15. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Cutler) to the President1


  • Jordan River Valley Development
The NSC policy paper on the Near East, approved January 24, 1958, provided:

“40. Support the development of segments of the Jordan River system when not in conflict with the Unified Plan for development of the Jordan River basin.”2

It was recognized that to proceed with the entire Unified Plan (“The Johnston Plan”)3 would be most desirable, if possible, because: (a) in the development of any river system a unified approach is preferable, and (b) certain aspects of the Unified Plan will ultimately require cooperation between Near East countries which it would be best to have from the beginning.
However, it then was, and is today, the judgment of the Department of State that the tense political situation within the area makes political clearance of the Unified Plan, as a whole, by the interested states an impossibility in the near future. Based on this judgment, and in accordance with the above quoted policy provision, the State Department has approved of a Jordan project for diversion of the lower Yarmuk River.
This project, for which the United States would advance this year $2 million, would provide around 4,000 construction jobs and (except in the most dry months) irrigate 25,000 acres of Jordan. The main features of the project were contemplated in and are not inconsistent with the Unified Plan as it related to the lower Yarmuk. If the Unified Plan were ever put into effect as a whole, it would only be necessary to make relatively minor adjustments in the Yarmuk Project to bring it into the Plan.
Mr. Johnston raised three questions about this Yarmuk River Project:
He questioned its engineering feasibility (would the result irrigate, as proposed, the area under consideration?). American engineers in Jordan have assured the State Department that the Project is economically sound and technically feasible.
He feared that Israel would object to the United States doing something in this area for Jordan. The State Department’s answer to this question is that we are providing $80 million assistance to Israel in this fiscal year (including a $24.2 million Export-Import loan to assist in developing Israel’s water resources outside the Jordan Valley). The Israelis have indeed raised objections to this Project with the Under Secretary of State, revealing in doing so that their main purpose is not to prevent the Yarmuk Project but to use it as a basis for a request for further United States financial assistance to Israel to develop some of its share of Jordan River waters.
He questioned the Project as fragmenting the Unified Plan. The State Department evaluation is that the prospects of obtaining overall consent to the Unified Plan now or in the reasonably near future are so minimal that our prospects for obtaining the benefits of the Plan are best advanced by the type of approach contemplated in NSC 5801 of January 24, 1958.
The State Department is concerned with the problem of increasing Jordan’s economic viability, creating employment opportunities during the present critical situation in the Near East, and increasing opportunities for the resettlement of Palestine refugees. We are not in a position to prevent riparian states from taking unilateral actions which might prejudice the Unified Plan and to the extent that individual segment projects are assisted by United States aid, we have an opportunity to insure their compatibility with the Unified Plan.
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Administrative Series. Secret. The source text bears the President’s initials.
  2. NSC 5801, January 24, 1958, is scheduled for publication in volume XII.
  3. For documentation on the negotiations for a Jordan Valley Water Agreement between the Arab States and Israel, conducted by President Eisenhower’s special representative Eric Johnston, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, pp. 1348 ff., and 1955–1957, vol. XIV, pp. 20 ff.