56. Memorandum From the Congressional Affairs Adviser to the State Department Panama Desk (Guthrie) to Multiple Recipients1


  • See Distribution


  • Briefing for Senators, June 30, 1977

On June 30 Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz, JCS Chairman Brown, and LTG Dolvin participated in a briefing on the Panama Canal negotiations for a group of Senators in Senator Robert Byrd’s Capitol Office. Aside from Senators Byrd and Granston, who organized the briefing, those present were Senators Chiles, Church, Domenici, Hatch, Heinz, Huddleston, Johnston, and Morgan.2

The discussion was positive and constructive and focused as much on the domestic political context as on the substance of a treaty.3 While the Senators spoke very frankly about the political difficulties attendant on securing approval of a treaty, they appreciated the need to address the Canal problem and suggested a number of steps that might be taken to smooth the way for a favorable vote in the Senate. With regard to the treaty itself, security and defense4 appeared to be the first area of concern. There was also discussion of compensation and of possible future Panamanian and Latin American demands for further treaty revision.5

Timing was a matter of acute concern, particularly to those Senators like Johnston and Domenici, who will be running in 1978. As Johnston put it: “I am convinced that it is important to get this treaty to the Senate just as soon as possible—after November 1978.” Johnston thought [Page 187] there was no possibility the Senate would have time to consider a treaty in 1977, and Senators Chiles and Morgan warned that the treaty did not have the votes at the present time.

Several Senators urged that authoritative information (especially from DOD) on the security aspects of a new treaty be made available to help convince the public of the desirability of a new treaty. They asked that this cover:

—the strategic value of the Canal (Senator Johnston)

—the difficulty of defending the Canal (Senator Chiles)

JCS projections of the Canal’s strategic value in the year 2000 (Senator Chiles)

Senator Morgan stressed the need to counter anti-treaty propaganda alleging that Torrijos was a communist and that there was heavy Cuban and Communist influence in Panama. He also suggested that in justifying increased compensation to Panama, we cite the precedent of our Philippine base treaties, which have several times been revised to provide for increased payments to the Philippines.

The need to enlist public support for the treaty from individuals and organizations that could influence conservative opinion was also emphasized. Suggested targets included:

—Senator Goldwater, who might be invited by the President to make a trip to Panama. This would provide an occasion for Goldwater to publicize his support of treaty revision (Suggested by Sen. Morgan.)

—Ex-President Ford (suggested by Sen. Johnston)

—Prominent retired military officers (Sen. Domenici)

—The incoming American Legion national commander, a Louisiana resident whom Senator Johnston believes might be persuaded to support a treaty.

—The American Security Council (suggested by Sen. Heinz, who thought it might be more useful to work through such existing organizations than to establish a special citizens’ committee).

Questions on the security aspects of a treaty dealt with our right under the neutrality treaty to take action against Panama (Senators Huddleston and Hatch), the applicability of the neutrality agreement in wartime (Senator Church), and the military value of the Canal (Senator Johnston). General Brown explained the security risks involved in maintaining the status quo and the willingness of the JCS to support new arrangements that included an adequate neutrality agreement. He said that the Canal would be of little use in a nuclear war but would be valuable—though not vital—in a non-nuclear situation to facilitate rapid deployment of our full military sealift capacity, which was normally divided between the Pacific and the Atlantic. As to neutrality in wartime, he explained that all ships, including those of countries at [Page 188] war with the United States, would have the right of passage, but that the United States would rely, as in World War II, on its capacity to intercept enemy ships before they reached the Canal. Senator Heinz cautioned against overestimating the capacity of overland alternatives (especially railroads). Senator Church emphasized that discussion of the possible costs of Canal closure should not obscure the key point about security—that a new treaty would greatly improve the chances that the Canal would continue to be open and available.

On compensation, Senators Johnston and Cranston noted the large figures cited in recent press articles. Ambassador Bunker said these were out of the ball park and that the U.S. contemplated a payment from tolls amounting to $30–50 million. In response to Ambassador Linowitz’ question, Senators Chiles and Johnston said that from a domestic political standpoint security would override compensation as an issue in considering a new treaty, although Johnston thought that there might be some public resistance even to raising payments to Panama from the present $2 million to $30–50 million. Senator Church suggested fixing compensation as a percentage of net canal revenue in order to provide an incentive for the canal to operate at a profit. Ambassador Linowitz said this might raise knotty questions concerning Canal accounting.

Senators Johnston and Domenici raised the possibility that in a few years the United States would again be subjected to charges of colonialism from the Latin Americans, since under a new treaty we would still retain bases and a substantial U.S. presence in Panama. Domenici suggested the need to get Latin American leaders to endorse the treaty, and Ambassador Linowitz replied that there would be provision6 for Latin American countries to formally endorse the neutrality treaty after it was deposited with the OAS.

The status of U.S. employees was raised by Senators Huddleston and Johnston who asked for clarification on treaty provisions regarding courts, jurisdiction and increased employment of Panamanians.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of Congressional Liaison, Francis, Copeland, Small (Coordination), Freibers, Brooks, Naechterlein, Tate and Thomson, Box 6, (Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations), 5/26/77–9/29/77 (CF, O/A 193). Confidential. Drafted by Guthrie on July 1. Sent to Barkley, Moss, Pezzullo, Beckel, Cutter, Bell, Wyrough, Jorden, and Kozak.
  2. An unknown hand checked the names “Chiles,” “Domenici,” “Heinz,” “Huddleston,” “Johnston,” and “Morgan,” circled “Chiles” and “Huddleston;” underlined “Church,” “Hatch,” “Johnston,” and “Morgan;” and wrote “10” in the right margin.
  3. An unknown hand underlined “domestic political context” and “substance of a treaty.”
  4. An unknown hand underlined “security” and “defense.”
  5. An unknown hand underlined “compensation” and “possible future Panamanian and Latin American demands.”
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this portion of the sentence.