6. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Arab Republic to the Department of State1

1493. Depcirtel 1176.2 In course of tour d’horizon with President Nasser on January 6,3 I discussed Jordan waters problem along lines reftel.

Earlier in conversation President stated Summit Conference had been under consideration since last mid-summer. So long as Baath regimes controlled both Syria and Iraq, UAR considered summit meeting impossible and therefore had waited until Baath collapse in Baghdad had isolated and weakened Baath in Syria, putting it in a position where it could not refuse to attend conference. This factor determined date of issuance call for summit.

Re Jordan waters, I briefly presented US attitude based upon reftel, stating I had requested political counselor Bergus to meet with Presidential advisor Hassan Al Kholi on January 7 for full exposition of US [Page 10] position. US position put forward not in intent to influence summit deliberations but as factual statement of our well-known diagnosis of problem and attitude thereon.

In making presentation I particularly stressed riparian rights, pointing out UAR as downstream user of Nile waters originating beyond its borders should be particularly sensitive to correct riparian position. President at once responded by saying withdrawal of Nile waters based upon agreement between countries concerned and no such agreement had been made between Arab states and Israel.

While admitting this diplomatically true, I pointed out Johnston Plan had evoked a technical “meeting of minds” by all parties concerned and on this basis USG believed progress in utilizing potential of Jordan waters for benefit of all parties could be made. President did not argue point but passed on to ask what my “personal” opinion was—“not as Ambassador but as long-time student of Middle Eastern affairs.” I responded neither I personally nor my Government were in any position to put forward “our solution,” but it seemed to me any objective student of situation would identify following points:

Use of force—either overt or covert—would not solve Jordan water problem and therefore this solution must be put aside as neither in interests of Arabs nor of international community whose concern for tranquillity in Middle East was active and legitimate.
Plans to divert headwaters of Jordan, as speculated upon in Cairo press, equally unrealistic and dangerous. Whatever legal rights or wrongs of such a move, any riparian state whose chief water supply is thus cut off would have no recourse but to fight. If in course of an Ethiopian-UAR dispute, Ethiopia diverted Blue Nile, Egypt would certainly move to stop this. I opined Israel would do same and would win large measure of sympathy and support in international community.
Question appeared to be not whether Israel would or would not use more Jordan water, but if it would do this within context of Johnston Plan which had been technically recognized as possible and beneficial to all users. Therefore most protective and constructive action Arabs could take would be to develop their own use of water, both as benefit to themselves and as inhibition of Israelis using more water than allotted to them by Johnston scheme.
Machinery existing for consideration of international disputes is UN, of which both Israel and Arab states members.

President’s only response was to ask, “Do you mean if we were to divert headwaters of Jordan, we would be subject to Israeli aggression?” I objected to use of word “aggression,” saying water was such vital interest any state would move to protect it, and this could scarcely be called “aggression.” President then said, “This means we must remain [Page 11] strong and prepared.” With this he dropped topic, being obviously unwilling to discuss any details of summit meeting.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 33–1 JORDAN RIVER. Secret. Repeated to Baghdad, Amman, Jidda, Rabat, Algiers, Tripoli, Damascus, Khartoum, Beirut, Tunis, Kuwait, and Taiz.
  2. Circular telegram 1176, January 2, sent to Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Tunis and repeated to 13 other Missions, stated U.S. views on the Jordan water issue and instructed the addressees to state them to their host governments if an appropriate occasion arose, without taking the initiative or giving the impression the United States was using pressure to influence the outcome of the pending Arab Summit Conference. (Ibid.)
  3. Badeau reported in telegram 1490 from Cairo, January 7, that during an 80-minute tour d’horizon with Nasser, he had delivered the oral message from Johnson cited in footnote 3, Document 4. After noting that progress had been made in some areas in recent U.S.-UAR relations, he reviewed the Yemen problem and pointed out that Congressional amendments aimed at the UAR were “storm signals” as to the state of U.S. public opinion and its possible impact on U.S. economic assistance to the UAR. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 1 UAR-US)