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


  • Panamanian Ties to the East

You asked me to follow up on an intelligence report which you saw,2 which indicated that a Panamanian delegation visiting the USSR and Eastern Europe in August and September strengthened its relationships and built new ones.3 You mentioned that these activities should be “actively discouraged.” As you will recall, when I met with Torrijos last May4 and again in August,5 I made very clear the depth of our concern about reports we had heard of possible new trading and other relationships between Panama and the Soviets. I told him, and I repeated the same message to his foreign minister twice, that any effort on Panama’s part to expand its ties with the East would have a very serious and negative impact on the implementing legislation which Congress is considering. Both Torrijos and his foreign minister told me that they heard and understood my message. Since receiving your note, I have spoken with our new Ambassador, Ambler Moss, and suggested to him that he use the opportunity of his first meeting with Torrijos, where he will deliver the President’s letter, to reiterate our great concern on this matter.6 He has agreed to do that, and indeed, [Page 487] informed me that he was hearing a similar message during his consultations on the Hill, particularly from Senator Byrd and Senator Church.7

As regards to the accuracy of the intelligence report, my first reaction—which was confirmed by the CIA in a later conversation—was that some of the information seems wrong, some is old; and part is distorted. I have asked the Agency to do a paper for us on the whole report,8 but let me describe my first impressions. First of all, the Panamanians have been discussing the possibility of building a new hydro-electric plant with the Soviets for a long time; I would be surprised if an agreement has been reached on that. Secondly, my impression of the primary purpose of the Panamanian trip was to get the Soviets and their allies to sign on to the Neutrality Treaty. The Panamanians have been pursuing signatures to the Neutrality Treaty in every forum—the UN, OAS, the Non-Aligned Movement. They believe that the more numerous the signatures and the more diverse the signators, the more valid the Treaty. Surely, we cannot fault them for that.

There are two questions related to Panama’s apparent desire to seek new ties with the Soviets and East Europe. One is the question of timing; and no one with any understanding of the American political system—and that includes Torrijos and certainly most of his advisers—could think that this was a good time for such an initiative. The second question is whether, in the long-term, we should actively discourage normal, commercial ties—like we and many Latin American governments have with the Soviet Union and East Europe—by Panama.

There is no question in my mind that we should actively discourage such ties by Panama during this transition period of the next two years, especially while the implementing legislation is being considered. However, in the long term, I do not believe that it is right for us to discourage the Panamanians from doing something that we ourselves do, or which many of the Latin American countries, like Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina, etc., do. It would be hypocritical and paternalistic for us to tell the Panamanians not to do something we ourselves do, and to a country as sensitive to U.S. paternalism and hypocrisy as Panama is, it would likely be ineffective, and it would make us look terribly inconsistent.

One of Panama’s foreign policy goals is clearly to project itself as a neutral as well as a Non-Aligned country. Panamanians believe that neutrality and non-alignment are essential for them to effectively run the Canal, and in the long term, I believe they will pursue that path.

I will send forward the report from the Agency on this intelligence item as soon as I receive it.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 38, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron Panama, 7–12/78. Secret. Brzezinski placed a checkmark on the top-right corner of the memorandum.
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram 7353 from Panama City, October 6, the Embassy reported on the Panamanian trade mission to Eastern Europe. The delegation reportedly negotiated several agreements on commerce and scientific-technological exchanges, expressed interest in a visit by Torrijos or a Panamanian Foreign Minister to the region, and sought normalization of consular and diplomatic relations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780413–0449) In telegram 20692 from Moscow, August 29, the Embassy reported that the Panamanian delegation visited the Soviet Union August 20–27 to discuss “opportunities for economic cooperation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780353–0705)
  4. See Document 179.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Brzezinski highlighted and underlined this sentence. In telegram 7412 from Panama City, October 11, Moss reported on his first meeting with Torrijos, which occurred on October 10. During the meeting Moss delivered Carter’s letter, which is printed as Document 199. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780416–0461)
  7. Brzezinski highlighted this sentence.
  8. Not found.