403. Letter From President Kennedy to President Chiari1

Dear Mr. President: In reply to your letter of September 8, 1961,2 concerning relations between our two countries, I wrote you on November 23 that my Government would communicate with the Government of Panama as soon as the various responsible departments and agencies of the United States Government had made a complete re-examination of current and future needs with respect to Isthmian canal facilities. I expressed confidence that representatives of our two Governments, after a frank exchange of views and a careful assessment of mutual needs and interests, could reach fruitful conclusions which would promote the mutual welfare of both countries. A re-examination of current and future needs has just been completed, and I hasten to inform you of the results.

The central question has been the possible future need to construct a sea-level, interoceanic canal in the Isthmian region. I am sure you will agree that the answer to this important question has a fundamental, long-range significance for both Panama and the United States, as well as for all the other countries in the Hemisphere. Because of this fact, a decision should be made only after the most thorough exploration of the problem. In arriving at the answer, particular consideration must be given (1) to the role of Panama Canal traffic in world commerce and global economic development and the possible future impact of the limitations of the present lock canal; (2) to technological advances in transport which may bear importantly on the conveyance by sea of commodities; (3) to the most feasible means of constructing and financing any sea-level canal, route locations and costs; and (4) to the effect which the project itself would have on the countries directly concerned, especially Panama. The examination just completed within the United States Government indicates that much more information on these matters must be obtained before a decision is taken, and that programs should be initiated at once to obtain the necessary data.

We are today living in a world where each day brings new advances in technology and science, particularly in the field of transport. We have, in the last decade, witnessed radical innovations in the conveyance of both people and goods by all modes of transportation. Today we are only beginning to explore the frontiers of space; no one knows yet what [Page 828] impact this mode of travel may have on the future. It is my hope that the studies we propose to undertake will shed new light on the application of new developments to sea travel in the future and hence on the need for a new canal. From these studies we will be better able to reach decisions compatible with the world in which we live and which will further relations between our two countries. The effect of these recent technological advances must be fully evaluated before a decision can be made on the sea-level canal. Our best estimate is that scientific and engineering investigations over a period of years will be needed to complete the evaluation.

In the meantime, I believe that there are a number of interim meas-ures which might be fruitfully discussed by representatives of our two Governments in order to maintain and strengthen relations on a basis of mutual respect and sincere friendship. I would be most pleased and honored if you would accept an invitation to visit the United States early in June. I would suggest if convenient June 12-18. At that time we could personally exchange views on programs for obtaining data relative to a possible future sea-level canal and on areas for discussion by our representatives looking toward the mutual benefit of our two countries.


John F. Kennedy4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Panama, General. No classification marking. Telegram 716 to Panama City, May 1, transmitted the text of the letter. (Department of State, Central Files, 719.11/5-162)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 396.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 397.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Kennedy signed the original.