166. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Getting the Panama Debate Back on Track

Having come this far, it is ironic that we were almost de-railed last week on a non-issue: the Senate being disturbed that the Panamanians were upset by the DeConcini reservation. The question is how do we get the Panamanians and the DeConcini people back on board2 helping us through the vote on the second treaty.

The problem last week stemmed from confusion and misunderstanding. We need to begin by untangling this web.

The Senate thought that the Panamanians rejected the treaties. This is untrue; the Panamanians are upset by the DeConcini reservation and fearful of future reservations. To keep his government in tact, Torrijos needs some language in the new treaty, which makes a self-evident point: that the treaties are consistent with the U.N. and O.A.S. Charter.3 (In fact, the U.N. Charter prohibits a state from entering into an agreement which overrides any provision—especially the principle of non-intervention—in the U.N. Charter.)

I don’t think there are any Senators who voted for the Neutrality Treaty who believe that their actions would violate the U.N. Charter. Indeed, the leadership amendment restates the point which the President has often made: that we have no intention or desire to interfere in the internal affairs of Panama. The DeConcini reservation has not really hurt as much as his language on the floor.4 The Panamanians need a restatement of the principle of non-intervention, and the best person to do it would be DeConcini. Perhaps the President could call him,5 explain to him that the Panamanians have been misinterpreting [Page 419] his reservation, and telling him that, of course, his reservation is not intended to violate the U.N. or O.A.S. Charter. I have written a Q and A along these lines for the President and mentioned the idea to Hamilton.6

We are in an extremely delicate position right now; we share a none too steady ship, and there are many in the Senate and in Panama who are eager to sink it. Regardless of who sinks it, the President will be hurt very badly if the ship goes down. Therefore, we need to be sufficiently sensitive to the concerns of the Panamanians to keep them on our side. A statement along the lines of the Q&A would probably do the trick, but the President should probably call DeConcini first. You may want to mention this to the President tomorrow.7


Tab A—Q&A

Tab B—Wash. Post Article

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 41, Pastor, Country, Panama, 4/78. No classification marking. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Schecter.
  2. Brzezinski underlined, “question is how do we” and “Panamanians and the DeConcini people back on board.”
  3. Brzezinski underlined this sentence. See footnotes 3 and 4, Document 160.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 159.
  5. Brzezinski underlined “Panamanians need,” “restatement of the principle of non-intervention,” “the best person,” and “it would be DeConcini. Perhaps the President could call.”
  6. Brzezinski underlined this sentence and highlighted this and the previous sentences.
  7. Brzezinski underlined this sentence. In an April 10 note, Inderfurth informed Jordan that Brzezinski wanted him to raise the suggested call to DeConcini with Carter if Jordan believed it appropriate. Jordan wrote the following on the note: “Zbig—Meeting with DeConcini is planned for Tuesday or Wednesday of this week. We are proceeding along the lines Pastor outlines. It is very precarious—like it or not DeConcini holds the fate of the treaties in his hands. We’ll talk.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 41, Pastor, Country, Panama, 4/78) According to an April 14 Wall Street Journal article, Carter was supposed to have met with DeConcini on April 12, but the meeting was called off. DeConcini met with Christopher on April 12. (James M. Perry, “DeConcini Amendment Dims Outlook For Approval of Second Panama Pact,” p. 4)
  8. Tabs A and B are not attached.