Good afternoon, everybody.
For 13 years, we have been engaged in negotiations for a Panama Canal treaty that would strengthen our security interests, be fair to ourselves and the people of Panama, and insure free international use of the Panama Canal in a spirit of cooperation and friendship among all nations in this hemisphere. In spite of difficulties and even bloodshed, each of my predecessors since President Lyndon Johnson has decided that this effort must be continued. And I'm pleased that it will now be completed during my own administration.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other principal advisers of mine have been involved in these talks at every stage. All of us believe that these agreements are good ones and that the implementation of the treaties incorporating these agreements are important to our long-term national interests.
Under the canal treaty that will now be prepared, we will have operating control and the right to protect and defend the Panama Canal with our own military forces until the end of this century. Under a separate neutrality treaty, we will have the right to assure the maintenance of the permanent neutrality of the canal as we may deem necessary. Our own warships are guaranteed the permanent right to expeditious passage, without regard to their type of propulsion or the cargo they carry. And the treaties will be a foundation for a new cooperative era in our relations with all of Latin America.
As provided by our United States Constitution, I will seek the advice and consent of the Senate for the ratification of these treaties. I know that each Senator and each Member of the House of Representatives will give the utmost and careful consideration to these agreements--not only to the treaties themselves but to the positive influence that their approval will have in our own country and in our position in the world as a strong and generous nation.
We will work with Panama to assess the need for a sea-level canal and will also cooperate on possible improvements to the existing canal.
I believe that these treaties will help to usher in a new day in hemispheric relations. All of the countries in Latin America are joined with us in a conviction that a new treaty which properly responds to the Panamanian aspirations and fully preserves our own security and other interests will give us an opportunity to work together more effectively toward our common objectives.
Our two leading negotiators have been Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker and Ambassador Sol Linowitz, and they are here this afternoon to answer specific questions that you might have on the treaties themselves and the negotiations and agreements that have been reached with Panama.
I'm glad now to introduce Ambassador Bunker and Ambassador Linowitz.