475. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, April 11, 1972.1 2

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11 April 1972

FROM: William J. Jorden [WJJ initialed]
SUBJECT: Your Talk with Foreign Minister Rabasa of Mexico (11:45 Wednesday, 12 April)

The Foreign Minister is due to arrive at your office at 11:45 A.M. tomorrow (April 12). He will not be accompanied by Ambassador Olloqui.

I assume the Colorado salinity question will be uppermost in his mind, though he may ask you about plans for President Echeverria’s visit in June.

On the salinity matter, you asked for Ambassador McBride’s view. He has supplied the attached memo (Tab A), based mainly on a talk he had with Rabasa about two weeks ago. His main point is that we can meet all of the things Rabasa said he wanted in that talk--except for the proviso that we would submit to third party arbitration (or to a panel of three representatives of the World Court--he may have meant the Permanent Court of Arbitration). The legal question is the tough one, or so it seems. The legal specialists appear to think that there is a good chance that Mexico would “win” on this if we went to court. Rabasa told McBride that if Mexico did get a favorable decision, they would be forced to consider presenting us with a large claim for past damages. (The prevailing thinking on this and the Congressional side of the issue is described in the second paragraph on page 3 of McBride’s memo.)

For your comparison and background, I have put in the attached chart (Tab B): (1) Rabasa’s key points made to us in September 1971; (2) our offer of November 1971; (3) Rabasa’s desires as put to McBride two weeks ago; and (4) what we could now offer--but have not yet discussed with the Mexicans.

As you see, we can offer three formulas for better water--fairly good water initially rising in salinity over the agreement period; fairly stable water over the period; steadily improving water over the period. All of them more than meet the standard Rabasa himself set in September 1971 and even more the standard he mentioned to McBride.

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On the legal question, we would propose to enter into bilateral legal talks with the Mexicans-- then go to some form of arbitration if there were still unresolved problems at the end of the 4 1/2 years. We could offer a better deal, for example, to go into arbitration after three years, or even two. But I suspect that our lawyers would go through the ceiling. Also, we would probably run into some Congressional flak--especially from the Colorado Basin state Senators and Congressmen--who feel that any settlement on strictly legal grounds is going to be terribly expensive for us, and especially for them.

I think the point to make with Rabasa--after you have softened him up a bit--is that “good friends don’t take each other to court.” No one stands to “win” because the price in good relations and cooperation will suffer regardless of who wins the legal argument. Following the legal course could really sour relations, especially between Mexico and the neighboring states of California, Arizona and Texas. It could affect negatively the many ways in which authorities on both sides of the border are now working closely and cooperatively.

We think that this problem can be worked out to the satisfaction of both partners. We give him our pledge to really work at it--not just to make gestures.

You may also wish to tell him that there is another aspect to this problem that we are looking into. This concerns the development of new technology that will enable us to lower the salinity of water. We are hoping to get funds for a test plant to try this out on a large scale, and we want to put it in operation on the lower Colorado where Mexico will get full benefit. He should not discuss this with anyone until we have a chance to look into it more deeply. But you thought he should know that it is a possibility and it may move us to a definitive solution of this whole problem. [FYI: I will be discussing this in detail with the technicians at Interior later this week.]

To sum up:

The proposal outlined in column 4 on the chart meets all of Rabasa’s expressed wishes (as given to our Ambassador and as in his position of last September). It is better than anything we have thus far offered the Mexicans. The one issue on which Mexican desires are not met is the matter of legal adjudication of unresolved issues in a time frame of less than 4 1/2 years. And I think you should try hard to talk him out of that. The technical development is an excellent “carrot.”

Attached at Tab C is a copy of the memo I did earlier on the salinity question. It contains some useful background on the issue, and you may wish to glance at it to refresh your memory on some details.

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Also attached (Tab D) are three letters of recent date from President Echeverria, two to the President and one to you. You may wish to mention your pleasure at hearing from your old friend, the President of Mexico.


Tab A -- 4/7/71 Memo McBride to Kissinger
Tab B -- Chart
Tab C -- cc Memo Jorden to Kissinger 3/25/72
Tab D -- Three letters of recent date from Echeverria

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 788, Country Files, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. III, 1972. Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action; Outside system. Attached but not published are Tabs A, B, and D. Tab A is an April 7, 1971 memorandum from McBride to Kissinger, Tab B is a chart identifying 4 options for resolving the salinity issue, Tab D has 3 letters from Echeverría to Nixon, one dated April 6, the other two undated, and biographical information on Rabasa. Attached at Tab C is a memorandum from Jorden to Kissinger, March 25. It is published as Document 474. Kissinger and Jorden met with Rabasa on April 12, 11:51 a.m.–12:32 p.m. No further record of a conversation has been found. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Papers of Henry A. Kissinger, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule)
  2. In preparation for an April 12 meeting with Foreign Secretary Rabasa, National Security Council staff member Jorden provided President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger with an update on the status of salinity negotiations.