112. Memorandum From the Assistant to the President (Jordan) and Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to President Carter1
- Meeting with General Torrijos
We spent about six hours tonight2 with General Torrijos at the Panamanian Embassy talking mostly about the problems of gaining ratification for the treaties in our respective countries.
We did not dwell on the details of the statement which was drafted by Warren Christopher in conjunction with the Senators in an attempt to clarify certain points.3 Copies of our statement had been translated into Spanish by the Panamanians and circulated to their negotiators and key members of their staff. General Torrijos was not interested in discussing the contents of that document, but was more concerned about why we needed such a statement at this time. Our impression is that they are reconciled to having to do something to help us with “our” political problem, but Torrijos would like to think that the fact he is meeting with you will be sufficient. We told him that clarification was essential.[Page 317]
Torrijos is very concerned about the political problems which have emerged in Panama while he has been travelling through Europe during the past three weeks. He doesn’t doubt that the treaties will be ratified in the plebiscite in 10 days,4 but he is bothered by the increasing criticism being directed at the treaties and himself. He is particularly worried about how his meeting with you to “clarify” treaties so recently signed will be interpreted in Panama. We believe that you will find him very reluctant to do anything until he has had a chance to return to Panama and evaluate the situation there. We believe getting a commitment from him as to language is possible, but believe that he will want to wait until he gets back to Panama to make any public statement.
One obvious fact is that the Panamanians have a very limited and superficial understanding of the way our government functions and of the ratification process. They see the President as the most powerful person in the world and have difficulty comprehending why you are having problems getting the Senate to ratify this treaty.
In explaining the need for a clarifying statement of some kind, we noted that in the process of trying to sell a single product to two markets, both sides had made statements which antagonized the buyers in the other’s market. In the U.S., several Senators who had supported the treaties, now tell us they won’t vote for it unless several provisions are clarified. If we don’t recapture these Senators and the momentum now, before the Panamanian plebiscite, we will lose the treaties.
We told them that key Senators had worked with us in developing some language which tried to deal with the political objections raised in both countries. To the extent that we used this same language to clarify these differences, we would be winning votes in the Senate for the treaties. If we changed or modified this language, we would risk losing their support.
Torrijos never explicitly said that he accepted the language. Panamanian negotiator Escobar made clear that he had problems with the third provision—closure due to unprofitability—primarily because he felt that it had been considered in the negotiations and subsequently dropped. Since it wasn’t in the treaty, he argued that we couldn’t very well have a clarifying statement on it. While noting that the neutrality treaty incorporated the concept of an “open” Canal, we said that we didn’t want to engage in a “legalistic” argument over what is essentially a political issue. (Lewis had told us before that Torrijos had made this same argument a number of times.)
Both sides raised hypothetical questions about the meaning of the treaties, and agreed that if we answered such questions differently, we [Page 318] would just invite future problems which could make ratification of the treaties impossible.
Torrijos would very much enjoy talking privately with you for about 10 or 15 minutes before the meeting, and this offers the opportunity for you to impress upon him the need for his complete agreement on the text of the “Joint Statement.”