14. Memorandum From the Panama Canal Treaty Co-Negotiator (Linowitz) for the Files1

  • Re: Meeting with President Carter on February 11, 1977

At noon on February 11th, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and I arrived at the White House for a meeting with the President, Secretary of State Vance and National Security Advisor Brzezinski in connection with the Panama Canal Treaty negotiations.

Soon after we arrived Brzezinski greeted us and then took us into the Oval Office, where we awaited the President. As we entered Brzezinski encountered the President’s Appointment Secretary, a young man who had served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala before he returned to the University, where he acquired an interest in politics and ultimately became a devoted supporter of Jimmy Carter in 1975.

Jody Powell, the President’s Press Secretary, entered for a few moments and then suddenly the President came into the room quietly and as he saw me he called out, “Hello, Sol” and came striding forward. He shook hands with Ellsworth Bunker and told him how pleased he was to see him and then he and I shook hands.

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Although it was a warm spring day there was a fire crackling in the fireplace and after a few moments of standing around the President asked us to sit down. His first question to Ellsworth Bunker was, “How do you like working with Sol?” Bunker told him how much he liked the idea and said that he was pleased that we were in harness together. I told the President that Bunker had been my mentor and that we therefore had an especially personal relationship. Bunker endorsed that warmly and the President seemed pleased.

The President then asked what were the prospects for a new Treaty and Bunker told him about the main problem being the defense-security one. The President made quite clear that if there were not a proper provision for defense and neutrality after the year 2000 the Treaty would not be approved by the Senate even if he himself signed it. He then asked what were the toughest issues and again Bunker talked about defense and security and I added a word about the Zonians and the matter of compensation.

The President wanted to know what the effect would be of Boyd’s resignation as Foreign Minister and I pointed out that one possible favorable interpretation would be that Torrijos might smell a new Treaty developing and wanted his own name on it rather than that of Boyd.2 The President said, “You don’t have to worry about that with me. I would be perfectly willing to have it the Bunker-Linowitz Treaty.”

I talked a bit to the President then about payments to the Panamanians and the situation with reference to the tolls which had already been raised twice recently. He asked what the cost was for a ton through the Canal in light of the charge of $1.29 per Panama ton. I pointed out that the cost generally included all the costs of the Zone and he indicated that perhaps this was “unfair”.

I then mentioned to the President that it was possible that we might reach an impasse in the negotiations and in that event a letter from him to Torrijos might be helpful for us to have. I then read to him a proposed letter which I had written out shortly before coming to the meeting. He found it acceptable and Brzezinski asked for it so that he could have it prepared and signed by the President. The President said that in the light of Torrijos’ interest in obtaining recognition he might be pleased to have the President suggest that Carter and Torrijos would [Page 64]be signing the Treaty together and he asked Brzezinski to add that to the letter.3

With reference to the new Treaty itself the President made clear several times that he believes that it is vitally important to us and that after signature he would do everything he could to assure that it got ratification by the Senate.

He then went on to say that if we thought it were necessary for him to come in at any time to talk to Torrijos or otherwise, he stood ready to do so and to be of help in any other way he might. Similarly, Cy Vance, who joined us later indicated that he, too, would be available in any way that it might be helpful.

At that point the President was briefly interrupted to be told that his mother had been suggested to go to India as his representative with his son, Chip, to attend the funeral of the President of India. He then asked Vance for his reaction and Vance thought it was fine and said he would assure proper protection and inform Mrs. Carter.

I then took a moment to say to the President that it seemed to us that a citizens committee for support of the Treaty would be a good and, indeed, a necessary move. I pointed out that we could get someone like Dean Rusk or Admiral Zumwalt4 to serve as the head of such a committee and told him that I had talked to Zumwalt. The President responded quite favorably and seemed to react especially to the suggestion that Dean Rusk would take it on.

Before leaving I asked him what we might tell the press about the meeting and he suggested that it would be appropriate to say that we talked over the main points of the proposed negotiations and that the prospects for a Treaty were good.

I found the President extraordinarily well informed on the Treaty negotiations, confident, informal and in excellent spirit. He seemed, indeed, to look presidential and acted as if he were perfectly comfortable to be occupying the post of President of the United States.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Linowitz Papers, Box 113, Panama Canal Treaties, Carter, Jimmy and White House Staff 1977, Feb–1978, Jan. Confidential; Personal.
  2. In telegram 1009 from Panama City, February 11, the Embassy analyzed Boyd’s resignation: “Differences of both form and substance between him and Torrijos almost certainly played a part in his departure—but it was also a renewed sign that the general is the one who runs things here and that others had better not forget it. We see in Boyd’s departure a signal that Torrijos is determined to make a greater share of decisions in the negotiations himself.” (Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Office of the U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS, Einaudi Country Files, 1977–1989, Lot 91D371, Box 6, Panama 1977)
  3. In telegram 38993, February 19, the Department transmitted the text of Carter’s letter to Torrijos, in which Carter expressed his “hope that these negotiations will bear fruit and will result in a treaty which will be fair, reasonable and appropriate in every respect.” Carter assured Torrijos that the United States intended to “proceed in a cooperative and flexible spirit in the effort to arrive at a treaty which will satisfactorily meet the proper concerns of both Panama and the United States.” If the treaty negotiations were successful, and “as a sign of our friendship and determination to place our relations on a firm basis, it might be fitting for us to meet and sign the treaty jointly,” Carter concluded. (Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, 1964–1977, Lot 81F1, Box 127, POL 33.3.2)
  4. A reference to Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt, Chief of Naval operations, July 1970–June 1974.