Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

March 21, 1964

THE PRESIDENT. Is it all right with you folks if I monitor your press conference? 1

1 The President appeared unexpectedly during a news conference held at the White House by his Press Secretary, George E. Reedy.

[1.] I am sending this afternoon a state merit to the President of the OAS which may be of some interest to you. I will have copies made of it as soon as we can complete them. The statement reads:

"The present inability to resolve our differences with Panama is the source of deep regret.

[At this point the President presented background material. He then resumed reading the statement.]

"Our two countries are not linked by only a single agreement or a single interest. We are bound together in an Inter-American System whose objective is, in the words of the charter, 'through mutual understanding and respect for the sovereignty of each, to provide for the betterment of all.'

"Under the many treaties and declarations which form the fabric of that system, we have long been allies in the struggle to strengthen democracy and enhance the welfare of our people.

"Our history is witness to this essential unity of interest and belief. Panama has unhesitatingly come to our side, twice in this century, when we were threatened by aggression. On December 7, 1941, Panama declared war on our attackers even before our own Congress had time to act. Since that war, Panama has wholeheartedly joined with us, and our sister republics, in shaping the agreements and goals of this continent.

"We have also had a special relationship with Panama, for they have shared with us the benefits, the burden, and trust of maintaining the Panama Canal as a lifeline of defense and a keystone of hemispheric prosperity. All free nations are grateful for the effort they have given to that task.

"As circumstances change, as history shapes new attitudes and expectations, we have reviewed periodically this special relationship.

"We are well aware that the claims of the Government of Panama, and of the majority of the Panamanian people, do not spring from malice or hatred of America. They are based on a deeply felt sense of the honest and fair needs of Panama. It is, therefore, our obligation as allies and partners to review these claims and to meet them, when meeting them is both just and possible.

"We are ready to do this.

"We are prepared to review every issue which now divides us, and every problem which the Panamanian Government wishes to raise.

"We are prepared to do this at any time and at any place.

"As soon as he is invited by the Government of Panama, our Ambassador will be on his way. We shall also designate a special representative. He will arrive with full authority to discuss every difficulty. He will be charged with the responsibility of seeking a solution which recognizes the fair claims of Panama and protects the interest of all the American nations in the Canal. We cannot determine, even before our meetings, what form that solution might best take. But his instructions will not prohibit any solution which is fair, and subject to the appropriate constitutional processes of both our governments.

"I hope that on this basis we can begin to resolve our problems and move ahead to confront the real enemies of this hemisphere-the enemies of hunger and ignorance, disease and injustice. I know President Chiari shares this hope. For, despite today's disagreements, the common values and interests which unite us are far stronger and more enduring than the differences which now divide us."

A copy of that statement will be sent to His Excellency Juan Bautista de Lavalle, Chairman of the Council of the Organization of American States.

I will be glad to have any questions, if you have any.

Q. Mr. President, sir, do you feel that the American people outside the Washington area back up your stand On--

THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to make any evaluation of the American people outside the Washington area. I haven't conducted any polls on it, and I don't know what their opinion might be on any specific subject.

Q. Mr. President, when you say his instructions will not bar any solution which is fair, would that include, sir, a renegotiation of the 1903 treaty?

THE PRESIDENT. This would mean just what the statement says. We will discuss any problem that divides us in any way, and then we will come up with a solution that is fair.

Q. Has the Ambassador been chosen, Mr. President or would that be Ambassador Mann?

THE PRESIDENT. No, We would select a special representative.

Q. Mr. President, before you get around to issuing the statement, could we have that-to put it up on the bulletin board so we can dictate from it?

THE PRESIDENT. I may want to use it to answer any questions.

Q. I mean when the conference is over.


Q. Mr. President, I understood you to say, sir, that our position now is just where it was when you first talked to the President of Panama. This is no new position?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct. Very shortly after the flag was not flown, and there was a march on the zone, and some of our soldiers were killed, I called the President of Panama and said that we have difficulties and problems, disagreements, obviously, and we are prepared to discuss those disagreements any time, anywhere, anyplace.

He said, "When would your people be prepared to meet with mine ?"

I said, "They will leave here in 30 minutes."

He said, "Very well."

Since that time, although we have made very few public statements on it and we have tried and hoped that the OAS could work this out, and there have been a great many leaks back and forth, some of the stuff you call news interpretation, news analysis, and various things, some of which really took place and some of which was speculation, I think it is very important that the people of this hemisphere know that from the beginning, and now, just what this statement says: that we are willing and ready to discuss at any time, with any of their representatives, any problem, any difficulty, in a reasonable way, and to let only equity and justice determine what course we would take, subject to the constitutional processes.

Q. Mr. President, what is the reason for issuing the statement today?

THE PRESIDENT. No reason. I am sending it over there. I didn't think you would object to hearing it.

Q. No, I meant--I mean to the OAS. What is the reason for sending the statement to them now?

THE PRESIDENT. So that we may reiterate our viewpoint and in some detail.

Q. Mr. President, would you think that this statement might clear up any difference of interpretation they have--

THE PRESIDENT. I would not speculate on that. I am just making a statement and sending it over to the President of the OAS. What happens there, events will determine. I, of course, am hopeful that we can always reason out differences together, and that is one of the purposes of my expression.

Q. Mr. President, don't formal diplomatic relations have to precede a discussion like this?


[2.] Q. Mr. President, on another subject, can you give us your reaction to the release by the Russians today of one of the American fliers shot down over East Germany?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I have any comment on that. Talk to the Department about that.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, can you enlighten us on what did go on last weekend involving the Panamanian negotiations? There have been a lot of conflicting reports, as you mentioned earlier.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I am not sure that I know all that went on regarding it. So far as I know, our position at the beginning was what I just stated, and it still is. Up to this point there has been no meeting of the minds.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, were you at all disturbed, sir, that Mr. Salinger only gave you a few hours' notice of his resignation? Second, do you agree with some--

THE PRESIDENT. Let me answer one at a time.

Q. I am sorry.

THE PRESIDENT. No. The answer is no. That is, to the first question. What is the next one? I was not disturbed.

Q. Some of the newspapers have interpreted this as another sign that supporters of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy are anxious to leave your administration. Do you agree with that, or have you seen any signs of that?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer is no to that question.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, can we have the Warren Commission open to the American public? Is there any reason why they cannot be?

THE PRESIDENT. That is a matter for the Commission to determine completely.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, a rather sticky situation seems to have developed in Cuba over the helicopter flight of the two defectors, and the slaying in the air. What is the U.S. position on that ?

THE PRESIDENT. That is a matter you should talk to the Department about. We are now looking into it very carefully. I have talked to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense about it this morning. I have no announcement that will be made at this time. Of course, when there is an announcement, it will probably come from the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, you said a moment ago, sir, that there was no reason for the issuance of this statement.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I didn't say that.

Q. I am sorry.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't intend to say there was no reason. I think I would not issue it, if there was no reason. There is a reason, but I thought his question was what was the reason for giving it to them. I just thought you ought to be kept informed of what was happening in this field.

Q. Are you trying to clear the air, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I want everyone to know our position and I think this helps. This is a statement to the President that he can use in his deliberations. I would hope that all of us realized from the beginning that the United States position was that we were willing to talk to anybody that they designated at any time, anyplace, and review all problems and all difficulties.

I don't say discuss, because that is a sticky word. Some of them do not quite understand what it means. But I say review. We are glad to do that. I made that clear that day, and I have reiterated it. But I think it is good that the President of the OAS can have the details carried in this statement.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect any major developments in the field of East-West relations in the field of disarmament?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we always hope for the best.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you still feel that there are remaining misinterpretations about the statement last week on Panama?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't want to go into that, because--

[At this point the President spoke off the record.]

[10.] Q. Mr. President, your guidelines for holding the wage-price line have been criticized by both labor and management recently. Do you still think that these will work, in view of this criticism?

THE PRESIDENT. We hope very much that they will. We believe that both labor and management can best solve their problems through collective bargaining, and we hope that that is the way it will be done. We have outlined what course we believe is best for America, all the people, and generally the criteria of that course is indicated by the guidelines. But in the wage negotiations and the working conditions that must from time to time be examined, and new agreements reached, we hope that that will be handled through the process of collective bargaining.

Q. Thank you very much, sir.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, can we have a picture of you and your new secretary,2 please?


2 The reference was to George E. Reedy, Press Secretary to the President, successor to Pierre Salinger who resigned on March 19 to run for the Democratic senatorial nomination in California.

Q. Thank you very much.

[At this point the President again spoke off the record. At the request of one of the reporters the following statement was placed on the record, as indicated in the President's final remarks.]

THE PRESIDENT. I was at lunch, and when I came back he told me what he was thinking. And the only thing that I could think about at the moment was that I was called when I was shaving in a bathroom in Houston and told that a Congressman had died in my congressional district and asked if I would not be a candidate to succeed him. Very shortly thereafter, I had to resign my job without notice and announce immediately, over the weekend--and this was Saturday-that I was a candidate. So I somewhat understood Mr. Salinger's problem.

Q. What day was that when you were having lunch, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. The day he announced. It was about 4 o'clock. We had gone to lunch real late and I had a group of editors with me. We were talking and I came back here, I guess--I don't remember--I would say 5 or 5:30, just before he announced to you. It was the first time that I knew about it.

Q. Can we get that story back on the record, Mr. President? It is a pretty good story.


Q. That is a delightful story.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. In an attempt to encourage that good spirit that prevails here today, that story will be put on the record.

Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President's news conference of Saturday, March 21, held in the Press Office at the White House at 1:45 p.m., is designated "News Conference No. 11 (Out of Sequence)." With respect to the numbering of the news conferences see note at end of Item 143.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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