39. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Canal Treaty Negotiations


  • Ambassador Gabriel Lewis Galindo of Panama
  • Dr. Ricardo Bilonick, Legal Counselor, Embassy of Panama
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Robert A. Pastor (Notetaker)

Ambassador Gabriel Lewis Galindo and the Panamanian Charge met with Dr. Brzezinski and Bob Pastor on April 18,2 at 8:30 a.m. for ten minutes.

After presenting his credentials on Monday, May 16 to President Carter, Ambassador Lewis returned to Panama to discuss with General Torrijos the President’s message.3 Torrijos asked him to return to the U.S. immediately to convey his personal message to President Carter via Dr. Brzezinski. Lewis said that Torrijos was anxious to conclude a treaty, understood our needs with regard to neutrality, and believed it did not make sense to delay the negotiations by arguing over every minute detail—every hotel, hill or lake—of the lands and waters needed to run the Canal. Torrijos said that he only wanted to make sure that all the lands and waters necessary to run the Canal efficiently should be part of the package. He handed Brzezinski the message attached at Tab A.4 After reading it, Brzezinski said that it was indeed encouraging.

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The message made the following points:

Torrijos was pleased that President Carter was willing to accept the political problems necessary to gain Senate ratification of the treaty.5

—He shares President Carter’s feelings that a treaty should be concluded as quickly as possible.

—He is aware of the importance of the declaration of neutrality of the Canal.

—The lands, waters, etc., not needed for the operation or maintenance of the waterways should be returned to Panama, and he believes that President Carter has instructed U.S. Negotiators to this end.

Torrijos would like to keep “an open channel of communication” with Dr. Brzezinski through Ambassador Lewis.

Dr. Brzezinski said that the President was anxious to conclude a treaty and he realized that 1977 would have to be the year because that is when the President’s political strength was greatest. Next year his political strength will not be as great; the year after that it will be even less. Therefore, Dr. Brzezinski said, both sides must be accommodating this year so that we can have a treaty.

Ambassador Gabriel Lewis reiterated the last point in the message, and asked how he could get in touch with Dr. Brzezinski quickly. Dr. Brzezinski said that this Administration is different than the previous one, that he would share this message with Secretary Vance and with the U.S. Negotiators,6 and that Panama’s negotiators should work with our Negotiators to come up with a treaty. However, if Ambassador Lewis felt it necessary to get in touch with him, Dr. Brzezinski suggested that the Ambassador contact Bob Pastor, NSC Senior Staff Member on Latin American Affairs.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Memcons: Aaron, David: 2/77–12/78. Secret. The meeting was held in Brzezinski’s office at the White House. The memorandum of conversation and Torrijos’s message were forwarded to Bunker and Linowitz on May 20 under a covering memorandum from Hornblow. (National Archives, RG 59, Official and Personal Files of Ambassador at Large Ellsworth Bunker, Lot 78D300, Box 4, Panama Key Documents 1977)
  2. The meeting took place on May 18.
  3. In his May 16 remarks welcoming Lewis as Ambassador of Panama, Carter reiterated the support for a new treaty that he had expressed in his March 9 letter to Torrijos (see Document 25). Carter further stated that he was “prepared to press forward with the negotiations and to accept the political problems in this country which the presentation of a final treaty will generate.” He went into detail “so that you will know my personal commitment to the early conclusion of a fair treaty.” For the full text of Carter’s remarks, see telegram 120619 to Panama City, May 25. (Department of State, American Embassy Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, 1964–1977, Lot 81F1, Box 127, POL 33.3.2—Canal Treaty Negotiations April-July 1977)
  4. Attached but not printed. Brzezinski forwarded a copy of the message to the Acting Secretary of State on May 19 with instructions to communicate its substance to Bunker and Linowitz. (Memorandum for the Acting Secretary of State; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 66, Brzezinski, Chron: 5/17–22/77) Carter wrote on the message: “Zbig—Sounds good—cc Bunker, Linowitz.” (Ibid.)
  5. Torrijos also noted in the message that he was prepared to do the same in Panama.
  6. See footnote 4 above.