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

1451. Department please pass to OSD/ISA. Subj: Secdef Claytor Call on President Royo—Feb 13. Ref: State 36613.2

1. (C—Entire text)

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2. Deputy Secretary of Defense Claytor, accompanied by Lt. Gen. Welborn Dolvin and Ambassador, called on President Royo and Vice President de la Espriella in Presidential palace at 1100 Feb 13.3 Meeting lasted approximately one half hour, was friendly and business-like.

3. Royo began by discussing the claims being brought by Nicaragua against Colombia on certain Caribbean islands. He said that his personal view, reinforced during his trip to Colombia last weekend was that the Cubans were behind Nicaraguan claims and that Cuba’s strategy was eventually to end up in control of these islands. Royo suggested that the United States ratify as quickly as possible the treaty signed several years ago with the United States recognizing Colombian rights to Roncador, Quita Sueno and others.4 He said that such move should be considered a “security measure” and should be pushed by Pres Carter as being beneficial to the U.S. security position in the Caribbean. Sec Claytor and Amb said that they would consult with the Dept of State on this matter, and acknowledged that the treaty had been before the Senate for several years without Senate action.

4. Amb took the occasion to deliver to Pres Royo the message from Pres Carter on the situation in El Salvador per Reftel. Sec Claytor underscored the importance of supporting the Salvadorean Govt and expressed appreciation for Panamanian cooperation in working toward a resolution of serious situation there. Royo said that it was extremely important to help in every way possible and mentioned that he had telephoned FonMin Chavez, who was presently in Lima, on Feb 12 and had stressed Panama’s desire to cooperate. Royo then advanced the view that it was tactically preferable at this point not to make too much public mention of Cuban interference in the Salvador situation, since at this stage it was important to try to maintain a dialogue between the govt and the Left, and “too much finger-pointing and talk about Cubans,” even if true, might tend to polarize the delicate situation. He said there was no doubt, however, about where Panama stood and offered his country’s cooperation. (Note: Gen Torrijos has been away from Panama City since last Saturday; consequently, on Feb 12, Amb gave Torrijos’s copy of Pres Carter’s letter to Torrijos’s close advisor Marcel Salamin, who was travelling to the interior to meet with the General.)

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5. Pres Royo stressed that, since the entry into force of the treaties, there was a new sense of friendship between the two countries. Sec Claytor responded that the Dept of Defense supported this friendship strongly, and that Sec Brown and himself, as well as the members of the JCS, had worked hard for ratification of the treaties and had a deep commitment to their success. He told Pres Royo that a close friendship for Panama was even more important than the canal itself.

6. Pres Royo made a brief reference to “treaty violations,” mentioning specifically the long delay in the USG board nominations. Sec Claytor responded that he hoped that within a short time-frame, possibly two to three weeks, the problem would be completely resolved and that our board members would be confirmed and in place.

7. Pres Royo asked Sec Claytor to give special attention to the need for a feasibility study for a new sea-level canal. He said that what was required of the United States was only an expression of support, rather than a commitment of funds, so that the Japanese would be encouraged to go forward with a sea-level canal study. He said that the Japanese Govt was waiting for a positive signal from the United States, and that was all that was needed. Sec Claytor expressed an interest and said that he would look into the matter on his return to Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800079–0768. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information to San Salvador, Bogotá, Caracas, Managua, and the U.S. interests section in Havana.
  2. In telegram 36613 to Caracas, Bogotá, Lima, Panama City, and Quito, February 10, the Department transmitted Carter’s message of concern over the explosive situation and threat of civil war that had emerged in El Salvador. Carter encouraged working with the revolutionary Junta government and showing support. For Panama specifically, Carter requested the following message be delivered to Royo and Torrijos: “You have been a bridge between the parties in El Salvador, maintaining contact with them and counseling them toward moderation. To the extent that your efforts help the new government gain the support it needs to implement its reforms, we believe you are contributing to the peace of the region.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870058–0107)
  3. Claytor visited Panama from February 11–14. In addition to meeting with Royo, Claytor visited USSOUTHCOM Army, Navy, and Air Force units, the Panama Canal Commission facilities, and the Panama Railroad. The memorandum for the record of Claytor’s trip prepared by Dolvin, February 15, is in the National Archives, RG 218, Records of David C. Jones, Box 47, 820—Panama 3JC/78—26 Nov 80.
  4. Treaty is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIV, South America; Latin America Regional, 1977–1980.