U.S. Discussion of Jordanian Waterway Issue

(August 26, 1961)

This memorandum is a conversation between Ball and Johnston, discussing Israel's Jordanian waterway development, the results it has had on Jordanian and Israeli development, and the establishment of the Maqarin Dam.

Washington, August 26, 1961.

The Jordan Waters Problem

B--Mr. Ball
The Honorable Eric Johnston
NE--William R. Crawford, Jr.

Mr. Johnston described in detail the genesis and results of his efforts in the period 1953-1955 to win Arab and Israeli agreement on a plan for division of the water resources of the Jordan Valley. He said his plan would have irrigated 250,000 acres of land in southern Jordan, employed 200,000-250,000 Arab refugees, and would have been a move to "break the back of the refugee problem" and turn Jordan into a viable state. He spoke of having won Arab and Israeli agreement, on a technical level, only to have his plan shelved, as a consequence of political considerations, by an Arab League meeting in 1955.

Mr. Johnston referred to Israel's water development since 1955, which by 1963 will put it in a position to divert 60% of the basin's water resources as contrasted with its 38% allocation under the unified plan. The difference between these two percentages, he said, is the difference between economic viability for Jordan and indefinite dependence on extensive foreign assistance.

Mr. Johnston commented on the East Ghor irrigation project in Jordan which is being financed by the United States. This project, he stated, leaves him apprehensive. Without storage on the Yarmuk (the Maqarin Dam), there will not be enough water in very dry years to satisfy both the Israelis' customary use of Yarmuk waters in the fertile, Adasiya triangle and the requirements of the newly-irrigated lands in Jordan adjacent to the completed East Ghor Canal. The Maqarin Dam would ensure enough water for both users even in driest years; without it there could be serious dispute.

Mr. Johnston said he had met King Hussein, President Nasser, and UAR Foreign Minister Fawzi last fall. King Hussein had said he would like to go ahead with unified development if Nasser will agree. Fawzi stated that the Johnston plan is logical. The talk with Nasser had taken place in the presence of others, precluding detailed conversation, but Nasser had seemed well-disposed and friendly.

Mr. Johnston suggested that the United States designate an emissary to visit the Middle East to assess major economic development opportunities in all fields: someone who could talk on a basis of friendship with Hussein and Nasser. Should it prove apparent that their response is negative, the whole idea could be dropped with no disadvantage to this country. If the climate seems favorable, the emissary could try to put across the Maqarin Dam. With this project once underway, the atmosphere would be propitious for an effort to win Arab and Israeli agreement on Tiberias storage and on adoption of the other aspects of the unified plan. In the long run, the success of this effort might dissuade Israel from seizing 60% of the basin's water resources. If Israel balks, a persuasive approach to Israel's supporters in this country might induce a more responsive attitude on its part.

Under Secretary Ball said a recent meeting of United States Ambassadors in the Middle East, held in Nicosia,/2/ had given detailed consideration to the Jordan waters problem, particularly in regard to the timing of a further American initiative. Mr. Johnston's own "heroic" efforts on this problem had been overwhelmingly approved and much of the Ambassadors' thinking on ways of making progress now had been very close to the views just expressed by Mr. Johnston. However, the consensus of those familiar with this problem is that because of prevailing Arab suspicions of the United States, it may be best if the Arabs turn to the IBRD for assistance in construction of the Maqarin Dam. After that project is underway, we can consider how to get back to other aspects of the problem. At the present juncture it seems important for the United States to stay out, if only because, as Mr. Johnston may be aware, the United States is already engaged in a "small initiative" in regard to the refugee problem.


Mr. Johnston asked if there is any indication of Jordanian interest in an approach to the IBRD and what Nasser's reaction is likely to be.

Under Secretary Ball replied that we have received some indication of Jordanian interest, and have no reason to believe that Nasser would be opposed to an Arab approach to the IBRD. It is hoped that the Department can keep in close touch with Mr. Johnston as this situation develops.

Mr. Johnston said the important thing is to get the Maqarin Dam done, not who does it.

Under Secretary Ball commented that "we have to feel our way-- see what can be done in an international forum" before again seeking to inject the United States into the situation.

Mr. Johnston asked who would pay for the Maqarin Dam since the project, costing some $40 million exclusive of a $20 million hydro-electric component, is not a bankable loan.

Under Secretary Ball replied that we have not only the Bank but the IDA. From whatever several sources, the money will have to be found. Whatever is built will, above all, reflect Mr. Johnston's own truly epic efforts in past years.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.85322/8-2661. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Crawford on August 31 and approved in B on September 14. An August 21 briefing memorandum from Meyer to Ball indicated in part that White House approval had been obtained to seek to enlist the support of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to assist Jordan in constructing a large storage reservoir (the Maqarin Dam) on the Yarmuk River. Talbot had subsequently spoken with Eugene Black and William Iliff at the IBRD who said the Bank would be willing to engage itself if the United States was prepared to handle consultation with Israel. (Ibid., 684A.85322/8-2161)

/2/See Documents 91 and 92.

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII.