217. Telegram From the Embassy in Panama to the Department of State1

2588. Subj: Meeting With President Royo April 5

1. Summary. Upon my return from Washington, I called on President Royo to bring him up to date on the progress of implementing legislation and other congressional events. We discussed the House rejection of the dols 12.7 million FY–80 aid package,2 the status of the legislation as it has been reported out of Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, and the mood of Congress in general. Royo was concerned and upset about the course of developments, but stated that his policy was to remain calm and trust that the USG would work out its problems in order to be able to fulfill its treaty obligations properly. We also discussed Royo’s meeting with the President on May 10.3 End

2. I found President Royo in a rather sombre mood, as he had just been informed by Fernando Eleta (owner of TV 4 and Foreign Minister in the 1960s) about the lop-sided House vote cutting off FY–80 aid. Royo said that he found it difficult to understand how a great country could act so small. He asked what could be done about it. I said that the vote had taken place despite very strong administration efforts to avoid it, which I described in some detail, and that it was indicative of the anti-treaty furor which would have to play itself out before we could move ahead. I said I thought we had a good chance of getting a clean foreign assistance bill out of the Senate and then restoring the assistance to Panama in conference.

3. Turning to implementing legislation, I gave Pres Royo a rundown on the legislative events of the past week, especially the emergence of H.R. 111 from the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. I explained in some detail the successful efforts to purge the bill of treaty violations and described what problems remained. I mentioned the major role played by Congressman David Bowen in working toward a bill which was in conformity with the treaty, and stressed that Royo’s meeting with Bowen on March 23 had been extremely [Page 519] helpful.4 I also said that Chairman Murphy had been helpful in working to eliminate certain provisions which had emerged from the subcommittee, such as the expropriation clause, and that only by a close vote in the committee was he able to have the bill reported out. I said that the FMS vote and the aid vote show that we are in for extremely difficult times on the floor of the House, but that the Departments of State and Defense and the White House were engaged in massive efforts to educate members and staffers on the legislation and to prepare for the floor action, which could come in about a month.

4. Royo said that his posture through all this had been one of “serenity and tranquility” even though he and his government were extremely concerned about what was happening in Washington. He said he understood our political difficulties, but that it was obviously of the utmost importance that we be able to meet our treaty obligations and that he was being put under great political pressure by these events. I said that his attitude and that of his government was commendable, and that we deeply appreciated their forebearance and their understanding of our political difficulties. I assured him that everyone from the President on down was personally engaged in the effort, and that we would simply have to work our way through the present mood of the house and would eventually be successful.

5. I conveyed to Pres Royo the news that Pres Carter would have a private working meeting with him on May 10, on Royo’s return from Europe. Royo said that this was extremely important to him in view of the repercussions in Panama over congressional treatment of the implementing legislation, and he suggested an eventual joint press release in which Pres Carter would assure Panama that the United States would fulfill its obligation under the treaties, and that Panama would make the same reciprocal representations. He also said that he very much wished to have a letter from the President inviting him to a private working meeting in Washington to discuss aspects of the implementation of the treaties and mutual interests.5 Pres Royo also asked that, as a Head of State even though not on a state visit, that [Page 520] some guest quarters be furnished, as space in the Panamanian embassy was inadequate.6 He said it would not be seemly for him to have to be lodged in a hotel. I mentioned that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and certain House leadership might want to arrange a luncheon or other meetings with him, and he welcomed this idea. He also said that Alejandro Orfila had planned to give an OAS reception in his honor May 10.

6. Comment. I strongly support the three requests made by Pres Royo regarding the trip, particularly in view of the helpful and statesmanlike attitude he is adopting with respect to events which are difficult for him and his government. These amenities are the least we can do for him at this difficult moment, and I hope they can be arranged. End comment.

[Omitted here is a proposed draft letter from Carter to Royo.]

  1. Source: Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Classified Political Subject Files, 1979, Lot 82F93, Box 1, Am Moss—Telegrams—1979 Classified. Confidential; Immediate; Stadis.
  2. On April 5, the House approved Bauman’s amendment striking all development assistance to Panama in a 246–150 vote.
  3. See Document 224.
  4. Royo and Bowen met mid-morning on March 23, during the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee task force visit to Panama. See footnote 3, Document 212.
  5. In an April 9 letter, Carter invited Royo to meet in Washington to discuss cooperation between Panama and the United States. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 1–5/79) In telegram 114451 to Rome, May 5, the Department transmitted text of Carter’s response to Royo’s April 27 letter that had raised concerns over the treaty implementing legislation. Carter wrote that he had “every intention of supporting legislation” which fulfilled the “letter and spirit of the treaty” and looked forward to discussing the matter with Royo in Washington on May 10. Royo was visiting European nations at the time. (Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Classified Political Subject Files, 1979, Lot 82F93, Box 1, POL 2.3 Economic Matters—1979 Domestic)
  6. In an April 17 memorandum to Carter, Brzezinski recommended that Royo be invited to stay at the Blair House from May 9–11. Carter approved the recommendation on April 23. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama: 4/78–5/79)