470. Telegram 5063 From the Embassy in Mexico to the Department of State1 2

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  • Salinity


  • State 160073


Mexicans preparing to give negative reply to US proposal on salinity. Mexicans planning to take salinity issue to an inter-American body. Mexicans willing to consider bilateral legal study of the problem. End summary.

1. I held lengthy discussion with Foreign Secretary Rabasa on salinity question Friday afternoon. First I indicated we did not believe that inter-American juridical committee was a possible place to seek a solution and then attempted to convince him that technical and practical (as against legal) aspects of this problem were paramount and that their solution could best be achieved in bilateral framework.

2. Rabasa replied that Mexico would soon submit a reply to our July 26 proposal either through us here or through Ambassador Olloqui in Washington. He said this however would not be affirmative in sense of accepting our proposals and therefore settling matter. I expressed regret and said I thought we had come a long way towards meeting Mexico’s practical difficulties. Rabasa said if we could not accept IAJC, perhaps OAS could appoint directly a group of three arbitrators. I showed no enthusiasm for this idea. Rabasa then added that [Page 2] most logical course would be to go to International Court of Justice in The Hague but that he and President Echeverria did not wish to do anything “so spectacular.” Therefore, he added they would prefer that question remain within inter-American framework and be settled in friendly “family” way. He said Mexico was not seeking any publicity on this question and did not wish to place us on defensive by hauling us into court. Therefore Mexicans preferred an agreement to put matter into hands of some group within the hemisphere and agree to accept their findings.

3. Despite my protestations to the contrary, Rabasa repeatedly insisted that juridical problem was the foundation of the whole problem and that we must seek a legal settlement. He noted we had agreed to discuss the legal aspects of this question and President Echeverria had made reference this in “informe.” Since he insisted that legal question was paramount and that technical side of problem was relatively much less important, question arose of possibility of seeking an answer bilaterally to the outstanding legal points. Rabasa said he was willing to consider some bilateral legal study first prior to deciding to go to an international body in order to see if a solution could be found this way. He said however he was not optimistic and believed that eventually some inter-American group would probably have to be seized of the salinity issue. He stressed salinity remained uppermost in minds of Mexican Government and people in their relations with US. Rabasa thought that if two or three legal experts were appointed by each side to arbitrate impasse would not be broken. However he repeated he would be willing to consider formula whereby each country would appoint a lawyer to study the problem urgently and make joint recommendations to the two governments.

4. Rabasa said that progress had been made on technical aspects of problem but that the fundamental questions which had to be answered were first whether US was obliged to furnish Mexico water from the Colorado River only and not from any other sources and secondly whether Wellton-Mohawk was considered a source of the Colorado. Somebody must decide, he added, whether or not the United States was fully [Page 3] applying the Treaty of 1944 and, if the US was violating the treaty, what measures she must take to comply with it. Rabasa repeated that Mexico must now proceed to grapple with these legal issues because Mexican people would oppose either a continuation of the present arrangement on November 15 and even more the cessation of the 1965 agreement without a substitute.

5. Rabasa then said his own plans called for him to be away in October. He said he would seek interview with Secretary Rogers in New York or Washington to discuss this matter further during the first week of October. He hoped they could come up with solution during that month which he could discuss with the Secretary during last week of October when he will again be in US. I said I personally thought a full examination of legal aspects of problem would take much longer especially if some international body were involved. Rabasa then said he would talk to President Echeverria about this impasse. I mentioned that I believed from my conversation with Echeverria that latter preferred to keep problem within bilateral bounds. Rabasa said this had been true but that bilateral negotiations had got nowhere and framework should therefore be broadened.

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6. Friday night, Rabasa took me aside at a small farewell dinner he was giving for DCM Kubish to say he had talked with President about salinity. He said latter had now concluded that US July 26 proposal would not satisfy Mexican public opinion. He was therefore disposed to proceed to an international body. However, in order to keep matter within bilateral framework, he was willing to appoint a legal expert to work with a US counterpoint to see if they could not recommend some solution to the legal aspects of the problem. If this could not be done then there seemed no alternative, Rabasa reported Echeverria as saying, to asking an international body to be seized on the problem. Rabasa said if legal experts were to meet, he would like answer by end of week since matter appeared urgent to the Mexicans. I said I would report all of foregoing urgently to Department for consideration.

7. Comment: Mexican position seems to be continually hardening and has now reached point where we can clearly anticipate almost totally negative response to our July 26 proposal. Rabasa left me Friday night with firm impression that only alternative to having Mexicans seize OAS or some adjunct thereof of the salinity problem, probably during the month of September, would be for us to send a legal expert here to examine problem in detail in its legal aspects with a Mexican opposite number. Sending a legal expert of course does not guarantee a solution but would buy some time if we wish to consider our whole course of acton further. If [Page 5] legal experts disagree, resort to OAS or other international body would presumably take place anyway. I personally would recommend that we send a legal expert here to talk to Mexican counterpart in order to obtain fullest possible picture of Mexican legal position and also to give us time to consider situation if Mexicans should, for example, consult IAJC. Also, I presume that Department will want Friedkin to consider this new situation in detail and possible consult with our state authorities concerned. Governor Williams of Arizona, who has been here this week for Echeverria’s “informe,” has expressed concern on this issue and I fully realize it is a very sensitive issue not only in Mexico but in many areas of US as well.

8. Deptel 163522 received after this message drafted. I believe I have covered points made therein and that so far they have not deterred Rabasa from his differing views.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 33–1 MEX–US. Confidential; Priority; Limdis. In telegram 199862 to Mexico City, November 2, Rogers indicated that the United States concurred with Rabasa’s suggestion for a six-year extension to allow time to negotiate a permanent solution to the salinity issue. (Ibid.)
  2. Ambassador McBride reported that the Mexican Government planned to reject the U.S. proposal on the salinity issue. While it was willing to appoint a legal expert to work toward a solution with a U.S. counterpart, Mexico was disposed to proceed to an international body to adjudicate the solution.