155. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Herewith Commissioner Ramey’s response to your invitation to present a personal assessment of the progress and problems in the nuclear desalting program.2

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Jim Ramey has been, as you know, an effective crusader in this effort. The memorandum reflects impatience at the pace of progress and with those who have had reservations about the program.3

His specific recommendations are:

  • —that you assemble those concerned and express your personal interest and support;
  • —that the expanded program submitted to you in September 1965 by AEC and Interior be made a part of the new Water for Peace program.

I have followed this field closely for some years as State Department planner. If there is any bureaucrat in this town who wants to see this program go operational more than Jim Ramey, it is I; for it could have immense foreign policy and human benefits.

The problem has been that technology has not yet yielded us economic irrigation water by this route; and various bureaucrats have been afraid of getting us into either excessive subsidies or actual white elephants.

On the other hand, I am not personally convinced that calculations of those who have resisted are the last word. I keep remembering that we would not have built the transcontinental railway on a conventional cost/benefit basis.

Therefore, I place great store by the Bunker exercise. I believe he must keep his mind equally open to Ramey and (say) the Budget Bureau; and he must be equipped with some first-rate men who have not been fighting this war. Properly conducted, the Israeli exercise plus the project firming up for the Metropolitan Water District in California should give us some hard answers.

In addition, I am told, the Water for Peace Conference will take up nuclear desalting in a serious way.

As for your meeting the experts, I believe the right occasion would be a session with Bunker when he is far enough along.

I assume you will wish me to make Jim Ramey’s memorandum quietly available to Bunker.

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Make Ramey memo available to Bunker 4

Call early expert session as Ramey suggests

Await Bunker report

See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Desalting Projects, Vol. I. No classification marking.
  2. Not printed. The President had asked for AEC Commissioner Ramey’s opinions during a July 20 meeting with AEC, AID, USIA, and other officials. (Memorandum from Ramey to the President, September 9; ibid.)
  3. Ramey wrote in his memorandum: “That brings me to the principal problem that we face in the nuclear-desalting program—the doubters! … the program seems to have more than its share of persons in a staff review capacity who are inveterately negative and unconstructive in approach. For example, experience on the Committee on Foreign Desalting has been very frustrating (despite the good efforts of its Chairman) because of the negativism of the representatives from agencies other than Interior and AEC. Much time has been wasted answering superficial questions, rather than getting on with the job of planning and following an imaginative program.”
  4. This option is checked.