38. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Nixon 1


  • Reply to Senator Thurmond’s Letter on the Panama Canal

Senator Thurmond has written to express to you his strong opposition to any abandonment of U.S. sovereignty or jurisdiction over the Panama Canal (Tab B).2 Specifically, he asks that we recede from the joint Statement of Principles signed with Panama on February 7; that we refrain from any transfer of property (such as Old France Airfield); and that we endorse his concept of adding a third set of locks to expand the present canal without negotiation of a new treaty. He notes that his Resolution in the Senate calling for continued U.S. sovereignty and jurisdiction in the Canal Zone was supported by 34 senators, [Page 99]including the chairmen and ranking minority members of many Senate committees.3

Since signature of the Principles in February, Ambassador Bunker has continued negotiations with the Panamanians. These negotiations are still in their initial stages, however, and though the Panamanians appear to be serious in their desire to make progress, a treaty will take many months to complete. It is unlikely that it would be ready for Congressional action before December.

In addition to his objections to a new treaty, the Senator expresses concern over any erosion of sovereignty by legislative action—a reference to our expressed intention to seek Congressional authority to transfer to Panama two airfields in the Canal Zone which are no longer required by U.S. military forces. Draft legislation providing for the transfer of Old France and New France Airfields to Panama, which you approved in principle in December, is now being prepared by OMB.

Senator Thurmond’s proposal to expand the Canal by constructing a third, parallel but larger, set of locks is strongly opposed by the Panamanians on its merits. Nor, based on our analysis, does it appear necessary in order to handle anticipated traffic over the next couple of decades. The Panamanians also insist that any expansion of the Canal must be subject to their final agreement.

Attached at Tab A is a suggested response to Senator Thurmond which stresses the similarity between your objectives and his, reassures him regarding Congressional participation on Canal matters, and offers to have me discuss the matter with him. If you agree, I will meet with the Senator and other concerned members in the interest of diffusing this opposition. As the talks progress, both here and in Panama, we will review our position and keep you advised concerning the substance and timing of further actions.


That you sign the letter to Senator Thurmond at Tab A. [Dave Gergen has cleared the text of the letter.]4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 791, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Vol. 3, January 1972–August 1974. Secret; Eyes Only; Completely Outside the System. Sent for action.
  2. Tab B is attached but not printed. The letter, dated April 3, reads: “The principles endorsed in the resolution [SR 301] are directly opposed to the Joint Statement of Principles which was signed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Panamanian Foreign Minister Juan Tack recently in Panama City. Indeed, the resolution goes beyond the treaty situation, and opposes any erosion of sovereignty through administrative action, or legislation which evades the treaty process. Thus Senate Resolution 301 amounts to a massive vote of no-confidence in the present U.S. negotiating posture with Panama, and indicates that a treaty based upon the Joint Statement of Principles would lack the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification.”
  3. In telegram 65542 to Panama City, April 2, the Department reported that Thurmond’s resolution was “essentially identical with the some 77 resolutions introduced in the House in opposition to relinquishment of US sovereignty in the Canal Zone.” (National Archives, RG 84, American Embassy, Panama, Panama Canal Treaty Negotiation Files, Lot 81F1, Box 124, Treaty Negotiations, April–June 1974)
  4. Brackets are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed. President Nixon signed the letter; see Document 39. Also attached Tab C is a copy of Kissinger’s December 24, 1973, memorandum to Nixon, Document 28.