236. Telegram From the Department of State to Secretary of State Vance’s Delegation in Japan1

167433/Tosec 060126. Subject: Torrijos Visit to Washington. Literally Eyes Only for the Sec From Warren Christopher.2

1. After consulting with Ambler Moss, Bill Bowdler and Pete Vaky, I am inclined to recommend against asking Torrijos to meet with the President in Washington early next week.3 Here are my reasons:

[Page 574]

(A) Ambler Moss and others stress that we should not overestimate Torrijos’s influence with the FSLN, and for Torrijos to be in Washington working with us on Nicaragua in present circumstances would almost certainly reduce his ability to play the role with the FSLN we have in mind for him. Parenthetically, I don’t think any Panama Canal “cover” would hold, or that Torrijos would be comfortable with it.

(B) We need to work with several other Latin American leaders (Canazo, CAP, the Andeans, et al.), and a Torrijos invitation might ruffle the feelings of other potential allies.

(C) A visit to Washington by Torrijos could focus public attention on Panamanian support of the Sandinistas—a politically sensitive issue when the Panama implementing legislation is still being considered. The Chicago Tribune has resurrected this issue and is pushing it hard, with the aid of a leaked CIA memo.4

(D) A visit by General Torrijos might well produce expectations that the excellent personal relations between the President and the General could cause Torrijos to work effectively for a policy close to our original proposals. Quite frankly, I doubt that Torrijos would have the will to proceed along these lines, and we should not try to get him to support ideas that will no longer work.

(E) Finally, I question recommending a visit by Torrijos at a time when the President is returning early to attend to urgent domestic problems, such as the energy situation and the truckers’ strike. An inconclusive meeting with Torrijos would not help either the situation in Nicaragua or the President himself.

2. To be weighed against these negative factors is the great affection and regard that Torrijos has for the President. He would be complimented by a visit and probably inspired to try to be more helpful. I think, however, that we can get most of the advantages of this relationship by a message, without having to absorb what I see as, on balance, greater disadvantages.

[Page 575]

3. We are sending our thoughts on how we might proceed in Nicaragua in a separate message.5 My current view is that we can work with Torrijos—as well as other Latin American leaders—to shape events in the days to come, but only if we accept the fact that a provisional government—and not an executive council—is likely to replace Somoza in Managua. We will be sending you our ideas on how we might be able to expand and shape the presently constituted provisional government and perhaps extract conditions from it; but I have come to the conclusion that we must work with others to modify this body if we are to have any impact on the course of events.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama: 6/79–1/80. Secret; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Carter initialed the top-right corner of the telegram. From June 25–29, Vance accompanied Carter on a state visit and to the Economic Summit meeting in Tokyo.
  2. An unknown hand underlined this instruction.
  3. Carter met with Torrijos on July 3 to discuss Nicaragua. Brzezinski, Christopher, Vaky, and Pastor also participated in the meeting. The memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America.
  4. See John Maclean, “Cuba and Panama giving aid to Somoza’s foes: U.S. memo: Training, weapons for rebels,” Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1979, p. 1. The article referred to a Department of State memo, based on U.S. intelligence gathering, that demonstrated the Cuban government had funneled arms to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua aboard Panamanian planes and trained the Sandinistas in Cuba. On June 28, the Tribune reported that Hubbard and Murphy expressed disappointment in “what they believed was an attempt by administration to mislead them about the involvement of Cuba and Panama in secretly supplying weapons to leftist rebel forces in Nicaragua.” Murphy said “it was only after the House approved enabling legislation for the Panama Canal treaties that administration officials confirmed Cuban and Panamanian involvement.” (John Maclean, “2 in House think U.S. lied to push canal bill,” p. 2) The Tribune published another article on the subject on June 29. (“. . .keeping the line straight,” June 29, 1979, p. D2)
  5. The message is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America.