Panama and the United States are close to reaching agreement on a new Panama Canal treaty, according to Gen. Omar Torrijos, Panama's head of government.
Jamaica's Prime Minister Michael Manley, fresh from a meeting with Torrijos, said in Kingston today that there is a "very real prospect" that the United States and Panama will agree on a new treaty by next week. Manley was in Bogota yesterday with Torrijos and the presidents of Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Colombia.
Torrijos had asked the five influential hemispheric leaders for their views on a secret proposal made by the Carter administration earlier this week for returning sovereignty over the canal to Panama.
Washington Post Staff writer John Goshko quoted Manley as telling reporters, in Kingston. "We all had the impression that the talks about a new canal treaty went very well, that considerable progress had taken place and that there is a very real prospect for a settlement, perhaps next weeK."
Asked whether Torrijos had discussed the chief sticking point in the U.S. Panamanian negotiations - the amount Washington will pay for future operation of the canal - Manley replied. "Yes. We got the impression a lot of progress has been made in that too."
Except for Manley, who left for home last night to welcome U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Andrew Young, the other leaders met here again today. They were expected to issue a communique on their talks.
Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, more ebullient than his colleagues, told reporters: "We have gained everything we wanted. Very soon we will celebrate . . . the settlement of the canal problem."
The Caribbean summit participants have been Panama's strongest supporters in its struggle to regain sovereignty in its struggle to regain sovereignty over the canal, which has been under U.S. control since 1903. The Bogota meeting was called by Torrijos for the purpose of informing his allies about the Panamanian position in the negotiations.
The agreement the United States and panama are expected to sign would replace the controversial 1903 treaty that gave the United States perpetual sovereignty over the 51-mile waterway and about 370 square miles of land surrounding it.
Under the terms of the new treaty, the United States would turn over the canal and the Canal Zone to Panama but retain defense rights over the waterway. The accord is designed to run until Dec. 31, 1999. The United States and Panama would thus jointly control and maintain the Canal and guarantee its neutrality until the end of the century.
The proposed treaty would have to be approved by the U.S. Senate.
Panama has demanded $3.5 billion in compensation over the projected 20 years life of the new treaty, while the United States reportedly was willing to pay $1.5 billion.
The treaty talks between U.S. and Panamanian negotiators are scheduled to resume next week. The U.S. delegation includes Ellsworth Bunker and Sol Linowitz.
Even if an agreement is reached the Carter administration may face difficulties in the Senate.
Mexico's Presdient Jose Lopez Portillo said, here, however, that if the prospective treaty is not ratified in Congress, "then the Panamanian people themselves should resolve the situation."