540. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1 2

[Page 1]


  • Publication of Panama Canal Commission Report

The Atlantic-Pacific Interoceanic Canal Study Commission was created by legislation in 1964 to study the feasibility of, and the best site for, constructing a sea-level canal between the two oceans. The legislation provides that the Commission is to report its findings to you no later than December 1, 1970, and that you are to submit to the Congress such recommendations on the subject as you deem advisable. There is no time limit for submitting recommendations and no requirement that you submit the report itself.

Robert Anderson is Chairman of the Commission. This is in addition to his position as Special Negotiator for canal treaties.

The Commission has finished its report and is now putting on the finishing touches. It expects to deliver it to you on schedule. It is anxious that the White House give the report wide public distribution; Anderson has raised with me the question of when and how the report is to be released, and what White House policy should be on publicity and subsequent follow-up.

Normally publication would not be a problem. What makes it a problem in this case is that the report, in addition to its conclusion as to feasibility and site for a sea-level canal, makes specific recommendations as to the kind of treaties we should negotiate with Panama. Thus the risk is posed that Panama may see the report as an exposition of official US policy on the treaty negotiation question. If it were to so perceive it, the Panamanian Government would probably react adversely to what they would surely consider as pressure, i.e., making public what they thought was to be the subject of private negotiation. They may also feel their flexibility reduced, both because they would feel it necessary to answer publicly what they consider to be our public position, and because domestic Panamanian reaction on some admittedly controversial points might force them to harden their position for domestic political reasons.

The report may also arouse counter pressure in this country from those who do not want to negotiate new arrangements. In short, there is some risk that both their and our options and flexibility will be narrowed. Therefore, the chances of negotiating a satisfactory new arrangement with Panama could be damaged. [Page 2] In point of fact, we have not yet decided our final negotiating policy. Hence, State would prefer that the report not be released. The Commission on the other hand has an interest in having its recommendations adopted as official policy and therefore wants it released and endorsed by you.

It seems to me unrealistic to believe that the report can be withheld from public knowledge. To try and do so would present terrible complications.

In any case, since how adverse the foreign policy consequences would be would depend upon how the report is perceived, the real issue is not whether the resort should be released but the manner in which it should be released and what the report is held out to be. As noted, if it is thought to be accepted U.S. policy, the risks of complications are high; if it is seen to be what in fact it is—a commission’s report for you to study—the situation will be more manageable.

I recommend therefore that you agree to the following scenario:

The Commission would deliver to you its full report on December 1.
The report would be released publicly at that time by the Commission in its own name as a report and recommendation it is submitting to you.
The White House would take the public position that you received the report as the recommendation of the Commission, and it will be studied.
We would not emphasize publicity about the report.

The report itself should in fact be studied—perhaps by the Under Secretaries Committee—for the purpose of reaching conclusions as to our policy and later recommendations to the Congress if that is appropriate.

Both Peter Flanigan and John Irwin agree with this general guidance.


That you authorize me to pass to Robert Anderson the guidance outlined above for the handling of the report.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 792, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Atlantic-Pacific International Ocean Canal Study Commission, Vol. 1, 1971. Secret. Sent for action. Kissinger initialed approval for Nixon. Attached to this memorandum was a note from Vaky to Kissinger that reads: “I would hope you could clear for the President. I have however prepared a memo for him in the event you wish to take it up with the President; you may decide to do this because Anderson may try to appeal directly with the President.” Kissinger approved for the President on October 29.
  2. Kissinger recommended that the Atlantic-Pacific Interoceanic Canal Study Commission release its report in its own name to the public on December 1. Kissinger further recommended that the White House announce that the President received the report for study at the recommendation of the Commission.