26. Letter From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Brown) to the Commander in Chief of United States Southern Command (McAuliffe)1

Dear Phil

Thank you for your letter of 2 February 1977.2

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As you know, on 21 January the new Administration began a comprehensive review of the Panama Canal negotiations.3 The Joint Chiefs of Staff reviewed their positions on all major negotiating issues, the status of negotiations, and proposed US negotiating options. They recognize that the US objective is use, not ownership, of the canal and that a new treaty appears to be the best way to develop the friendly environment most conducive to continued uninterrupted operation of the canal. As a result of this review, the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that the minimum necessary US assurance of post-treaty canal security and availability could be obtained through a clearly stated US role in guaranteeing canal neutrality after US operation terminates.4

The intended objective of the latest negotiating round was to determine what accommodation would be necessary to get conceptual agreement with the Panamanians. As Tom Dolvin told you, that objective was not attained, and at least one more exploratory session will be needed. The negotiators are still planning to conclude a conceptual agreement this spring and submit a treaty to the President by 1 July. You should anticipate a series of rapid response requirements for information, comment and concurrence over the coming weeks.

The Director, J–5, is reviewing your unilateral defense mission for possible revision, contingent upon a new treaty. We expect to have definitive planning guidance on that for you prior to the end of March which should enable you to make a thorough review of lands and waters requirements based upon a combined defense mission.

The problems involved in shifting functions from the Canal Zone Government/Canal Company to DOD are being explored now. I fully understand your concern in this matter, and Tom Dolvin has contacted the appropriate DOD agencies to ensure that they are aware of the direction the treaty negotiations are moving and are planning accordingly. We will continue to do all we can here to support equitable treaty rights for the US citizens working for the canal operating entity.5

George S. Brown 6
General, USAF
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 218, Records of Chairman George S. Brown, Box 48, 820 (Panama) Bulky 1 Jan 1976–31 May 1977. Secret.
  2. See Document 10.
  3. See Documents 2 and 3.
  4. See Document 4.
  5. Carter sent a letter conveying similar assurances to Alexander on March 7: “I have instructed the United States negotiators to give high priority and early attention to the concerns of U.S. citizens working in the Canal Zone, and to keep employees of the Canal Zone Government and Panama Canal Company informed of the progress of the treaty negotiations. Be assured of my concern that the rights of United States citizens be fully protected.” (National Archives, RG 59, Official and Personal Files of Ambassador at Large Ellsworth Bunker, Lot 78D300, Box 4, Issues Employees)
  6. Printed from a copy that bears his stamped signature.