PANAMA CITY (Reuters) -- The United States has reaffirmed its
commitment to the 1977 treaty that obliges it to hand over control of the
Panama Canal to Panamanian authorities by the end of the year.
New U.S. Ambassador Simon Ferro's statement on arrival in Panama that
his government meant to honour the Torrijos-Carter Treaty "in both letter
and spirit" came after relations cooled between the two countries.
"I know that a lot is still left to be done in the next 12 months," Ferro
closed arrival ceremony on Monday night.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama released copies of his remarks on Tuesday.
In the 1977 treaty signed by then-President Jimmy Carter and his
Panamanian counterpart Omar Torrijos, the United States pledged to
remove its troops from Panama and hand over the canal, military bases and
other land to the Panamanian government by noon on Dec. 31, 1999.
But Panama and the United States have seen their relations cool in recent
months after failing to create an anti-drug centre at Howard Air Force Base
at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
The anti-drug centre would have allowed U.S. troops to stay in Panama
In December, the Panamanian government criticised what it called a lack
U.S. efforts to clean up unexploded shells from U.S. Army firing ranges in
the former Panama Canal Zone, a U.S. enclave until 1979.
Ferro has been recognised in the United States for his work in urban zoning,
which observers say will be key in helping organise the smooth transition of
control of the Canal and the U.S. military bases in Panama.
A Cuban-born lawyer who speaks fluent Spanish, Ferro was confirmed by
the U.S. Senate as ambassador to Panama in October 1998.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.