12. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Decisions on Desalting in the Near East

Following your instructions,2 I have launched a comprehensive study of possibilities for desalting in the Near East.

The overall study is being done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where the concept underlying the Eisenhower–Strauss plan was worked out. It will not be done until the end of the year.

However, decision on a narrower issue is needed sooner. A number of pro-Israeli Congressmen are pressing a rider to the Foreign Assistance Act authorizing $40 million for a desalting plant in Israel. The Administration should take a position on this legislation since it does not fall within Administration priorities.

I held an NSC Review Group meeting to discuss this aspect of the problem.3 What follows is a brief synopsis of that meeting and represents the consensus. What follows is a brief synopsis.

The legislation now before Congress grows out of a late Johnson Administration proposal. After four years of joint US-Israeli study of the feasibility of a large desalting plant in Israel, President Johnson asked George Woods, who had just stepped down as World Bank president, to review the studies and give him a personal recommendation. This procedure was followed because the bureaucracy was deeply divided and just could not put forward an unbiased analysis. Mr. Woods recommended a smaller plant than the joint studies contemplated and suggested that new technology be considered.4

The present options are these:

A plant that desalts 100 million gallons per day and produces 200 megawatts of electricity. Everyone but AEC believes this is too big a technological jump (the largest plant now produces 7 million gallons) [Page 43] to take all at once even though this plant would use older technology. This would cost $60–70 million in US grants.
A 40 million-gallon-per-day plant. This was Woods’ proposal. It is a more logical technological step from where we are now, although there is still one necessary intermediate step—a 5 million gallon test module to check out a new method that would increase output substantially. The cost for the water plant (it would be hooked to a power plant which would provide steam) would be $54–58 million, and Woods felt the US could justify up to $40 million on research and development grounds. This is essentially the proposal before Congress.
A 15–20 million-gallon plant. When Interior did not get money in the FY 1970 budget to build its 5 million gallon test module in the US, it proposed that the module be built in Israel as the core of a small operational plant. But Interior would prefer to build the test module in the US and recognizes that the 40 million gallon plant would come closer to meeting Israel’s real water needs.

The Review Group consensus expressed in the attached memo5 is that it does not make sense to go ahead with a $40 million Israeli plant in this tight budget year but that it might make sense to give Interior $5 million to build in the US the test module that would have to be built in any case before a larger plant could be built.

Recommendation: Since the latter judgment is a scientific-technical one outside the competence of the Review Group, I recommend the following:

That you authorize us to tell the Israelis that we cannot justify a plant in Israel now in the light of our own tight budget and in the light of Israel’s other requests for substantial help with economic and military sales credits.6
That we ask them to tell their Congressional friends that they occur in deferral with the hope that their technicians can participate at some point in any experimental work done in the US that might be a prelude to a later Israeli project.
That the Administration then take the following position on the legislation before Congress: The Administration intends to press ahead with research in desalting technology but does not believe it possible within present budgetary constraints to proceed with the Israeli project this year. It believes that intermediate experience with a test module to check new technology will be necessary before any larger plant can be built anywhere and believes there are advantages in doing this work in the US, leaving open the possibility of whether to build a plant in Israel once the technology is tested here.
That you ask Lee DuBridge and Bob Mayo for a recommendation on whether Interior should be authorized $5 million to proceed with the test module in the US.7

There is one other issue. George Woods also served as a point of contact with the Israelis on this subject. Prime Minister Eshkol named a high-ranking individual as the contact on his side. The reason for this arrangement was to have one person on each side who could draw together a governmental position on a complex issue where bureaucracies split. The question is whether you would like to keep Woods in the picture.

The arguments for doing so are that it is useful to have one person carrying the ball on this issue. It is also useful to have a person of special stature to deal with the Congress on it if special persuasion is required there.

The arguments against include how you may feel about Woods as a personal adviser on this subject. Also, there will probably not be much active discussion with the Israelis if you approve the recommended course.

Recommendation: That I inform Woods what we are doing as a matter of courtesy, says that there will not be much activity with the Israelis in the near future and leave the door open on whether we re-involve him at a later stage.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–141, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 30. Confidential; Exdis. Sent for action. A handwritten notation on the memorandum indicates the President approved it and a stamped notation indicates it was returned on October 23.
  2. See Document 5.
  3. See Document 9.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIV, Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues, Documents 171173.
  5. Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, undated; not attached. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–039, SRG Meeting Files, Review Group Mid-East Water 9/23/69)
  6. Attached is an October 16 memorandum from Bryce Harlow, Counselor to the President, stating that he agreed with Kissinger’s recommendation against investing in a “large expenditure in Israel.” He also noted that during his campaign President Nixon had “strongly favored” the Eisenhower–Strauss Plan, that the issue was seen as a “Republican initiative” with strong support in both Houses, and that the location in the United States of a smaller test facility could be seen as a reward for “a good Congressional friend.” (Ibid., Box H–212, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 32) In a November 21 memorandum of conversation, Saunders told General Ben Artzi, Representative of Israeli Prime Minister on the Desalting Project, of the U.S. decision. (Ibid., Box H–141, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 30)
  7. The President checked the approval option.
  8. Of the approval, disapproval, and other options, Nixon initialed on the approval line. Saunders received authorization from Kissinger on November 6 to go ahead with the suggested course of action. (Memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger, October 31; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–141, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 30) See Document 35.