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


  • Long-range Programs for Mid-East Water Development

Knowing your interest in weaving water development into our Mid-East strategy, I suggest that we schedule an NSC paper to help you come to grips with this complex issue.

I do not wish to bother you with the intricacies of this subject now, but you should know of work in progress along two tracks:

Large-scale desalting. In response to the Senate’s December 1967 passage of the “Baker Resolution” supporting the Eisenhower–Strauss plan, the Johnson Administration ordered the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study the applicability of large-scale desalting to the Middle East. The Eisenhower–Strauss plan grew out of an earlier Oak Ridge study describing how large desalting-agricultural-industrial complexes might work in theory.2 Oak Ridge was then asked how that theoretical model might actually work in the Middle East and what costs might be. That study should be done later this year. Technicians have visited the area (including the UAR) to gather data.
Israeli desalter. President Johnson early in January sent legislation to Congress proposing authorization of US participation up to $40 million in the construction of a middle-sized development desalter in Israel. This was the result of four years of joint US-Israeli study. George Woods personally framed the final proposal, and Prime [Page 22] Minister Eshkol said it was acceptable to Israel.3 We can probably delay active consideration of this legislation for a couple of months until you have a chance to review the whole water picture and relate it to your political strategy.

It is only fair to state that these are both controversial issues. On the technological-economic side, the state of the desalting art is still in the research and development stage and is yet short of being a strictly commercial proposition. Experts are divided on the best use of our money at this stage, since it is possible to argue that more water per dollar can be bought today by other methods. On the political side, some experts feel that water development could provide a political vehicle for bringing Arabs and Israelis together while others are highly skeptical that it could by itself ever overcome intense Arab-Israeli hostility, though they acknowledge that it might help reinforce political arrangements once made. But these are the issues we would try to clarify for you.

I would, of course, work hand-in-hand with Lee DuBridge on this. He is aware of this memo.

Recommendation: That we issue the attached NSSM to start a systematic review of this whole issue.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–141, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 30. Secret; Exdis. Printed from an uninitialed copy.
  2. The Baker Resolution (S Res 155), introduced by Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R–TN) and sponsored by 52 Senators, passed unanimously in December 1967. It called upon the President to pursue the “prompt design, construction and operation of nuclear desalting plants” to provide fresh water for Arab and Israeli territories. (Congressional Quarterly Almanac, vol. XXIII, 1967, p. 962) Former President Eisenhower and former Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss proposed in 1967 that an international corporation be established to construct three nuclear-fueled desalting plants in the Middle East. They would be operated by the AEC and would provide ample water supplies for the arid regions through international cooperation, thus easing political tensions. (Ibid.) The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings October 19–20, 1967, which resulted in Senate Resolution 155. Documentation on the Johnson administration’s policies on Water for Peace is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIV, Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues, Documents 130174.
  3. In a January 17, 1969, letter to Eshkol, President Johnson stated that, as one of his last official acts, he had recommended to Congress a maximum of $40 million for U.S. participation in the construction of a desalting plant in Israel that would produce 40 million gallons of desalted water per day. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–141, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 30) Eshkol replied that same day that this decision, along with that of sending Phantoms to Israel, was crucial for the prevention of war and the advancement of Israel’s economic progress. (Ibid.)
  4. Draft attached; the signed NSSM is printed as Document 5.