Cablegate: Panama Probably Will Not Move to Oppose

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PANAMA 002777



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/15/2009

REF: A. STATE 240249
B. PANAMA 2452


Summary: Change Is Not At Hand

1. (C) This Embassy and other observers hoped that Panama's
UNGA voting patterns soon might become more congenial to U.S.
interests, given the recent election of Martin Torrijos, a
young, modernizing president; his avowed intent to make
Panama's UN General Assembly voting "more predictable"; and
the GOP's friendly relations with Israel and the local Jewish
community. In fact, the Ambassador and other Emboffs have
pressed GOP officials to improve Panama's UN voting record,
especially with regard to the Israel-Palestine issue.
Despite Embassy efforts, as well as lobbying by the local
Jewish community, we believe that in the short run Panama
likely will continue its past voting pattern on
Israel-Palestine questions. On the positive side, Panamanian
officials do not seem comfortable voting for empty
pro-Palestinian resolutions. Senior GOP officials have
defended their stance by citing putative fears of terrorist
attacks against the Canal. Embassy will continue to press
GOP officials to pursue a more constructive policy vis-a-vis
Israel and Palestine at the United Nations. End Summary.

Demarche Delivered

2. (C) Delivering Ref A demarche to MFA Foreign Relations
Director Dario Chiru at a November 12 meeting, POL Counselor
pushed Chiru to consider instructing Panama's UN delegation
to vote "no" or at least to abstain on the three Ref A
resolutions, arguing that institutionalized bias in the UN
General Assembly embodied in the resolutions poisoned the
atmosphere against Israel at the UNGA and made the
international body all but irrelevant to solving
Israel-Palestine issues. He also pointed out that the search
for new Palestinian leadership and directions following the
death of Yasir Arafat presented important opportunities to
peacemakers on both sides. Now was a good time to drop empty
rhetoric and oppose tendentiousness at the international body.

"A Matter of Conscience"

3. (C) After listening attentively, Chiru promised to
discuss the demarche with Minister of Foreign Affair Samuel
Lewis. Sounding very much like his predecessor at MFA under
the previous government of Mireya Moscoso, Chiru said
Panama's annual votes to support pro-Palestinian resolutions
are a matter of conscience for Panama, due to a perceived
need to maintain "equilibrium" on the Palestinian question.
This is not simply a matter of voting to please an ally (the
U.S.) or a friend (Israel), Chiru explained, but to fulfill a
"sense of justice when we look at the map." (Read: The lack
of a Palestinian state.) If Israel does not feel pressure
from the General Assembly, it may simply procrastinate on
Palestinian rights, Chiru said.

Present At The Creation

4. (C) Chiru pointed out that Panama was one of the founder
members of the United Nations, was an active participant in
the 1945 conference that wrote the UN Charter, and voted to
create the state of Israel in 1947. Following Israeli
independence, Chiru said, Panama has felt a "debt" to the
Palestinians and worried that Palestinian initiatives were
not being pushed with the same force.

A "Debt" Owed To Palestine

5. (C) Chiru was quick to acknowledge UNGA's
institutionalized anti-Israel bias; that the yearly
Palestinian resolutions would have no practical effect on the
issues at hand; and that uncritical international support for
Palestine when many Palestinian terrorist groups were
resorting to terrorist violence destabilized the UN's need
for moderation. On the other hand, while weighing friendly
feelings toward Israel against condemnatory votes, Panama
acts in a way it believes will best motivate peaceful and
comprehensive negotiations on the Palestinian question, Chiru
said. The UNGA's pro-Palestinian position reflects
Palestinian weakness and the "debt" that many countries,
including Panama, feel they owe Palestine, he said.

Comment: Practical Concerns Undercut Principled Approach
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6. (C) Aside from its stated sympathy for the Palestinian
"underdog," the GOP also plausibly has its eye on Canal
security. In a recent discussion with POL Counselor, B'nai
B'rith President Joseph Harari related a meeting he had held
with President Torrijos and Foreign Minister Lewis prior to
the September 1 inauguration. Torrijos turned down Harari's
suggestion that Panama adopt a more pro-Israel stance at the
UN, saying that doing so could make the Panama Canal a
higher-profile target for terrorist attacks, a risk Torrijos
said he was unwilling to contemplate. (Ref B.)

7. (C) Former (and future) presidential hopeful Ricardo
Alberto Arias, Panama's current UN Ambassador, is another
possible complication. A Panamanian foreign minister under
President Ernesto Perez Balladares, Arias was partly
responsible for U.S.-Panama talks bogging down during the
late 1990s on the proposed Multilateral Counter-narcotics
Center in Panama. While we do not know the extent of his
freedom of action on the Israel-Palestine votes, Arias will
doubtless pay strict attention to their possible political
implications for himself personally.


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