9. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Secretary Vance and Foreign Minister Boyd of Panama


  • Panama

    • Foreign Minister Aquilino Boyd
    • Ambassador to the United States Gonzalez-Revilla
    • Romulo Escobar Bethancourt, Treaty Adviser
    • Ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Illueca
    • Ambassador to the Organization of American States Nander Pitty
    • Edwin Fabrega Velarde, Treaty Group Member
  • United States

    • The Secretary
    • Deputy Secretary Christopher
    • Ambassador-at-Large Ellsworth Bunker
    • Ambassador Sol Linowitz
    • Assistant Secretary-designate Terence Todman
    • Ambassador William J. Jorden
    • Minister S. Morey Bell (Notetaker)
    • Antonio Hervas (Interpreter)

The Secretary noted his pleasure at participating in so auspicious an occasion—the effective resumption of negotiations. He then confirmed for the Foreign Minister that the United States intended to reach for an early treaty, fulfilling previous Presidential commitments. The [Page 53] process had already been stretched out too long, he said. He then made these points:

1. The process of negotiations will not be helped if there are pressures on the United States in international fora or if there are “incidents” which have an adverse impact on public opinion in the United States.

2. The United States cannot sacrifice its fundamental interests in these negotiations, nor ignore the opinion of the Congress and of the American people.

3. If an agreement is to be reached promptly, there must be flexibility on both sides—there must be discussion of the issues, and compromise, at all difficult points.

4. The parties might try to agree today on an exact—and early—date for resumption of the negotiations. Both sides must move with all deliberate speed to achieve a prompt conclusion of the treaty.

5. Each must recognize the other’s aspirations. The major U.S. interest is an open and neutral canal to which all nations can always have access. Panamanian aspirations and U.S. views do not appear to be inconsistent. Consequently it is surely possible to come to an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides.

Minister Boyd responded that it is essential to continue negotiating within the context of the Tack-Kissinger principles of 19742 and all the other official announcements over the years which have spoken of eliminating the causes of conflict between the two countries.

He observed that the invitation to visit Washington—the first Foreign Minister to be so invited—in order to hold serious discussions on a serious matter is symbolic of how important the United States regards the Panama question. He assured the Secretary that this gesture had had favorable repercussions not only in Panama but also throughout Latin America—and was the best possible response to the letter from seven Latin American Presidents to President Carter urging that the Panama question be given a high priority in the new Administration.3

The Minister explained that the Secretary’s remark about the United States wishing to achieve a treaty as promptly as possible had made a “magnificent” impression on the Panamanian Delegation. Not only Latin American public opinion but also world opinion favors a prompt [Page 54] solution of this problem. Thus, if the two countries move seriously and speedily, Panama will have no time to present its sentiments—nor any necessity to do so—in international fora.

If the United States cannot be expected to sacrifice its fundamental interests, he said, it is also true that the United States must respond to Panama’s “basic needs”, such as fixing a reasonable duration for the new treaty—and that should be the year 2000.

Panama appreciates how the fundamental institutions of the U.S. operate, and knows the problem of public and Congressional opinion.

Panama, too, has problems. 1.7 million Panamanians consider themselves experts on resolving the Panama problem; it is the matter that they think about constantly.

Turning to the question of a joint communique, Minister Boyd noted President Ford’s reaffirmation of the “Principles”. If the Democratic Administration now reaffirmed those Principles it would be useful for public opinion in the U.S., and would be useful in Panama and all Latin America.

The Secretary agreed that a joint statement would be useful as tangible evidence of progress.

He then raised the fundamental guidelines under which the negotiations will continue. Noting Panama’s intent to work seriously, and the Minister’s statement that Panama will have neither time nor need for raising this matter in other fora, the Secretary stated that he is prepared to proceed on the basis of the Tack-Kissinger Joint Statement of Principles.

He noted, however, that this was not an easily-made decision—that long and serious consideration had been given to it. The United States believes that with a spirit of cooperation and flexibility the two countries can proceed under the Tack-Kissinger Principles, and that this decision constituted a major first step toward a treaty.

Concerning the joint announcement, the Secretary stated that it would be useful to note that the two countries have agreed to make a sustained effort to conclude a new treaty at an early date.

The Secretary asked Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz for a date for the next meeting. Ambassador Bunker suggested the 10th of February.

Minister Boyd noted that the reports of Ambassador Linowitz’ appointment had been taken very well in Panama. He also noted Panama’s admiration for Ambassador Bunker and said that his presence at the negotiating table lends a specific significance to the United States purpose. He also stated that Panama knows Linowitz as a lawyer and statesman who is knowledgeable about Latin America. He observed that the combination of Bunker/Linowitz will have an “explosive [Page 55] impact” on the pursuit of the negotiators’ objectives. He accepted February 10 as a satisfactory date and stated that this will have a favorable impact in Panama, Latin America and the whole world.

Minister Boyd also asked that the joint statement refer to the objective of concluding the negotiations in 1977.

The Secretary replied that it would be better to refer only to conclusion of a treaty “at an early date”, without a time limit because mention of a date would cause problems with Congress. The term “an early date” conveys the correct message without creating problems. He also suggested that it be called a “joint statement” rather than “joint communique”, a term usually reserved for Presidential use. He suggested drafting a text, reading it to the press and answering a few questions after luncheon.4

The Minister agreed and asked Dr. Escobar and Dr. Illueca to represent Panama in the drafting of a statement.

The Secretary asked Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz to represent the U.S. (At this point all but the drafters proceeded to luncheon.)

During the lunch, Ambassador Illueca asked the Secretary how the National Security Council viewed the negotiations. The Secretary replied that there had been a meeting only a few days ago.5 The subject was given much serious thought. The question of continuing under the Tack-Kissinger Principles arose, and it was decided that if Panama wished to move seriously and flexibly, then the Tack-Kissinger Principles represented a good starting point.

The Secretary offered a toast noting that the United States cares deeply about its relationship with Panama and is determined to move the negotiations forward successfully and promptly. While there will, of course, be bumps in the road, the United States feels that a melding of the aspirations of Panama and the necessities of the United States (which lie in an open and neutral canal always) will lead to a solution which is just.

Minister Boyd replied that Panama and Latin America are very, very much interested in coming to terms with the United States in 1977. He said that emotions are even higher now than in 19646—the “colonial enclave” has grown to be a still greater burden. Panama [Page 56] believes that President Carter is on the road toward avoiding another episode like 1964. He expressed the hope that the morality of the new Administration will serve as a “floating balloon” to by-pass the bumps in the road mentioned by the Secretary.

To the Secretary’s query, Ambassador Bunker noted that the negotiators have completed a SOFA and conceptual agreements on administration, canal defense, jurisdiction and use rights.

Minister Boyd mentioned the lands and water papers which, when agreed to, will constitute an annex to the Status of Force Agreement. He added that on lands and waters Panama still has some concerns, among them the Balboa port. The United States wants to provide Panama only one pier and wants the canal operating entity to keep the rest, to be rented to private enterprises. He described this as unacceptable.

Ambassador Gonzalez-Revilla commented that during the last substantive negotiating round Panama presented a document which outlined its comprehensive view of the exact state of the negotiations.7 Panama feels that the ball is now in the United States court. He asked whether Panama can expect that on February 10 the United States will deliver its response.

The Secretary explained that it is his policy to place the responsibility for the negotiations on the negotiators. He noted that he prefers to choose skilled negotiators and let them proceed.

Minister Boyd repeated Panama’s desire for a reply to the October 21 paper.8 In reply the Secretary noted the importance of flexibility. He asked Panama to look at its negotiating positions as outlined in the paper and to come into the new round with no rigid positions. He said the United States would follow a similar practice.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of Cyrus R. Vance, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Nodis Memcons 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Bell on February 2; cleared by Bunker and Todman, and approved by William H. Twaddell (S) on February 14. The meeting took place in the Secretary’s Suite and the James Madison Room.
  2. See footnote 10, Document 3.
  3. On January 10, the Presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela and the Chief of State of Honduras, wrote to Cartercongratulating him on his election and expressing their hope for favorable change in inter-American relations and a new Panama Canal Treaty. (National Archives, RG 185, Negotiation and Planning Records for 1977 Treaty, Entry 13, Box 3, Treaty Negotiations S/REP 7/2 Volume XVI Fr: January 1977 to March 1977)
  4. Vance read the joint statement, which affirmed continuing the negotiations on the basis of the Tack-Kissinger principles, at an informal news briefing he and Boyd held following their meeting. For the text of the statement, see the Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1977, p. 146.
  5. See Document 6.
  6. A reference to the violent riots which erupted in the Panama Canal Zone on January 9, 1964, and resulted in a temporary breaking of relations between Panama and the United States.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, Document 137.
  8. Ibid.