Courtesy Reuters

Sea-Level Canal: How and Where

President Johnson's announcement on December 18, 1964, that the United States is prepared to renegotiate the 1903 Panama Canal Treaty apparently has given encouragement to the efforts of the new Panama Government to find a basis for reconciling the differences between the two countries and has stiffened its determination to control the dissidents who have been planning further demonstrations of the kind that led to the flag-raising incident and riots of January 1964. The warmth with which the President's statement was first received has since then somewhat cooled, but the fact that he expressed the intention to meet Panama at least halfway has diminished the tensions which had been mounting steadily because of the apparent lack of progress in the discussions begun last spring.

The President's expressed interest in sea-level canal routes in Colombia and in Costa Rica-Nicaragua, as well as in two possible routes in Panama, conveys the impression that they are fully competitive. Actually, Panama enjoys a double advantage in the fact that the two best routes are both within her borders. Preliminary studies have favored a sea-level canal excavated by the use of nuclear explosives in eastern Panama close to the Colombian border. If nuclear explosives cannot be used in the construction, then the conversion of the existing lock canal to sea level is for many reasons the best solution. Indeed, it is preferable in any case.

Since the first indication some months ago that the United States was interested in several possible routes in the general area extending from Mexico to Colombia, a suspicion has developed that we would not be above playing the several countries against one another. This assumes that treaty concessions relating to the construction and operation of a sea-level canal would be the prime factor in the negotiations. Yet there is no evidence that any of the isthmian countries would yield such "rights, power and authority" as we now possess in the 1903 Panama Canal Treaty; moreover, the President's statement neither demands nor appears to expect a similar

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