206. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Your lunch with Rep. John Murphy January 19, 1979

From the foreign policy perspective, your meeting2 has three purposes: (1) to try to secure the cooperation of John Murphy in passing the Panama Canal implementing legislation by June; (2) to inform him that the proposal presented by the mediators for a Nicaraguan plebiscite on January 12 was our bottom line,3 and if Somoza does not accept it, or if he tries to draw out the negotiations by bickering over details, our relations with his government will be seriously and negatively affected; and (3) to make clear that you will not permit any linkage between the two issues. (C)

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As an opponent of the Canal Treaties, Murphy would be difficult enough to win over even if there weren’t policy differences between us on Nicaragua. A classmate and very close friend of Somoza, Murphy is angry that your Administration has abandoned (what he views as) one of America’s best friends, Anastasio Somoza. I suggest you read the cable summarizing Murphy’s conversations in Panama for a flavor of his views on the two issues of Panama and Nicaragua. (see Tab A).4

Panama. Murphy introduced implementing legislation on Monday5 which causes us a number of problems. In particular, he wants to maintain continued Congressional authority by establishing an appropriated fund agency to run the Canal rather than an independent corporation as we prefer. Also, he wants to draw the American members of the Commission from private life, while we favor appointing USG officials so as to assure a coordinated US approach. We expect that our implementing legislation will be submitted next Monday.6 You should note our strong interest in cooperating closely with Murphy to pass a bill by June 1 and assure a peaceful and stable transition to a new Panama Canal administration. (C) (see Tab B).7

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Congressional Liaison Office, Francis, Copeland, Small (Coordination), Freiberg, Brooks, Naechterlein, Tate, and Thomson, Box 6, Panama (Canal Treaty) Implementing Legislation—Working File for Bob Beckel, 5/30/78–3/28/79. Confidential. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met with Murphy from noon to 1:05 p.m. on January 19. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. The proposal is discussed in telegram 220 from Managua, January 13, which is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America.
  4. Tab A is not attached. In telegram 243 from Panama City, January 10, the Embassy reported on Murphy’s January 9 trip to Panama. Murphy advised Royo that Panama stay as far away from the situation in Nicaragua as possible because the “notion of Panamanian involvement could be disastrous for the passage of implementing legislation.” Murphy characterized the Nicaragua situation as a problem “made in Washington” and the result of a “change in policy toward an old ally” that occurred during the Carter administration. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790014–0071)
  5. January 15.
  6. January 22. Carter forwarded the text of the administration’s proposed treaty implementation legislation to Congress with a January 23 letter to Mondale and an identical letter to O’Neill. For the text of the letters, see Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, p. 102.
  7. Tab B is not attached.