129. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter 1

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

3. Panama Canal Treaties—Senators Baker, Chafee and Garn ended their Panama visit. Baker and Garn are in Mexico and will be visiting Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela in order to test the opinion of those countries’ leaders concerning the Panama Canal treaties.

Following a meeting with Torrijos,2 Baker reiterated that, in his view, the treaties could not pass the Senate without changes. He predicted, however, that the treaties could pass with changes acceptable to both countries and said that he was optimistic. Baker has not yet specified whether the modifications would have to take the form of amendments, reservations or understandings. He used these terms interchangeably during the visit. (Members of Baker’s staff have indicated privately that Baker does not wish to propose any modifications which would be beyond Panama’s ability to accept.)

Torrijos indicated during his two meetings with the Senators that he was prepared to be flexible and open-minded with regard to the treaty changes necessary for ratification.3 He indicated that he could accept formalization of the October 14 Statement and changes in (or deletion of) the sea-level canal provision. I believe we must talk to him about this latter point4 as its elimination would be harmful to the U.S.

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Subject File, Box 13, State Department Evening Reports, 1/78. Secret. Carter initialed the top-right corner of the memorandum and wrote: “Cy.”
  2. The meeting took place on January 4.
  3. In a January 6 memorandum to Vance, Bunker wrote that Torrijos’s expressed flexibility to Baker regarding treaty changes contrasted with Torrijos’s own prior position as well as the administration’s position that no treaty changes were required. Torrijos’s flexibility thus “undercut our strategy of holding the line against changes throughout the Senate debate.” (National Archives, RG 59, Official and Personal Files of Ambassador at Large Ellsworth Bunker, Lot 78D300, Box 4, Panama Key Documents 1978)
  4. Carter underlined “talk to him about this latter point” and wrote in the left margin “do so.”