478. Memorandum for the Record1 2

[Page 1]


  • Conversation Between Henry A. Kissinger and Mexican Foreign Secretary Emilio Rabasa


  • Emilio Rabasa, Foreign Secretary of Mexico
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • William J. Jorden

The first subject of conversation was the problem of salinity in the Colorado River. Secretary Rabasa outlined the points of agreement as he understood them. First, it was agreed that Mexico would receive the full quantity of water (1.5 million acre-feet) as provided in the 1944 Treaty. Second, that the present quantity of “wasted water” (3 per cent) would be eliminated, i.e., there would be no “wasted” or by-passed water in the 1.5 million a-f. Third, that the term of the new agreement would be four years.

On the matter of salinity level, Mr. Kissinger had earlier proposed three formulas: good water (1120 ppm) initially rising to 1180 over the 4 years; water of 1180 ppm initially) gradually improving to about 1160; relatively stable quality of water over the 4 years in the 1120–1180 range.

Secretary Rabasa said Mexico favored the second formula: water of 1180 ppm initially, gradually improving. But he expressed the hope that the improvement would reach 1120 in the fourth year. It was explained that this was probably technically impossible. He said then that he hoped that it could reach 1150 by the final year.

The one unresolved question remains the matter of some legal resolution of differences. Mr. Kissinger said he had provided the President with a memorandum outlining this problem, including the key question of whether we could agree to go into some form of arbitration as the Mexicans desire. He said he would talk further with the President on this matter and would inform Rabasa as soon as we had an answer.

[Page 2]

Rabasa then outlined the kind of solution he foresaw, noting that he had not yet discussed the details with President Echeverria. He proposed that his Government select three or five names from the list of distinguished lawyers and arbitrators maintained by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Mexico would submit the list to us to select one. We would follow the same procedure—pick 3–5 men and let the Mexicans pick one from that list. The two arbitrators thus selected would themselves pick the third member of the arbitration panel. (He made the point that we should both pick disinterested arbitrators—obviously not one of our own nationals. “We would, of course, not pick a Cuban,” he said.“Nor would we expect you to pick someone from a country heavily dependent on the U.S.”)

Mr. Kissinger made the point that if we decided we could go the arbitration route, the approach outlined by Rabasa seemed quite fair.

Rabasa said his government would be agreeable to delaying any resort to arbitration until early 1973 (he said “January,” but that is clearly negotiable.) He also said that once an arbitration board was selected, Mexico would agree to specify that no finding would be expected until the end of the 4-year agreement, i.e., until 1976.

Rabasa stressed the need of his President and his Government to have some kind of wording in the joint communique in June that would permit Echeverria to point out to his own people that the legal problem was being studied actively and would be solved in some manner. He agreed that there should be no reference to or mention of “arbitration” in the communique or other statements connected with the Echeverria visit, whether or not there is a private understanding on this matter.

The next issue raised by Rabasa was migrant workers—Mexicans who enter the U.S. ilegally to work on farms and in other forms of manual labor. He said he knew this was a political issue here. He knew that the labor unions were strongly opposed to any program to bring Mexican workers in legally. But he said that the fact is that there are some kinds of work that Americans will not do—whites, blacks, or Mexican-Americans. He cited the picking of cotton and grapes as examples. He argued that there was provision in existing U.S. law (he cited the Immigration and Nationality Act as revised in May 1969) giving authority to bring in workers to do things for which no American labor was available. He recognized that this required approval from both the Labor and Justice Departments. But it is being done in regard to workers from other countries (he named Jamaica and other Caribbean areas), he said, and it would be helpful if similar treatment could be accorded at least some Mexicans. He underlined that this was a highly emotional issue in Mexico.

Mr. Kissinger asked what he thought should be done—recognizing the highly political content of this matter on our side. Rabasa said he hoped we could put something in the communique noting that both sides were concerned with this matter. He [Page 3] suggested that we announce that a Joint Commission would be appointed with representatives selected by both Governments to study the problem and recommend steps that could be taken to meet the problem. The Commission would be asked to make its recommendations next year.

Mr. Kissinger said we could agree to the Commission idea.

Incidental to the workers problem, Rabasa mentioned H.R. 14831 proposed by Rep. Rodino. He recommended that we look at it because “it will hurt us, but it will hurt you too.” He said it would sharply reduce Mexican purchases of U.S. goods in the border area.

On foreign trade, Rabasa said he hoped we could “do something.” The only specific matter he raised was the problem of our raising tariffs “as soon as we begin to be able to supply things you need.”

On cultural exchange, he suggested that perhaps the best way to handle it would be an agreement between him and Secretary Rogers renewing the earlier agreement (of 1949).

Mexico was interested, he said, in a sharply expanded program of technical exchange. He said they were already working with the private sectors—U.S. companies with investments and plants in Mexico. He indicated that they were having some success with the program of sending Mexican specialists to work in U.S. plants to learn new forms of technology and methods of operation. But Mexico was also interested in a broad program of exchange on a governmental level. He said they would like to send Mexicans to work directly in our various governmental departments where they could study such things as modern methods of agriculture, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and the like. Kissinger asked Jorden to check this out with various Department heads to see whether it was practical.

It was agreed that Jorden would continue the conversation with the Foreign Secretary to work out some of the details that had been discussed (see separate memo of conversation).

Dr. Kissinger said he would like to see Rabasa again and that he would arrange to meet him at lunch a week or two after he (Kissinger) returned from the Moscow trip.

Willian J. Jorden
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 788, Country Files, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. III. Secret; Sensitive. It was prepared by Jorden. Jorden signed “WJJ” above his typed signature. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. The memorandum to which Kissinger referred is published as Document 477.
  2. Kissinger and Foreign Secretary Rabasa discussed the Colorado River salinity issue and illegal immigration. On salinity, Rabasa suggested third party arbitration, to which Kissinger responded “that if we decided we could go the arbitration route, the approach outlined by Rabasa seemed quite fair.” On illegal immigrants, Rabasa suggested that the United States and Mexico issue a joint communiqué announcing the creation of a Joint Commission to study the problem.