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39. Letter From President Nixon to Senator Strom Thurmond 1

Dear Strom:

Thank you for writing to express your concern with regard to the Panama Canal negotiations.2 I understand and share many of your views and believe that our fundamental objectives are the same—that the United States preserve its ability to maintain, operate and defend the Canal. The problem we face is how best to achieve this objective. Our recent efforts have been directed at reducing the hostile environment in which the Canal has been operating, without at the same time impairing our ability to control and to maintain the security of the Canal.

I believe that the unfortunate events of 1964 and rising nationalist sentiment in Panama make it obvious that without a basic minimum of consent and cooperation, we cannot operate the Canal effectively over the long term. We must also consider the Canal question in the context of our relations with the other nations of the Caribbean and Latin America, who tend to view this issue as indicating our basic attitudes towards dealing with them.

I fully recognize the importance of proceeding only with the cooperation and support of the Congress in this matter. There is no intention of evading the treaty process and I have given firm instructions that interested members of the Senate be consulted regularly as negotiations proceed.

The matter of limited transfers of property, including Old and New France Fields, remains under study within the Government. Any action proposed will be submitted as legislation, subject to full Congressional consideration and approval.

Your proposal for expansion of the Canal by construction of a third set of locks provides a serious alternative among those available to us for insuring adequate capacity in the future. There is some doubt, however, that growth of Canal traffic is likely to require expansion of present facilities for many years, and a great deal of study would be required before any decision could be made among the several proposals.

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Because of your concern on this important issue I have asked Secretary Kissinger to discuss it with you fully and to keep you advised as negotiations proceed.

With best wishes.

Sincerely,

Dick
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 791, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Vol. 3, January 1972–August 1974. Confidential; Eyes Only.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 38. Thurmond also wrote a letter to Bunker, dated January 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800111–1016)