1. Editorial Note

On October 6, 1976, during a Presidential campaign debate with President Gerald R. Ford, candidate Jimmy Carter stated he “would never give up complete control or practical control of the Panama Canal Zone, but I would continue to negotiate with the Panamanians . . . I believe that we could share more fully responsibilities for the Panama Canal Zone with Panama. I would be willing to continue to raise the payment for shipment of goods through the Panama Canal Zone. I might even be willing to reduce to some degree our military emplacements in the Panama Canal Zone, but I would not relinquish practical control of the Panama Canal Zone in the foreseeable future.” Ford responded: “The United States must and will maintain complete access to the Panama Canal. The United States must maintain a defense capability of the Panama Canal, and the United States will maintain our national security interests in the Panama Canal. The negotiations for the Panama Canal started under President Johnson and have continued up to the present time. I believe those negotiations should continue. But there are certain guidelines that must be followed, and I’ve just defined them.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book III, pp. 2430–2431)

In an October 7 meeting, Panamanian Foreign Minister Aquilino Boyd expressed his frustration with the Presidential candidates’ statements about Panama to Secretary of State Kissinger, commenting: “Everyone at home is upset by the debate.” Kissinger responded: “Everyone here is upset too. I am in complete agreement.” Kissinger called Carter’s comments “totally irresponsible” and professed the Ford administration’s commitment to the negotiations. ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, Document 134) In an October 15 memorandum, Sol M. Linowitz, attorney for Coudert Brothers and head of the Linowitz Commission, described an October 7 meeting with Boyd during which he expressed his “great concern” regarding Ford and Carter’s public statements about the Panama Canal, [Page 2] adding that Panamanian General Omar Torrijos was “deeply disturbed” by the remarks. Linowitz sought to assure Boyd “as to the commitment of Governor Carter to the improvement of U.S.-Latin American relations and said that it was my firm conviction that he would be approaching all hemispheric issues—including Panama—in a spirit of cooperation and understanding.” Linowitz proceeded to telephone Carterforeign policy advisor Cyrus R. Vance and “passed on to him the substance of the concern which had been expressed to me.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, Document 136) In an October 24, 1976, paper, Vance outlined what he believed should be the key foreign policy themes for the Carter administration and argued for negotiating a new treaty with Panama. Vance recognized the treaty issue was charged and emotional and that the political situation in Congress was difficult, but he believed “that we must make the effort to negotiate such a treaty if we are to develop proper relations with Latin America . . . it must be noted that the U.S. is largely committed as a result of the negotiations to date. To move backward would be viewed by many as reneging on our commitments and would run the risk of conflict. Accordingly, I believe that the new Administration should not interfere in the negotiations which will be going on between now and the change of administration, but should keep itself closely informed. Thereafter, the new Administration must face up to completing the negotiations and carrying the battle to the Congress.” (National Archives, RG 59, Files of Anthony Lake, S/P, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, Box 1, TL Vance/President Sensitive 12/78–1/79)

Kissinger, President-elect Carter, Vice President-elect Walter Mondale, and Mondale foreign policy adviser David Aaron discussed the Panama Canal negotiations during a November 20 meeting. ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, footnote 4, Document 136) In a December 10, 1976, telegram, the Department reported that on December 3, 1976, Kissinger met with Boyd and assured him that Kissinger had “spoken with the president-elect on Panama; he would be suggesting that Secretary-designate Vance give resolution of this problem a high priority.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, Document 144) Prior to his inauguration, Carter decided to name Linowitz as his representative on the negotiating team. Carter’s first Presidential Review Memorandum of January 21, 1977, addressed the issue of concluding new canal treaties with Panama.