151. Editorial Note

The appointment of a U.S. coordinator on desalting projects in Israel and the United Arab Republic was considered and discussed in the summer of 1966. According to a June 7, 1966, memorandum from Rostow to the President, the appointment was a sensitive one because of the large sum of money involved and because desalination touched on the issue of nuclear power regulation. Israel was interested and preferred that the coordinator be attached to the White House rather than to the State Department. Israel approved of W. Averell Harriman, whom Secretary Rusk had proposed on May 21 (see Document 147), but he was not chosen. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow)

On July 25 Rostow sent the President a list of items for discussion, including one on considering appointing Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador to the Organization of American States, negotiator for the desalting initiative. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, July 25; ibid.) Rostow reported on July 29 that “Bunker is OK with his clients,” and that “Bunker tells me Sec. Rusk mentioned this as a possible assignment; and he likes the idea.” (Ibid.) Bunker was officially designated as the U.S. coordinator in a memorandum from Bromley Smith at the White House to Executive Secretary of the Department of State Benjamin Read on August 19. (Ibid., NSC Special Committee Files, Desalination)

Public announcement of Bunker’s appointment was delayed until October. On October 7 Rostow noted: “Apart from the Bunker-desalting announcement and the leftover $6 million, this is the last such Israeli aid move we anticipate before November 8th.” (Ibid., Memos to the President) President Johnson publicly announced the appointment during a press conference on October 13; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book II, page 1165.

In a July 1967 memorandum to Bundy, Harold Saunders recollected: “The main reason for appointment Bunker was that we could not trust any element of the bureaucracy to provide a dispassionate recommendation for the President on desalting in Israel since so many emotions pro and con were involved. Bunker’s job was first—and maybe most importantly—to establish a US position and then to negotiate a deal with the Israelis.” (Memorandum from Saunders to Bundy, July 27, 1967; Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, Desalination)