Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. The volume covers U.S. policy toward Panama from 1977 to January 1981, with a focus on the Carter administration’s efforts to negotiate, sign, ratify, and implement new Panama Canal treaties. The volume also covers issues between the United States and Panama not related to the Panama Canal treaties. For key companion volumes to this volume, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXII, Panama, 1973–1976, which documents the Panama Canal treaty negotiations of the Nixon and Ford administrations that laid the foundation for the Carter administration’s negotiations. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume E–10, Documents on American Republics, 1969–1972, which covers U.S.-Panamanian relations from 1969–1972. For documentation on the origins of the Panama Canal Treaty re-negotiation issue during the Johnson administration, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Volume XXXI, South and Central America; Mexico. For key context documenting U.S. policy toward Central America and Panama’s role in regional affairs during the Carter administration, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XV, Central America. For additional regional context, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXIV, South America; Latin America Regional and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXIII, Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXIX

This volume focuses on the Carter administration’s efforts to negotiate, sign, ratify, and implement new Panama Canal treaties. The Carter administration inherited the Panama Canal treaties re-negotiation issue after 13 years of off-and-on-again negotiations, and Carter made it a top foreign policy priority when he took office in January 1977. The volume traces the administration’s commitment to achieving what proved to be an unpopular, challenging, but ultimately successful foreign policy objective.

Documents selected for this volume highlight the high-level decision-making on this issue within the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense and demonstrate how personally committed President Carter was to concluding new treaties. Even [Page X] though the negotiation of new treaties and the concept of turning the canal over to Panamanian control proved to be politically unpopular, Carter remained invested and highly involved in the issue from beginning to end, even as he recognized the political capital required to succeed.

Obstacles the administration faced to successfully concluding new treaties included having them ratified by the U.S. Congress, which, along with the U.S. public, remained largely opposed to negotiating a new treaty with Panama. The documentation covers the executive branch’s rigorous public relations campaigns to win ratification votes in the Senate; the administration’s outreach strategies to win over the U.S. people; attempts by members of Congress to defeat the treaties during the ratification process; and Carter administration officials’ and U.S. diplomats’ efforts to assuage the concerns and frustration of the Panamanian leadership, often expressed by its leader Omar Torrijos as the ratification fight unfolded.

This volume also documents the decision-making that drove the administration’s approach to the legislation required to implement the treaties once they were ratified and the negotiations with those marshalling it through Congress. Day-to-day implementation of the treaties in Panama, overseen mainly by the Department of Defense, is not covered in this volume. In addition to the documentation concerning the treaties, the volume includes coverage of other significant bilateral issues and the expressed desire of leaders from both nations to move their relationship beyond the canal. These bilateral issues included U.S. attempts to influence Panamanian involvement in the affairs of other Central American nations, particularly Nicaragua and El Salvador, and Panama’s hosting of the Shah of Iran in the winter of 1979–1980 at the request of the United States.


The editor thanks officials at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, especially Ceri McCarron and Brittany Parris. Thanks are also due to officials of NARA’s facility in College Park, Maryland, especially Alan Lipton, and to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for arranging access to the Carter Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project. The editor wishes to recognize the CIA’s Historical Staff for its help in arranging full access to CIA files and to Sandy Meagher for her valuable assistance in providing access to Department of Defense materials. The editor also thanks Alexander Poster and Michael McCoyer, of the Department of State’s Office of the Historian, and Jim Siekmeier, Bradley Coleman, and Thomas Pearcy, formerly of the Office of the Historian, for their assistance in the research of this volume.

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Laura Kolar collected, selected, and edited the documentation for this the volume under the supervision of Myra Burton, Chief of the Africa and the Americas Division, and Adam M. Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. The volume was reviewed by Myra Burton and Stephen Randolph, The Historian. Dean Weatherhead coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Margaret Ball and Heather McDaniel did the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber prepared the index.

Laura R. Kolar