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Without these corrections, I think both treaties jeopardize our interests and are therefore not acceptable.
CANAL'S IMPORTANCE TO U.S. DEFENSE INTERESTS
Mr. Chairman, I am positively convinced of the canal's importance to the U.S. defense interests. If there were ever any questions in anyone's mind about this importance, I would think that the letter to President Carter last June, signed by four former Chiefs of Naval Operations, would remove that doubt. One of those officers, Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, testified persuasively on this point before the House International Affairs Committee last week. I would commend his testimony to the attention of this committee.
Therefore, with respect to the treaty on permanent neutrality, I propose to amend article IV to specifically guarantee our authority to intervene militarily whenever we determine the canal's neutrality to be threatened.
In addition, I propose to amend article VI to guarantee that U.S. vessels of war will have “priority passage” rights through the canal whenever our Nation is at war.
Both of these points are ambiguous and maybe they are ambiguous intentionally. That sometimes has happened. They are both ambiguous within the treaty. They have been interpreted differently by American and Panamanian negotiators. It is clear that clarification of the language is badly needed. An understanding will not do the job.
I probably don't need to remind the committee, but last week, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown testified that, "We felt strongly that the United States should take whatever action was necessary to maintain neutrality,” and U.S. Ambassador Linowitz insisted that, "It is for the United States to make the determination as to how we should respond and how we should defend our rights.”
However, the chief Panamanian negotiator, Escobar Bethancourt, was quoted in an interview on August 24 as saying that the United States will not determine when neutrality is violated, and that the treaty "does not establish that the United States has the right to intervene in Panama."
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance testified to you that, “In practical terms, as I understand it, our ships can go to the head of the line" in gaining passage through the canal. This is under the "expeditious passage" clause in the treaty.
The Panamanian negotiators, on the other hand, specified that "expeditious passage does not mean privileged passage," and that if "the gringos with their warships say 'I want to go through first, then that is their problem with the other ships waiting there.” That has already been testified to, but I would make the point again.
I make the point because despite the efforts of the Secretary of Defense, and despite the efforts of the Secretary of State and others in the administration to sort of smooth over what I consider to be rather critical differences in interpretation, these discrepancies still exist. There is no question but that there are serious differences in interpretation.
CONFIDENTIAL CABLE TO STATE DEPARTMENT FROM U.S.
This was brought to my attention very clearly earlier this week when I was handed a copy of a confidential cable sent to the State Department by our Embassy in Panama. This cable reveals just how widely our interpretation of the “intervention" and "expeditious passage" clauses differs from that of Panama's negotiators. I have already asked the Secretary of State to comment on the contents of the cable.
Senator Dole. Rather than read the cable verbatim, Mr. Chairman, I will summarize its contents.
Senator Case. Which statement is that, Senator? Is it the cable that you got from the State Department ?
Senator Dole. It is the cable. I would summarize its contents, but I ask that it all be made a part of the record.
Senator Church. Can you identify the cable? It's not particularly long, is it?
Senator Dole. No. I would be glad to read it.
Senator Church. I think perhaps it would be helpful if you would identify it and read it.
Senator DOLE. Just by way of introduction to the cable, our political counselor at the American Embassy in Panama, I think it is fair to say, found one of the Panamanian negotiators disturbed last Thursday morning—that is less than 1 week ago—about testimony that had been presented to this committee. Based on that, the Panamanian negotiator, I guess, poured out his troubles to the political counselor, and this cable is what follows:
Subject: Negotiator's concern over hearings.
1. The Political Counselor called Carlos Lopez Guevara on another matter this morning and found him disturbed over some of the testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly the first day. Two matters seemed to trouble him most:
A. Interpretation of the expeditious passage clause that U.S. war vessels get "preferential” treatment or that they may "go to the head of the line."
That is a statement that someone made before the committee
Lopez Guevara said that Royo and Escobar tentatively accepted preferential treatment for U.S. and Panamanian war vessels, but in a later session this was specifically rejected by Panama and the word "expeditiously' was substituted.
B. Assertions that the treaty gives the U.S. any right to "intervene" in Panama. He said that Article IV means nothing more than what it says. "Intervention is simply forbidden by international law," he said. “Panama cannot agree to the right of the United States to intervene” He urged that U.S. officials stop using the term "intervention" in describing its rights under the treaty. He also expressed the view that those testifying before the committee on Monday had made too much of General Torrijos' statement.
And I don't know which statement they are talking about because he has made a number of statementsthat Panama was under the umbrella of the Pentagon. "The General was stating a fact, not giving the United States any right to intervene." He said he had no way of knowing what Torrijos thought of the testimony, but he, Lopez, personally was disturbed with many of our interpretations. He promised to “set the record straight” in a speech he is to make tonight.
Gentlemen, I don't have the speech, but I assume that the committee has a copy of it.
2. The Political Counselor pointed out some statements which Panamanian negotiators had made which do not accord with our understanding of the neutrality agreement. He said that, on balance, the positions on neutrality given by Escobar and Royo, while not identical with our interpretation, were moderate in the Panamanian context. However, certain statements taken by themselves and out of the overall context, have proved difficult to explain to skeptical Senators.
I assume there are a number of skeptical Senators.
He pointed out that most of the difficulties in the Senate so far have come from uncommitted Senators, such as Baker and Stone, rather than hardline treaty opponents. He suggested that it might be useful if the Panamanians would establish a standard position, rather than speak extemporaneously on this delicate question.
3. Lopez Guevara said he understood the difficulties which U.S. negotiators face and asked for copies of some of the offending remarks. However, he cautioned that, no matter how necessary in the American process, there were some things that no Panamanian Government could accept.
4. Comment; As the negotiators are aware, Lopez Guevara, though a moderate and reasonable man, is relatively inflexible on some questions. As he pointed out, he was at the head of those who did not accept the concept of priority passage for U.S. war vessels. He is considered a technician within the government, but he is influential. As we talk with other negotiators and officials who are campaigning for the treaty here, we will urge caution on any statement concerning U.S. rights under the neutraity treaty. But we are likely to be faced with increasing irritation over—and perhaps public disavowals of—our interpretations. Any assertion which seems to claim a right to intervene in Panama's domestic affairs is almost sure to be challenged here.
The cable is signed "Gonzalez."
Now, I think the import of that cable, if nothing else, is it draws a line between how the administration witnesses interpret certain language in the treaty and how the Panamanians interpret certain language in the treaty. I don't think much is left to doubt. I think it is clear that they see it a different way—at least according to our political counselor.
So, the fact that they have indicated that they rejected outright in the negotiations "preferential passage” I think contradicts some of the testimony that we had. I assume that there will be additional testimony either this year or next and that that matter can be resolved.
I would hope that Secretary Vance would address the ambiguities and let me know by mail his answers or give that information to the committee.
I would also hope that Senator Baker's request that all of the cable traffic and all of the other materials leading up to the negotiations and the signing of the treaty could be made available, if only to members of the committee. Perhaps we could have a chance to look at it, also.
This is an open administration, and I should think it would want us to know. There has been some criticism of the fact that I have the cable. I don't think I violated any breach of trust. This is not a matter that affects our security, but certainly it is a matter that we should be aware of if we are going to make decisions on the Panama Canal treaties.
I have included this cable as a part of my testimony for a very important reason. It demonstrates beyond a doubt the vast differences in interpretation of the most important part of these treaties——that portion which deals directly with our vital national defense interests.
It appears, as I say in my statement, that they are trying to sell one version in Panama and that we are trying to sell another version in America. It may be good strategy as far as ratification is concerned, but where does it leave us if there should be a crisis, and where does it leave some of us who have not yet made a decision on the treaties if we cannot find the answers.
VOTES FOR RATIFICATION
There may be some 60-odd votes for ratification, though I think that is a very optimistic figure that Senator Cranston has indicated he may have. The others are going to be very hard to come by unless we have some answers. I would hope, and I am certain, that members of this committee have an open mind and would be looking for
U.S. UNILATERAL AUTHORITY TO DEFEND CANAL MILITARILY
From the standpoint of our national defense interests, it is essential that the United States have unilateral authority to step in and defend the canal militarily at any time. I think it is also essential that we have a clear-cut right of priority passage through the canal, especially during wartime.
I know a lot of people say, “Well, don't worry about that. We are not going to stand back or sit back. We are going to take over if there is a war.” Maybe that is the case. But I don't think we should have to accept any ambiguity on these points. I would point out that there are some proposed treaty amendments pending. Rather than haggle over understandings that don't mean anything, we ought to adopt some amendments and some reservations that I think would be helpful.
TREATY OPPONENTS RECEPTIVE TO ADOPTION OF AMENDMENTS,
Let me add that some of those who have stated opposition to the treaty are receptive to modifications.
Yesterday I received a letter from Adm. Robert B. Carney, one of the four
former Chiefs of Naval Operations who signed the June 6 letter to President Carter expressing concern about our defense interests.
In his letter to me, Admiral Carney repeated his serious concern about the proposed canal treaties. However, Admiral Carney further advised me that, and I quote—I asked him if I could indicate this to the committee, and he said, “Certainly”—
If your stated reservations and proposed amendments can be incorporated into the treaties' language, many of my deep concerns would be eased. The text of your considered appraisal is, by all odds, superior to any related discussion that has come to my attention.
That last sentence was by way of a personal editorial comment. It may not impress you, but I read it anyway.
I have asked that a copy of the Admiral's letter be made a part of the record.
[The information referred to follows:]
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 1, 1977. MY DEAR SENATOR DOLE: I thank you for your September 23, 1977 note and its great enclosures on the subject of the Panama Canal Treaties.
If your stated reservations and proposed amendments can be incorporated into the Treaties' language, many of my deep concerns would be eased. The text of your considered appraisal is, by all odds, superior to any related discussion that has come to my attention.
It is being said by some that the Canal could not be defended in a hostile Panamanian environment. That thought needs a close look.
The view that a controlling Panama would not injure its own economy by sabotaging the Canal is naive. A Panamanian Government oriented toward Moscow via Cuba could comply with Communist instruction to block the Canal, with grave, and obvious, adverse effects on our national security and economy.
The one over-riding objecting to ratification is the record and political complexion of the Panamanian Government. We must not trust our security to any Treaty promises of that repressive, Communist-oriented Torrijos government. Sincerely and respectfully,
ROBT. B. CARNEY,
Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.) Senator DOLE. I think there is another area that concerns people in my State who have been writing, and this is the amendment that I hope would change it [indicating].
DOLE AMENDMENT RE NEW SEA-LEVEL CANAL CONSTRUCTION
My first amendment would insure that the United States will not be committed to construct a new sea-level canal in Panama if we should decide at some point that we need some new interoceanic route.
Article XII of the Panama Canal Treaty would, in fact, bind the United States to construct such a canal in Panama. Yet, there is no commitment on the part of Panama to agree to permit construction of the canal. We are only prevented from constructing one elsewhere.
I don't suggest that we rush right down to Panama or anywhere in Central America and start a sea-level canal because we are talking about an expenditure estimated at several billions of dollars, maybe $7 billion or more.
But President Carter has been talking a good deal lately about a new sea-level canal. I suspect that the vast majority of the American people would want to know first why we are giving up one canal in order to build another. In fact, I think we are not giving it up; we are paying them over $2 billion to take it by the year 2000.
My amendment would simply strike that section of article XII which would foreclose our options, and substitute in its place a clause specifically rejecting any restrictions on U.S. negotiations with other countries, for the right to construct a new canal somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary that this freedom of choice is maintained.
I am not certain why that provision is there. It has been speculated that perhaps
Senator CASE. If I may, for general information, we were told that that was a part of an exchange of agreements, that in exchange for that we obtained the commitment of Panama not to let any other state build such a canal.
Senator DOLE. That is sort of the way I heard it.