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Panama Canal Treaties Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Participants in a Townhall Meeting on the Treaties in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

January 17, 1978

MARSHALL NASON. Good evening, Mr. President. This is Marshall Nason greeting you on behalf of the townhall meeting at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Since you speak Spanish so nicely, I think we could say, muy buenas noches, Senor Presidente [a very good evening, Mr. President].

We greatly appreciate your willingness to share with us some of your views on the important issues of the Panama Canal treaties.

THE PRESIDENT. Muchas gracias, Dr. Nason. Es gran placer para mi tener esta oportunidad. Seria mejor si hables tambien, pero en ingles, yo creo. [Thank you, Dr. Nason. It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity. It would be better if you spoke in English, I believe.]

DR. NASON. Bien, senor. [Very well, sir.]

THE PRESIDENT. Do you have a question for me, Dr. Nason?

DR. NASON. Mr. President, we're aware that your time is limited and that you still have other commitments ahead of you this evening, even though it is 10 o'clock in Washington. So, we would now like to direct to you one question selected by our news media participants as being perhaps the most representative among those submitted by our audience.

This question was posed by Mr. William Bonney of Albuquerque and reads very briefly as follows: "Should the U.S. Senate fail to ratify the treaty, what would your next move be?"

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, let me thank Senator Schmitt, who is there, and also Ambassador Popper—I'm sure that they and you, Dr. Nason, have presented a very well balanced description of what the treaties mean to our Nation. I think they are fair to both the United States and Panama. Under six Presidents, three Republicans and three Democrats, there has been a recognition from the White House that the treaties that are presently in existence need to be modified.

These two treaties will give us, throughout this century and throughout the next century as well, the clear right to defend the canal, to ensure that it's open, neutral, available for the ships of all nations, that in a time of emergency or need, our ships can go to the head of the line and have rapid transit through the canal.

The negotiations have been going on ever since President Johnson was here, 14, almost 15 years ago, and they were just completed this past year. The Panamanians have negotiated in good faith; so have we. We've never been threatened. We've never had any unpleasantness in the negotiations. They have accepted the treaties that we signed, General Torrijos and I, and the Panamanian people have, through a plebiscite, approved them by almost a two-thirds majority, although there was a lot of opposition in Panama.

Now it's up to the Senate to act, and I believe that the Senate will ratify the treaties. However, if the treaties are not ratified, I think the Panamanian people will indeed doubt our good intentions and our good faith. I think the Latin American nations, and indeed the developing nations all over the world, will doubt that what we say about basic human rights and fairness prevails with our large and powerful country. And in spite of the commitment that I have from General Torrijos and other government leaders in Panama that they will do everything possible to hold down any attacks or violence—and I don't have any doubt that they will-I think that there will be some demonstrations there by the Communists and by others who would like to create dissension between us and Panama.

I'll say this: Our Nation is strong enough militarily to defend the canal, and I would certainly take that action as President to guarantee that the canal is defended. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, all five of whom, by the way, strongly support the treaties that we have signed, have estimated that it might take 100,000 American troops to keep the canal open and free of damage.

I would hate to have to do this. Of course, as I said earlier, I would, if necessary. I don't know how long the American people would support a major military action of this kind. I would like to avoid it, and that's the purpose of the treaties, to make Panama and us not enemies, but partners, to keep us in a position of guaranteeing that the canal is well-operated, well-maintained, is not a drain on the American taxpayer, and is open.

So, if the canal treaties should be rejected by the Senate, it would be a severe blow, not only to the Panamanian people but to the American people as well. And under those circumstances, I would probably have to take emergency action, and I would, if necessary, to guarantee that the canal was open and defended. This is a prospect, however, that I don't anticipate, because I believe that there's a growing sentiment, both in the United States among our people and also among the Senators who have studied this matter so carefully, that the treaties indeed should be ratified, and ratified without delay.

I hope I've answered your question adequately.

DR. NASON. Thank you most sincerely, Mr. President. On behalf of our audience, it's been a very real privilege for us to hear from you personally on this vital issue. And ahora, desde Nuevo Mexico decimos muy buenas noches, Senor Presidente, y rail gracias. [And now from New Mexico we say a very good evening, Mr. President, and many thanks.]

THE PRESIDENT. Muchas gracias a todos. [Many thanks to all of you.]

Note: The President spoke at 9:45 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House to the meeting in the Ballroom at the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico. Marshall Nason is director of the Latin American Center at the university.

In his remarks, the President referred to Senator Harrison H. Schmitt of New Mexico and David H. Popper, Deputy for Panama Canal Treaty Affairs, Department of State.

Jimmy Carter, Panama Canal Treaties Question-and-Answer Session by Telephone With Participants in a Townhall Meeting on the Treaties in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244578

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