President Carter met with a group of influential senators yesterday to discuss the Panama Canal treaties, but there was little reason to believe that the meeting improved the chances for Senate approval of the pacts soon.
White House press secretary Jody Powell would say only that "cleary, there were questions the senators had" and that they had discussed what steps might be taken to improve the chances for approval of the treaties.
However, Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) said it was a "frank and candid" session and that Carter "knows the treaty is in trouble."
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) said he found the President's arguments in favor of the treaties unpersuasive and he predicted they would be rejected.
According to Powell, the meeting was initiated by the Senate leadership. Attending were several key members of the Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).
The treaties would turn over control of the canal to Panama by 2000. They have come under increasing fire since the disclosure of a dispute over whether the United States would retain a unilateral right to defend the canal after 2000.
In another development yesterday, the White House announced details of a reorganization plan that would create an Agency for International Communication by combining the United States Information Agency with the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The director of the new agency, to be named later, would be under the Secretary of State.
In a message of Congress, Carter pledged that the agency would maintain "the integrity of the educational and cultural exchange programs" operated by the State Department and would keep the news-gathering and reporting functions of the Voice of America, a part of USIA, "independent and objective."
Office of Managment and Budget officials, who drafted the reorganization plan, said the new agency would represent a departure from the "we-talk-and-you-listen approach" to government information and cultural programs. But under repeated questioning, Acting OMB Director James T. McIntyre Jr. was unable to explain what that phrase meant, saying the details of how the agency will operate still must be worked out.
OMB officials also said they would not predict whether the reorganization would result in a reduction in employees and expenditures.
The plan, submitted to Congress yesterday, is the second reorganization plan developed by the administration. Congress has 60 legislative days to reject the plan or it will automatically go into effect.