164. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Gen. Eisenhower is clearly pushing a Middle East desalinization initiative pretty hard—perhaps pressed by Adm. Strauss.2 In the following passage from a letter to Gen. Goodpaster, dated July 19, 1967, there is even a bit of implied pressure.

“Regarding the suggestion that the basic problems of the Mid East might be greatly ameliorated by desalinization of water through atomic power, I shall be interested to see whether the administration devotes to it any serious study. Of course, even if feasibility, both technical and financial, could be proved, there is still no guarantee that the contending parties would adopt it. However the theory is that if successful the plan would assure to each side such great advantages that it would be difficult for either to refuse to cooperate.”3

I’m having lunch with Andy tomorrow. I already told him on the phone: [Page 293]

  • —The President has a long and deep interest in the matter, having personally inserted the reference to the deserts in his June 19 speech;4
  • —The Bunker mission made a good start;
  • —Our Water for Peace man is hard at work;
  • —We have galvanized the World Bank into planning in this field.

I also pointed out that the surfacing of any such initiatives involved delicate matters of timing.

W.W. Rostow 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Special Committee Files, Special Committee, #2, July 1, 1967–July 31, 1967 [2 of 2]. No classification marking. A copy was sent to Harold Saunders.
  2. Former AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss handed General Eisenhower a proposal on June 23 (see Document 166), and President Johnson spoke with Eisenhower on June 25. Eisenhower repeated for the President remarks he had made to Ambassador Thompson: “I said as I study this problem, there are two problems in the Mid-East that have got to be settled before there is ever going to be even a modus operandi there in the Mid-East. One of them is these waters and the other one is these refugees.” Eisenhower suggested setting up a corporation in which the United States would own 51 percent of the stock and sell the remainder to bankers around the world. Johnson was noncommittal and said that Kosygin had no response to the idea. (Conversation between former President Eisenhower and President Johnson, June 25, 9:44 p.m.; Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F67.13, Side A, PNO 1; transcript prepared by the Office of the Historian especially for this volume)

    On July 18 Ambassador Bruce reported from London on a similar proposal by financier Edmund de Rothschild for three nuclear desalting plants for Israel, Jordan, and the Gaza Strip to assist in the resettlement of more than 200,000 refugees. British Prime Minister Wilson was convinced of the technical-economic feasibility of the plan, but the Foreign Office was concerned about the cost. According to Embassy officials in London: “Apart from the obvious political difficulties, it was mainly a question of a very large amount of cheap money, which the UK did not have available.” Rothschild was apparently willing to put up 1 million pounds sterling of his own money. (Airgram A–222 from London, July 18; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1967–69, E 11–3 NEAR EAST)

  3. The full text of General Goodpaster’s letter has not been found.
  4. The President said: “In a climate of peace, we here will do our full share to help with a solution for the refugees. We here will do our full share in support of regional cooperation. We here will do our share, and do more, to see that the peaceful promise of nuclear energy is applied to the critical problems of desalting water and helping to make the deserts bloom.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, p. 634)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.