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


  • NSC Position on Canal Implementation Legislation

OMB is coordinating a paper which it intends to send to the President very soon on the Canal implementing legislation. There are only a few issues on which the Agencies did not reach agreement, but these have become rather controversial, with DOD vehemently arguing its point, usually alone. You have already made a decision on the central issue (I attach that memo at Tab A),2 but in the light of a recent memo to you from Charles Duncan (at Tab B),3 I thought I would give you an additional opportunity to review that decision.

The question fundamentally is: which Agency should have primary responsibility for running the Canal? A subsidiary question—whether the US Ambassador should have authority over USG officials in the Canal Commission—was discussed at a meeting which you attended by Secretaries Vance and Brown.4 Brown apparently argued hard for the independence of the Commission and, as the memo by Duncan suggests, assumed that DOD would control the Commission; and Vance conceded that point. Our Ambassador in Panama, Bill Jorden, has just sent (at Tab C)5 a very forceful cable in which he argues—[Page 440]to my mind, persuasively—that the Ambassador needs to have the authority over the Canal Commission, lest our broader national interests for a smooth and cooperative transition be sacrificed by those (presumably in DOD) who are reluctant to accept a new partnership.

Stimulated by this recent flurry of memoranda, I now believe more strongly that NSC should maintain its position (as stated in Tab A) that the President should be given discretionary authority, but first choice for lead agency should be the Department of Transportation. OMB agrees with our position. State is “inclined to favor” DOD oversight, but believes DOT also is qualified.


That NSC maintain its position.6

A second issue is whether the five US seats on the Board of Directors should be composed of senior officials from the five primarily interested agencies (DOT, DOD, State, Commerce and Treasury), or whether the designations should be unspecified. All except DOD support the former—that the seats be given to the five agencies—and I recommend that you support this as well.7

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 38, Brzezinski Office File Country Chron., Panama, 1–5/78. Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. Not attached. Tab A is printed as Document 170.
  3. Not attached. Tab B is printed as Document 173.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 157.
  5. Not attached. Tab C is printed as Document 177.
  6. Brzezinski checked the approve option. Aaron drew an arrow to the checkmark and wrote in the right margin: “ZB [illegible] DOT in but let’s depoliticize this transition as much as possible.”
  7. Brzezinski checked the approve option.