62. Letter From President Carter to Senator Thurmond 1

To Senator Strom Thurmond

Thank you for your letter of June 15.2 I agree that the Panama Canal retains strategic and commercial importance for the United States. I also clearly understand the concern that you and your colleagues have expressed about negotiations on a new Panama Canal treaty, and I respect the military judgments of the four former Chiefs of Naval Operations.3 My goals are the same—to preserve unfettered access to the canal for our naval and merchant fleets. But I believe that the prospects for attaining those objectives are poor if we simply insist on maintaining the status quo.

We are negotiating because we want to protect our basic national interest in Panama—a canal that is open, efficient, secure and neutral.

I intend that the new treaty will specify that the United States will operate, maintain and defend the Panama Canal for an extended but finite period of time. After the treaty’s termination, the United States and Panama will ensure that the canal remains open to the ships of all nations on a non-discriminatory basis. These provisions will be just as binding as are those of the treaty presently in force between the United States and Panama.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 39, Pastor, Country, Panama, 7/77. No classification marking. Identical letters were sent to Senators Byrd, Helms, and McClellan on July 20. (Ibid.) In a July 20 covering memorandum forwarding the letters to Carter for his signature, Brzezinski explained the Department was preparing a “more detailed and specific set of counterarguments to specific points raised in the letter to you.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 51.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 51.