17. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs (Todman) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1

Panama Canal Negotiations

Ambassador Bunker just informed me by the secure line that the Panamanians are adopting a very tough position in the negotiations.

Our negotiating team has had three meetings. The first was a private session on Tuesday2 with Romular Escobar, Political Advisor to Torrijos and head of the Panamanian negotiating team, and Edwin Fabrega, a team member, during which Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz outlined our general approach, their talk with President Carter and what they hoped to accomplish.3

At the second session the same day, between the two complete teams, they presented the statement of US proposals minus any comment on duration and post-treaty defense.4

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The Panamanian reaction given the following day was very tough and simply restated the old uncompromising position. They kept the US delegation waiting for 2-½ hours, from 3:30 to 6:00, for the scheduled meeting. At that meeting, Jaime Arias, a businessman and close friend of Torrijos, made a short but very strong emotional speech. Ambassador Bunker felt it necessary to reply that Arias’s speech was unwarranted. He reaffirmed that the negotiators were there in good faith seeking a mutually advantageous treaty. Ambassador Linowitz spoke along the same lines.5 At that meeting, the US negotiators also presented our position on neutrality and post-treaty defense, and expressed the hope that now that the full package was available, the Panamanians would consider it carefully. The Panamanians said that they would inform the US negotiators on Friday6 when the next meeting would be held. It is not known whether that meeting will be on Friday or the following day.7

As an expression of their displeasure with what they considered to be a tough US negotiating stance, the Foreign Minister canceled a meeting he had scheduled with visiting US Congressmen and the Panamanians did not attend the dinner for the Congressmen to which they had been invited.8

Ambassador Bunker asked if we could try to get the letter from President Carter to General Torrijos sent as soon as possible. I have been in touch with the NSC and have learned that it will be before the President this evening.9

  1. Source: 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. Confidential. Drafted by Todman.
  2. February 15.
  3. See Document 15.
  4. The memorandum of conversation, including attachments, of this February 15 negotiating session is in the Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations Files, 1964–1977, Lot 81F1, Box 127, POL 33.3.2.
  5. Arias accused the United States of not negotiating in good faith and called the paper presented by the United States on its basic position requirements at the February 15 negotiating session a “brazen power play.” Both Bunker and Linowitz expressed their extreme disappointment in the negative Panamanian response and their hope that the negotiations would be able to proceed in an atmosphere of respect and honesty. (Memorandum of conversation, February 16, 6:30 p.m.; Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, 1964–1977, Lot 81F1, Box 127, POL 33.3.2)
  6. February 18.
  7. The next negotiation meetings took place at 12:05 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on February 18.
  8. In a February 18 memorandum to Carter, Christopher summarized Todman’s briefing memorandum. Christopher noted that two of the visiting Congressmen, Dornan and Smith, made “intemperate statements, calling Panama a one-man dictatorship and asserting that the Panamanians do not want a treaty.” Carter wrote: “We can’t let them push us around—But public relations is important—here & in Panama—Let’s stay on the correct & proper side of the issue.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 17, Evening Reports (State), 2/11–28/77)
  9. See footnote 3, Document 14.