122. Memorandum From the Assistant to the President (Jordan) to President Carter and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


I received a call today from Panama from Ambassador Gabriel Lewis who asked if he could come and see me as soon as possible. I replied that he could and thought nothing of it as we stay in touch constantly on matters related to ratification of the Treaty.

I asked him how he was doing and he responded that, “things are going badly here—that is why I must talk to you as soon as possible.”

This was a curious remark so I inquired of Bob Pastor as to any recent information on the internal situation in Panama. He provided me with the following information and the attached memorandum.2 From all that I can learn, Torrijos has become personally despondent for several reasons.

First, the Panamanian economy is in poor shape. Unemployment and inflation are high and foreign investment is off. Torrijos thinks that potential foreign investors are holding off because of uncertainty about treaty ratification and/or rejection and the implications of either action.

Secondly, for the first time, Torrijos has permitted criticism of his leadership and the treaty and the groups of people opposed to him [Page 339] and the treaties are exercising their new rights freely. He has been booed at several rallies and was shaken by it.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, they do not understand our system of government and are confused about the repeated delays in final consideration of the treaties by the Senate. We told them initially that we would work for an October vote on the treaties and have postponed the likely date for a vote several times. All we can say now is that after the energy bill is passed,3 we will focus on the Panama Canal Treaties.

At any rate, I believe that Gabriel and General Torrijos need to be reassured that the treaty will be taken up early in the year, that we are working hard for ratification and that prospects for passage are improving. We get criticized on the Hill for “not doing enough on the Panama Canal Treaties”4 so I am sure that it must be difficult to see any interest or momentum from Panama.

We need to keep Torrijos in a positive frame of mind so that he will continue to make positive statements and gestures in Panama in addition to courting the Senators who visit. For that reason, I plan to do the following with Bob Pastor when we meet with Gabriel Wednesday:

—Review likely timetable for Congressional action

—Point out that we are delaying SALT II for Panama Canal Treaties5

—Point out recent good signs (mail, polls, etc.)

—Review what we have been doing, including White House briefings, support of Citizens’ Committee, endorsements received, work with individual Senators, Speakers’ Bureau that has been set up, etc.

Generally, without misleading Gabriel on underestimating the difficulty of ratification, I would like to reassure him of the prospects and our own commitment to its passage.

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If you and Zbig think it is appropriate, I might like to bring Gabriel in to see you just briefly so he can report back to General Torrijos that he got to see you and has your personal reassurance.6 You might just pick up the telephone and get Senator Byrd to spend five minutes with Gabriel outlining the likely Senate schedule for consideration of the treaty.

Torrijos has been very helpful and it is in our own interests to reassure him and keep him positive.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 36, Panama Canal Treaty, 9/77. Confidential; Personal. Carter initialed the top-right of the memorandum.
  2. Not attached.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 114.
  4. In a November 19 memorandum to Brzezinski, Schecter reported that Congress believed Carter needed to come out forcefully in favor of the treaties and wanted his assistance in defusing public opposition to the treaties. State was encountering the following attitude from congressional leaders: If Carter would not “go out on a limb for these Treaties, why should I.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Press and Congressional Relations, Box 1–5, NSC Weekly Legislative Reports 10–12/77)
  5. In a November 10 memorandum to Brzezinski, Pastor concluded that to have the Panama and SALT treaties in the Senate at the same time would result in trade-offs that would hurt Carter. Pastor recommended Carter delay concluding a SALT treaty until Panama was completed. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 41, Pastor, Country, Panama, 11–12/77) In a November 17 memorandum to Mondale, Brzezinski explained that decoupling Panama and SALT in the legislative calendar was “clearly desirable” and that the linkages between the two issues could be avoided by “deliberately stretching out the SALT negotiations.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 11, National Security Council: 4–12/77)
  6. Jordan underlined this sentence and Carter wrote in the right margin: “ok.”