Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The difference between the Panama Canal treaties of 1903 and 1977 is really very simple, Jimmy Carter told the crowd. "Panama had a chance to read this one before it was signed - which was not the case in 1903."
It was a light end to an otherwise sobering day end in the room. His "special guest." said Carter, was Panama's Gen. Omar Torrijos, who during dinner had told his host that at the moment the historic pacts were signed 'more than a million Panamanians wept."
The significance of why Carter had brought everbody together Wednesday night at the White House was as apparent to the President's foreign foreign guests as it was to those from Washington.
The presiden of Venezuela, for one, had sized up the pecking order of the evening perfectly.
"The senators." he told the President of the sOuth America now than President Carter."
Jimmy Carter laughed, but a glance at the guest list left little doubt that what Carlos Andres Perez had said was right on the mark. During Carter's after-dinner remarks, he acknowledged that there are "some guests Gen. Torrijos cares more about than me - the U.S. Senate."
Of the 140 guests President and Mrs Carter invited to dinner at the White House Wednesday night, 15 were heads of state, three heads of government, eight representatives of government - and 25 U.S.senators.
The occasion was to celebrate the signing by President Carter and Gen. Torrijos of the two treaties under which the United States will relinquish control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians by the year 2000. The treaties must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and in Panama by a national plebisctic.
After that historic ceremony at the Pan American Union, the Carters returned to the White House to receive the hemispheric leaderws, their wives and high-level administration and congressional officials while Secretary of State Cyrus vance led another delegation of dinner guests off the State Department.
In the Carter party were former President Gerald R. Ford and former First Lady Mrs Lundon B! Johnson. They joined the Carters in the receiving line. For a minute nobody seemed quite sure of the protocol involving a President former President. "You're to the far night," a White House aide told Carter, who promptly obeyed and moved down the line. "Mrs. Johnson, you're on the far left."
The group seemed at case with each other as they awaited the arrival of Torrijos and his wife, who were first in precedence in the guest lineup.
Carter wanted to know aif any of the reporters remembered whether "announcers" had described what was going on at the signing ceremony. When somebody commented on the embraces he received from Torrijos after the signing, Carter, "I never know how to handle those - President Torrijos was almost emotional when we were together in private."
The group standing in the cross hall was apparently unaware that out front on Pennsylavania Avenue, what District of Columbia police estimated to be 700 demonstrators were chanting in protest against several of the Latin American visitors, in particularly Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Predominantly young and affiliated with the Coaliton Against Repression in the Americas, the demonstrators included Isabel Letelier widow of Orlando Letelier, onetime Chilean ambassador to the united States under the Allende regime, who was killed here last fall by a terrorist bomb.
However, the chanting could not be heard inside the White House. When one reporter asked Carter about it be seemed surprised. "Oh really?" he respond. "Against me?"
If Pinochet was aware of placards outside that said "Down With Pinochet," he did not show it.Carter pulled him and his wife one side long enough for offcial photographers to capture the moment on film. Pinochet looked calm and confident.
Torrijos, on the other hand, looked stiff and self-conscious when he arrived. "You did well," Carter told him reassuringly, a comment that brought a wan smile to the Panamanian leader's face.
When Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau arrived it was, "Hi Jimmy," and "Hi, Pierre." Carter told Trudeau "I'm working on that project to which Trudeau responded. "We'll talk about it in the morning."
A little later Carter tolkd Sen. John Sparkman (D-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relaion Committee, that, "We're going to announce agreement Thursday with Canada on the pipeline." It was apparently in reference to the $10-billion natural gas pipeline project which has beenunder discussion by the two countries.
Trudeau came without his wife, Margaret, and was jaunty in a light gray pinstripped suit with a perky flower in his lapel. Among the men, the evening's dress was business suits with the Presidents of preu and Ecuador, in military uniforms, the exceptions.
Marion Javits and Nuala Pell wore bright-red silk evening oants and might have been the evening's fashion plates until Helga Orfila, the wife of the Secretary General of the Organzation of American States Alejandro Orfila, came through the lines. She wore a whilk silk floor-length gown with knife pleats over the hips and bodice open virtually to her navel.
Jimmy Carter greeted her with a steady gaze that never strayed from her face. Rosalynn Carter, sedate in long-sleeved high-necked turquoise chiffon, gave Mrs Orfila's dress a couple of quicly flivks before passing her alond the line to President Ford who tired not to look down.
Others among the guests were former Secretary of State Henry Kssinger, Coretta Scott King, U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Vice President and Mrs. Walter Mondale, and Muhammad Ali and his wife.
Ali was holding up an envelope as he neared Jimmy Carter, saying, "I'm giving him tickets to my fight." Carter quickly slipped the tickets for Sept. 29 at Madison Square Garden, into his pocket.
Guests dined on Maine lobster, roast veal, water cress and mushroom salad and a dessert called "chocolate basket surprise." They were entertained by violinist Isaac Stern, pianist Andre Previn and opera singer Martina Arroyo.
But despite earlier reports, the evening wasn't without precedent. Richard Nixon, in October 1970, entertained 31 heads of state at a White House dinner on the 25th anniversary of the United Nations.
The White House dispensed entirely with the traditional toasts, opting to play safe on protocol and let Carter do all the public speaking. It gave him a chance to remind everyone that the Canal negotiations had been intiated by Lyndon Johnson in 1963 and continued later under President Nixon and Ford.
Optimistic that the treaties can open a new era of understanding and cooperation in this hemisphere, Carter appeared prepared for a fight ahead.
Illinois Sen. Charles Percy (R.) predicted that the pacts would not come up for a vote in the Senate this year. "It would be wrong to rush it. It has to envolve," said Percy, calling the evening "a moment of history however you feel about the pacts.
Many of the after-dinner guests had been picked, said one White House official, to go back to their communities to talk about ratifying the treaty. They included bankers, industrialists, contractors, and others in the business community whom Carter's congressional liasion staff had recommended.
For the entertainment, once again protecol - order of precedence by Deniority - came into play. Heads of state and government filled up the first three rows. Ford and the Mondales found themselves in Row 4 and for a while Henry Kissinger wasn't sure where he should sit.
When he started to sit in the fifth row he discovered someone else's name on the chair. A White House aide did a quick check, returning toinform the former Secretary of State that he belonged somewhere in row No. 7.