136. Telegram From the Embassy in Panama to the Department of State1

618. Pass White House for Hamilton Jordan and Frank Moore. For Deputy Secretary Christopher. Subject: Torrijos Meeting With CoDel Cranston.

1. In his meeting with CoDel Cranston Saturday2 General Torrijos was ambiguous about the acceptability of an actual amendment to the Neutrality Treaty. He said he had no problem with the substance of the Foreign Relations Committee’s recommended new Article IX,3 but that he was concerned that it took the form of a new article.

2. Asked if the addition of the new article would require a new plebiscite here, he replied at one point, “I don’t think so.” But later he moved away from that position. He urged that the language be incorporated in an annex or in some other way, which could even be placed above the signatures, or in an exchange of notes. But he asked rhetorically how you could add a new article and still say that the original treaty was the same as the one with an additional article.

3. Torrijos repeated that he has an open mind on these questions. He also said that if it was unavoidable that there be a plebiscite on this question, he would hold one, however dangerous it would be. He made it clear he would strongly prefer to avoid that course.

4. Torrijos would not say yes or no on the committee’s recommended understanding on the sea-level canal,4 though he did opine that it would be more salable in Panama than the new Article IX. He said that giving the U.S. the right to confer with third parties without giving Panama reciprocity would be “too comfortable” for the U.S. He would prefer to drop the entire article. (Presumably he meant paragraph 2 of Article XII.) In any case, Panama would have to have the same right of consultation. Elimination of the article would give Panama something too, which he would take to his people.

5. Domestic politics. Torrijos said that he had publicly announced some time ago that if any party could get sufficient adherents it would have the right to be a legal party. He pointed out that the Constitution provides that any citizen may run for office. Romulo Escobar Baten[Page 367]court, who was also present, said that Panama now needs a law of parties which would establish the number of members required for legal status. Torrijos was asked about his future, and he responded in general terms that he would like to retreat gradually from the scene. He set no time frame. At least one of the senators interpreted this as meaning that Torrijos would not run for President this fall.

6. Comment: Torrijos’s advisers (Escobar, Royo and Gonzalez Revilla) were present and were clearly concerned about where the October understanding would be placed in the treaty package. They quite correctly recognize that, if a new article is included and there is no new plebiscite, future detractors of the treaties’ legitimacy will have a readier handle to attack them than they would otherwise have.

7. In a press conference Saturday night Senator Cranston said that if Article IX is necessary to obtain 67 votes for the treaty, he favors its inclusion; if changing the form whereby the October understanding would be incorporated some other way would not endanger the treaties’ passage, he might consider such a change in form. I think this is a wise judgment.

8. As for the domestic political questions raised in the talks, I believe the future of both the parties and Torrijos are still undetermined—and indeed undeterminable until the treaty question is out of the way.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Chief of Staff, Landon Butler Files, Box 9, Panama, 5/26/77–5/12/78 (CF, O/A 740). Confidential; Niact Immediate; Stadis; Exdis.
  2. January 28.
  3. See Document 135.
  4. Ibid.