties, and particularly the neutrality Treaty, Panama and the United States have the responsibility to assure that the Panama Canal will always remain open, secure and accessible to ships of all nations. Accordingly, Panama and the United States each will have the right to take any appropriate measures to defend the Canal against any threat to the regime of neutrality established in the Treaty.

The Treaty does not give the United States any right to intervene in the internal affairs of Panama, nor has it been our intention to seek or to exercise such a right.

We firmly believe that the Treaty arrangements amply protect the Panama Canal as an international waterway, serve the interests of both countries, and form the basis of a new partnership based on mutual respect between Panama and the United States.

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We are, of course, in continuing contact with the Panamanian Government to clarify any points of interpretation regarding the Treaties which may arise in either country.


Warren Christopher
Acting Secretary
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 19, Evening Reports (State), 11/77. Secret. Carter initialed the memorandum and wrote: “Warren.”
  2. Presumably a reference to telegram 7043 from Panama City, September 29. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770355–0662) The telegram described Lopez Guevara’s concerns over U.S. congressional testimony on the treaties relating to interpretation of the expeditious-passage clause that U.S. war vessels received “preferential” treatment or would be able to “go to the head of the line” and assertions that the treaty gave the U.S. any right to “intervene” in Panama.
  3. Carter wrote: “Without delay—you & Cy submit to me a plan to obtain Torrijos concurrence in our interpretations” in the left margin. In an October 7 memorandum to Carter, Christopher provided the following recommendations: strive to obtain clarification on the treaties before the October 23 plebiscite in Panama; agree to a joint statement of understanding with Panama and share that statement with certain members of Congress; and indicate to Torrijos that it will be necessary to keep a continuing dialogue in the coming months to insure support for the treaties. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama, 1–10/77)
  4. A reference to Daniel Ellsberg, who transmitted classified materials now known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971.
  5. No classification marking.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 101.