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

10540. Subject: Letter to President Carter From President Royo Iran

1. C—Entire text.

2. President Royo has sent a letter to President Carter text of which as follows (original pouched): (Unofficial translation)

Dear Mr. President:

Let me express my gratitude to you for your letter of December 18, concerning the stay of the ex-Shah of Iran in the Republic of Panama.2

I am profoundly pleased to know that the spirit in which our country offered this gesture has been perfectly understood (appreciated) by yourself, even though for the moment it has been the cause of numerous problems for us.

I wish to take this opportunity, Mr. President, to let you know that our government has just received a letter from the Minister of Foreign Relations of Iran, informing us that an official extradition request will be sent shortly.3

In accordance with the provisions contained in law no. 44 of November 22, 1930, our government must consider such request, when the appropriate statutory requirements have been fulfilled.

The Government of the Republic of Panama, faithful to its principles, considers that it has the obligation to respond to the Government of the Republic of Iran4 to inform it that it would be incomprehensible if a profoundly moral revolution such as that which our country is experiencing, could not stop the violation of international law.

The Government of the Republic of Iran does not demonstrate its desire to make such law respected by liberating all of those who are [Page 600] held in detention, it places itself in an extremely difficult position to be able to request the above-mentioned extradition.5

The Government of the Republic of Panama has confirmed its desire to establish profound and constructive dialogue in the interest of our peoples, with the objective of helping find a solution to an extremely delicate situation.

It appears that our government will be in a real position to fulfill this objective only if the two parties in conflict are disposed to make the necessary efforts to avoid a greater deterioration of the present situation.

The profound personal respect which your honest and determined actions in a search for a solution for the problem of the Panama Canal has inspired in us, combined with the witness of your defense of moral values in the international arena assure us that we will confide in your decided cooperation6 in this effort in favor of world peace.

May God enlighten all of us in this very delicate hour.

I take this opportunity to greet you, Mr. President, with my greatest consideration and respect.

Aristides Royo

President, Republic of Panama

December 28, 1979

3. President Royo said that he does not repeat not plan to release the letter. He has asked twice in the last three days, however, how soon he might release President Carter’s letter of December 18 to him. He said it would be a great help to him to do so. I have replied that we feel it important that the letter not be released until the hostages are freed, as its publication could interfere in the process.7

4. Royo told me by telephone that the message he was trying to convey to the Iranians was that Iran could not expect normal treatment under international law (i.e., consideration of an extradition request while he was flouting international law).8

5. I asked Royo if a high-level Iranian delegation had brought the request (as a GOP source had told an EmbOff this morning). He said “only a couple of lawyers came, one of them French” and that he believed that the “more important delegation” we had once talked about “probably would not come.”

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6. Following FBI’s release of Royo’s news conference today, we spoke by telephone again. Royo realized that the press had misunderstood his statement that he would “consider” extradition. He said that by “consider” he only meant Panama would receive the request and study it, in the same manner as a complaint is filed in court. He said he would clarify this to the press, as he did not mean to imply that he would consider returning the Shah if the hostages were released.9

7. Gabriel Lewis and Col. Manuel Noriega (and reportedly Torrijos) said today they were incensed at stories in Newsweek and Time, just out here, on Shah’s move to Panama,10 cynical characterizations of Torrijos’s motives and exaggerated accounts of opposition and police brutality touched sensitive nerves. It would be extremely helpful if department and white house spokesmen could say some additional kind words about President Royo and Panama to offset what important sectors of Panamanian leadership see as ungrateful attitude of us as expressed in these mass-circulated publications.11

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S–1 Executive Secretariat, Information Management Section, David P. Newsom Files, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, 1978–1981, Lot 81D154, The Shah December 1979 Volume IV. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Vargas wrote: “Para 6 is helpful in permitting us to get fix on GOP position. Also useful to keep in mind that Torrijos not Royo calls the shots.” An unknown hand wrote: “Complex posturing by Panama.”
  2. See Document 251.
  3. In telegram 10253 from Panama City, December 18, Moss reported that Royo had called him that evening to urgently report that he had been approached secretly by the Iranian Prime Minister through an intermediary and that the Prime Minister would be granted full powers to negotiate the extradition of the Shah and was planning to present Panama a formal extradition request. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840148–2166)
  4. Vargas underlined “Republic of Panama” and “has the obligation to respond to the government of the Republic of Iran.”
  5. Vargas drew a box around this paragraph.
  6. Vargas underlined “we will confide in your decided cooperation.”
  7. Vargas highlighted this paragraph.
  8. Vargas highlighted this paragraph.
  9. Vargas underlined portions of this paragraph.
  10. Presumably a reference to David M. Alpern, “The Shah’s New Home,” Newsweek, December 31, 1979; “Shah’s Haven It’s Beautiful but Lonely,” Time, December 31, 1979.
  11. Vargas highlighted this paragraph, underlined “could say some additional kind words” and wrote “good suggestion” in the right margin.