I understand that Sol Linowitz was just in the process of giving you the points against the treaty. I'm not going to take that side. [Laughter]
I know that General Brown and the Joint Chiefs unanimously feel strong support for the Panama Canal treaty is a very important consideration from you, from Georgia and from Florida, and from me as President of our country.
Our Secretary of Defense, former Secretary of State, present Secretary of State, President Ford, Secretary Kissinger, and others who have studied this treaty in detail have concluded that many of the legitimate concerns faced about the treaty 2 years ago or 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 14 years ago, have been alleviated. And all those who in the past have been against the treaty and who would have preferred that no negotiations begin now say that since the negotiations have been initiated and concluded, that the adverse reaction throughout Latin America and throughout the world in rejecting the treaty would be profound.
I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes about the Panama Canal treaty from the perspective of a President and a political figure. This is one of those items that falls on the shoulders of leaders which is not a popular thing to assume. Because of longstanding misconceptions and because of rapidly changing circumstances that have not yet been explained, I think it is true that many American citizens, well-educated, very patriotic citizens, don't think the treaty at this point is a good idea.
To change their concept based on facts and explanations is my responsibility--not to mislead, not to pressure, not to cajole, but in a way to educate and to lead. And I would like for you to join with me, if you can in good conscience, in that effort.
It requires, as you know, a two-thirds vote in the Senate. There were 40 Senators within the past 12 months or so who signed a resolution deploring the concept of the Panama Canal treaty. I believe I've talked to every one of them, and I can tell you that their response has been very good because they see that their previous concerns have either been corrected or the circumstances are now different. There will obviously be strong opponents to the treaty. I think that our Nation's security interests are adequately protected.
Our original acquisition of the Panama Canal area is one that causes me some concern, speaking in historical terms. There was not a single Panamanian who ever saw the treaty before it was signed by Panama and by the United States, in the middle of the night, when the Panamanian leaders, including the President, were trying to get to Washington before the treaty was signed. Hastily, the treaty was signed, and that began the process of constructing the canal which has been beneficial to our country and to Panama and, I think, to the world.
We have never had sovereignty over the Panama Canal Zone, as you undoubtedly know by now. We had control of that zone, as though we had sovereignty, but we have recognized the sovereignty of Panama down through the years.
I believe that the most important consideration is that the canal be open to the shipping from all countries, that the canal be well operated, that there be harmony between us and the Panamanians, and that we, in case of emergency in this century and in perpetuity, have the right to protect the canal as we see fit and the preferential use of the canal by our own warships and by those cargo ships that have strategic purposes. And all those elements have been written into the treaty.