71. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Two Meetings (1) With American Negotiators; and (2) With Panamanian and American Negotiators


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker
  • Ambassador Sol Linowitz
  • Hamilton Jordan, Assistant to the President
  • Robert A. Pastor (Notetaker)
  • Anthony Hervas (Interpreter)
  • Only in Second Meeting
  • Ambassador of Panama, Gabriel Lewis Galindo
  • Ambassador Romulo Escobar (Negotiator)
  • Minister Aristides Royo (Negotiator)


In Oval Office: Just Americans Present

The President told Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz that he could not in good conscience go to the American people and explain to them [Page 232] that we are going to pay to give up the Canal. He said that he could justify the sharing of interest payments, the increase in tolls, and the loan guarantee package, but it was impossible to go any further. He said that the total volume of the package should include tolls. On the question of whether to give a fixed payment of $10 million out of interest payments or $20 million which would vary with the level of revenues, he said that he would leave it to the Negotiators, who are in a much better position to know. He said, however, that he was eager to conclude a treaty.

In talking about the meeting, Ambassador Linowitz suggested that the President stress his personal commitment to concluding negotiations and perhaps also mention that we will want to continue our partnership after the treaty is signed and to help Panama. Ambassador Linowitz then ran down the elements of the package including the 30 cents per canal ton to Panama and the $10 million interest payment, and the President said “that sounds good,” and agreed that he would not get into the details of the package in his discussions with the Panamanians.

The President also said that he wanted the meeting first, before signing the letter, but that he would look at it and sign it in the afternoon.2 Ambassador Bunker said that Ambassador Jordan had suggested some of the language to please Torrijos, who as Ambassador Bunker said, had problems within Panama on the issues of neutrality, a U.S. military presence, and the fact that the U.S. will retain the dominant position during the life of a treaty.

The President said that both sides could put a good face on the package. Torrijos can talk about the total package, and we can refer to annual payments.

Second Meeting

In the meeting with the Panamanian Negotiators, while the press was there, the President expressed his deep appreciation for the superb work which all of the negotiators had done, and to their leader, General Torrijos, for his constructive attitude toward the negotiations. The President said that he is pleased with the great progress made in the negotiations and is eager and determined to rapidly conclude an agreement on a new treaty.

The President said that the major differences had been resolved, and he hoped that the remaining items could be dealt with quickly. He said that he would prepare a letter for them to take to Torrijos.

[Page 233]

The President remarked that the Panamanian and American people were aware that negotiations had been difficult, but that all are eager to see the treaty negotiations conclude to show that a strong autonomous and independent Panama can work alongside a strong and independent United States.

After the press departed, the President said that he and Torrijos would both have a difficult job trying to convince their people that a treaty is in the best interest of both countries.

With respect to the remaining differences, which were primarily economic, the President said that it would be impossible for him to convince the American people that we are paying Panama to take a Canal which many Americans believe is ours. He said that we could solve this problem by giving Panama assurances of economic benefits that will meet their needs and would be acceptable to the American people. He said that the U.S. Negotiators will make a proposal in the near future which will include toll fees and loan guarantees. There is a great need to move rapidly to conclude negotiations so that the Senate can ratify the treaties early.

Finally, he said that he wanted to extend his personal good wishes to General Torrijos, and that he wanted to sign a treaty in a way which would be good for Torrijos and acceptable to the American people.

Dr. Escobar thanked the President and said that his words confirmed what the Panamanians had thought—that the President was determined to conclude a treaty, and because of that greater progress was made in the last six months than in the previous 13 years. He expressed his high regard for the U.S. Negotiators, and his optimism at the early conclusion of negotiations. President Torrijos had asked him to tell President Carter that he would be meeting in Bogota with the Presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and later Jamaica on August 5 to permit him to give a detailed explanation of the negotiations.3 President Oduber had called the night before to tell the negotiators that he supported Panama’s position, but that he thought the meeting could play an important role of informing public opinion, particularly in the United States, of the realities in Panama and in Latin America. Oduber had said that the meeting will reaffirm that the fundamental problem in inter-American relations is the Canal. Also, Torrijos planned to organize the final signing of the treaty for all Latin American Presidents in Panama.

Escobar mentioned that the Negotiators had completed the most difficult issues—like neutrality and the U.S. military presence—but [Page 234] other issues which remain include economic arrangements, the rights of workers, some lands and waters issues.

President Carter said that he would personally like to participate in the signing ceremony because he would like the people of both Panama and the United States to see a visible demonstration of the friendship of both countries.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 38, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Panama, 6–9/77. Secret. The first meeting took place in the Oval Office, and the second meeting took place in the Cabinet room at the White House.
  2. See Document 72.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 66.
  4. After the meeting with Carter concluded, Bunker and Linowitz met with the Panamanian representatives in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. (Memorandum for the files from Linowitz, July 29; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Linowitz Papers, Box 113, Panama Canal Treaties, Carter, Jimmy and White House Staff 1977, Feb–1978, Jan.)