167. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Christopher to President Carter 1

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

Panama. Telegrams went out this afternoon to our Ambassadors in Colombia, Venezuela, and Costa Rica asking them to seek the help of the Chiefs of State of those countries to persuade General Torrijos to look at the Senate leadership’s new non-intervention language with an open mind and favorably.2 That language is as follows:

Pursuant to its adherence to the principle of non-intervention, any action taken by the United States of America in the exercise of its rights to assure that the Panama Canal shall remain open, neutral, and secure, pursuant to the provisions of this treaty and the Neutrality Treaty and the resolutions of ratification thereto, shall be only for the purpose of assuring that the canal shall remain open, secure, and accessible to the ships of all nations, and shall not have as its purpose interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Panama, or infringement of its independence or its sovereignty.

For our Ambassadors’ guidance, we noted the following points of significance in the above provision: First, the opening phrase is a strong affirmation of the principle of non-intervention. Second, this language spans both treaties and all reservations, conditions, and understandings. Third, the text limits U.S. action to the affirmative purposes of assuring that the canal remains open, secure and accessible. Fourth, the text explicitly denies that any action we might take under the treaties would have as its purpose the infringement of the sovereignty or independence of Panama. Finally, although part of the Panamanian concern seems to be the omission of a reference to territorial integrity, [Page 421] a strong argument can be made in a Latin context that sovereignty is a stronger and more embracing concept.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 20, Evening Reports (State), 4/78. Secret. Carter initialed the top-right of the memorandum and wrote: “Warren.”
  2. See telegram 97549 to San José, Bogotà, and Caracas, April 15, in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840166–1980 N780004–0451. The telegram explained that Senate leadership had drafted the nonintervention reservation and—for addition to the Panama Canal Treaty—using language that expanded its application to include the Neutrality Treaty in an attempt to overcome Panamanian and other opposition to the DeConcini reservation. In telegram 80508 to Camp David, April 16, the NSC reported that the Panamanians were responding positively to the language. (Carter Library, Papers of Walter F. Mondale, Box 206, Middle East/Panama (1/1/1978–1/20/1981)) Christopher wrote in a May 15 memorandum that the Panamanians found the provision “to be a dignified solution to a difficult problem.” (Department of State, Records of Cyrus R. Vance, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Interviews III)