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John F. Kennedy Administration: Deliberations Regarding Equitable Division of Jordan Waters

(June 1, 1962)

This memorandum deals with suggestions by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs pertaining to the manner in which Israel should handle the Jordanian waterway conflict.

Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (McGhee) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, June 1, 1962.

/1/Source: Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 229, Jordan Waters Memoranda. Confidential.

Proposed Note to Israel Regarding Jordan Waters

The attached, I am afraid rather lengthy, file describes the NEA proposal regarding agreement with Israel on Jordan waters. As you will note, IO, in Tab B, dissents as to certain aspects.

I also have certain reservations as to tactics. My own inclination would be to build this around a public statement by Israel to which we would make a public response. Also I believe we could work in certain dams for Jordan as a part of the quid pro quo to the Arabs.

I will try to look in on your meeting when these matters are being discussed.

Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot) to Secretary of State Rusk

Washington, May 25, 1962.

/2/Secret. Drafted by Hamilton and Strong on May 22 and sent through McGhee. A note attached to the May 25 transmittal memorandum from Talbot to McGhee reads: "My underlying memorandum (Tab A) with accompanying note has not been cleared by IO. A memorandum from Mr. Cleveland to you raising several questions is attached. (Tab B) My memorandum omits reference to the impact of the note on Israel. We believe the assurances provided in the note are of fundamental importance to Israel and would be welcomed. That the entire note would be accepted and responded to uncritically might be too much to hope for. We can expect an effort by Israel to evade or to negotiate away the reciprocal assurances we seek, to argue over the water allocations, to seek specific expression of how we propose to help Jordan on the Yarmuk, to seek definition of the type of international supervision we envision in the absence of implementation of the entire Unified Plan, etc. In the last analysis, however, we believe Israel will recognize the necessity for giving reciprocal assurance and will do so. It is an Israel practice to seek far more than it expects to gain and to maintain a dissatisfied mien even when pleased, which in this case Israel would have every reason to be."

Proposed Note to Israel Regarding Jordan Waters


Since the Syrian-Israel clashes on and near Lake Tiberias culminating in the censure of Israel on April 9, NEA has considered possible steps to prevent or minimize further violence over Israel's plan to withdraw large quantities of water from the lake some eighteen months hence. Discussions with Ambassador Stevenson and his staff and with Mr. Feldman have not achieved a consensus. NEA thinks the attached note embodies the course of action best calculated to promote our foreign policy objectives and is both defensible and useful from the domestic point of view. Our rationale follows:

1. Is a United States Initiative Necessary Now?

(a) Hostilities have already occurred over the issue, the Syrians are "bloody-minded", and Israel clearly intends to leave no doubt of its right and ability to take the water.

(b) Israel's right to an equitable share of the water is unquestioned by the U.S. Government and Israel is determined to begin withdrawal of water as soon as possible.

(c) Our best means of dampening Israel's ardor for military response along the Syrian frontier is our assurance of Israel's right to take an equitable share of the water. Our best hope for minimizing Syrian hostile actions against Israel, and for gaining general international acceptance of Israel's water plan, is to assure that the rights of the Arabs are protected.

(d) The reciprocal assurances we propose to require of Israel are the keystone in the arch of our position with the Arabs on the water issue. Lacking such assurances, we would have no case.

(e) The longer we delay in seeking assurances in writing from Israel, the less likely we are to receive them as Israel becomes more confident of its ability to complete the water program despite Arab opposition, and as the U.S. finds itself obliged to support Israel even though lacking the necessary assurances. Israel is likely to say, "We'll take the Jordan River and Jordan can have the Yarmuk"; this won't do.

(f) We had hoped to remove some of the heat from the water issue by encouraging Jordan to work with the IBRD for development of Jordan's share of the Yarmuk River. This course of action has moved too slowly to achieve the desired result. It seems apparent that time has run out and that an active, overt role must be assumed by the U.S.

(g) Prompt and sustained action by the U.S. may reduce the likelihood that the issue will be taken to the Security Council, and risk of renewed hostilities and their escalation resulting from a miscalculation of the U.S. position will be reduced.

(h) Up to the present the Arabs have not sought pretexts for rendering Dr. Johnson's refugee initiative fruitless. We believe the Arabs will be careful to distinguish between the refugee question and the water issue and will not wish to be responsible for causing Dr. Johnson to fail.

2. What Should be the Nature of the Initiative?

(a) Although Israel has long been aware of our support for its water plan and informally has made apparent its intention to remain within the Unified (Johnston) Plan, reduction of our assurances to writing will remove any lingering Israel doubts and make clear that our support will extend to mobilization of international opinion; reduction of Israel assurances to writing will permit us to preserve the essential features of the Unified Plan and to persuade the Arabs that their rights are being protected. We do not find an oral approach acceptable.

(b) We have come to believe that the issue of sovereignty over Lake Tiberias is extraneous to the problem of use of water and this should be dealt with separately, perhaps by Aide-Mémoire at an early date. The essence of our position continues to be that Israel presently has full authority and rights of jurisdiction and control over the lake.

3. Should Further Conditions be Laid on Israel?

(a) One school of thought advocates that in exchange for our assurances we should also require Israel to agree to comply with the provisions of the Security Council resolution of April 9 for the strengthening of the United Nations peace-keeping machinery. We believe this would involve us in a complicated and controversial negotiation which would divert us from the main objective of the note.

(b) In our view, the United States is not in a strong bargaining position. Israel will go forward with its water plan with or without U.S. support. The reciprocal assurances sought in the note are necessary, and are attainable if sought promptly.

(c) Once the United States and Israel have exchanged assurances regarding Israel's water plan, Israel may be amenable to granting more authority and better facilities to UNTSO, now withheld for fear of impairing its ability to act as its security requires. We would be in a sound position to support General Von Horn with both Israel and Syria, and to request support of Israel's friends in the U.S. in our efforts to persuade Israel.

(d) In real terms reciprocal concessions on water between the U.S. and Israel will place the U.S. in a balanced position with Israel and the Arabs on the Jordan waters controversy.

4. Delivery of the Note

(a) You would hand the note to the Israel Ambassador with the suggestion that an early favorable response would enable the U.S. to start its effort to obtain the acquiescence of the Arab states and the support of the international community.

(b) You would ask that Israel keep the note in confidence. If an inaccurate or incomplete version became public, the U.S. would be obliged in its own interests to disclose the full substance of the note to demonstrate its balance between Arab and Israel interests.

(c) You would point out that our assurances should resolve any lingering doubts of our support as well as remove obstacles to Israel cooperation with UNTSO and ISMAC.

5. The Arabs

(a) The note carries with it the certainty of some strain on our relations with some of the Arabs, notably the Syrians. In our opinion there is no satisfactory alternative. However, their reaction will be much more bitter if Israel proceeds to withdraw water without U.S. action to safeguard Arab interests. Our request to Israel for reciprocal assurances is to preserve as best we can our relatively improved relations with the Arabs.

(b) Arab self-interest should prevent their adoption of a more consistently and unitedly hostile position toward the United States in the United Nations. Some of them have an important stake in U.S. aid programs and would be reluctant to alienate the U.S. when it is apparent we had their interests in mind. Most of them now vote against the U.S. on most issues, although Lebanon and Jordan vote with us when they can.

(c) We propose quiet approaches to Syria and the UAR, and eventually to other Arab states, after receipt of Israel's assurances or should a "leak" force us to reveal the full substance of the note. They would be informed that the interests of the Arabs have been protected and world opinion will not support further Arab efforts to deny Israel an equitable share.

(d) Syria would be urged to permit strengthening of UNTSO's effectiveness and to agree to reactivation of ISMAC without prior conditions.

(e) Nasser would be quietly reminded of his suggestion that US-UAR relations would best prosper with Palestine issues in the "deep freeze" and his support or neutrality would be urged for U.S. and U.N. efforts to strengthen the United Nations peace-keeping machinery and damp down the controversy over water. UAR need for Western help for its stabilization program and its prospects for a development consortium should encourage the UAR to moderation.

(f) The Arabs in general would be guaranteed the United States will do its best to assure that Israel's water development does not jeopardize the rights of other riparians and that the U.S. is prepared to lend equivalent support to Arab water development programs, which should not be delayed longer.


That it be agreed within the United States Government that the attached note be handed to the Israel Ambassador.


Excellency: I have the honor to state that recent events which have occurred in the Lake Tiberias area have drawn attention to the question of the rights and obligations of the parties in the area and in particular to the effectiveness of the peace-keeping machinery established under the Israel-Syria General Armistice Agreement. Central among our several concerns is the determination to prevent, if possible, an insupportable strain on sensitive area relationships resulting from controversy over the waters of the Jordan Valley.

As Israel and her Arab neighbors have long known, the United States Government believes it is in the best interests of all concerned that these water resources be peacefully and fully developed for the progress and prosperity of the area. Proposals for the equitable distribution and full utilization of the resources of the Jordan River system were accepted by Israel and the affected Arab states at the technical level in 1955. While the prospect of international agreement continues remote, it is the United States view that stabilization of the Near East and a more durable peace will not be advanced by prolonging the period during which riparians along the Jordan River system are denied equitable shares of this important natural resource by intra-area rivalries. In a degree these rivalries are perpetuated and exacerbated by the delay in division of the waters.

The United States Government considers that Israel's use of the waters of the lake within equitable limits would be in accordance with the general principles of international law governing international river systems. Therefore, when withdrawal of water from the lake becomes necessary for Israel's continued development, it is the view of the United States Government that Israel will be justified in carrying its water development project to completion.

Accordingly, upon receipt of the affirmation described hereafter, the United States Government is prepared to inform the other riparians along the Jordan River system that it considers Israel to be justified in taking an equitable share of the river water, using Lake Tiberias as a point of diversion. Further, the United States Government, as circumstances require, will support diplomatic efforts by Israel to obtain general international approval of its withdrawal of water from Lake Tiberias. The United States Government likewise will wish to support the efforts of other riparians to create means of employing their allocations of water under the Unified Plan for the Development of the Jordan River Valley (Johnston Plan). I should like to emphasize that the ability of the United States Government effectively to support Israel's water use plan is dependent upon action by Israel to assure that the onus for tensions in the area will not fall on Israel. In the belief that it is in Israel's interest to cooperate fully with the United Nations and to conduct a policy of restraint along Israel's borders, the United States Government will wish to explore with the Government of Israel means of strengthening the effectiveness of the United Nations machinery in the area. The United States Government will also hold discussions to this end with the Syrian Arab Republic and with other governments.

In the interest of prompt and effective implementation of the line of action described above, the United States Government will appreciate receiving early affirmation of what it understands to be the position of the Government of Israel as follows:

1. Israel's firm intent to take no more than the quantity allocated to it by the Unified Plan. (The position of both Israel and the United States would be strengthened by a public announcement of such intent by Israel at an appropriate time.)

2. Israel's agreement to cooperate in establishing effective means for assuring impartial supervision over use of the waters of the Jordan River system, either by implementation of the provisions relating to the international regulation and supervision of the development and operation of the river system as contained in the Memorandum of July 5, 1955,/3/ and which were accepted subsequently by the Arab Technical Committee, or by such other measures as may be mutually agreed which will assure the equivalent effectiveness.

/3/Not printed. (Department of State, NEA/IAI Files: Lot 70 D 254, Framework of the Fourth Mission--No. 19 (April 22, 1955-))

It would be the intention of the United States Government to communicate the import of these assurances through diplomatic channels to other interested states as deemed appropriate by the United States Government.

In conclusion, Excellency, I should like to express my personal interest in the frequent consultations between our two governments which inevitably are entailed in the search for a solution to this issue in which deep emotions are involved on both sides. I am convinced that a peaceful solution can be found.

Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

Tab B/4/

Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Cleveland) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (McGhee) and Secretary of State Rusk

Washington, May 25, 1962.


NEA Memorandum on Jordan Waters

In general, I agree that we should assure the Israelis we support withdrawal of waters from the Jordan by Israel on the understanding that it will agree to take no more than the capacity allocated to it by the Unified Plan and it will cooperate in establishing effective means for assuring impartial supervision over the use of the waters. However, since there are a number of aspects of the problem which deserve careful exploration, I believe it would be useful, if you would agree, to convene a meeting of the interested bureaus to consider the following questions:

1. Israel is not expected to begin withdrawal of water before mid- 1963. Is it necessary therefore to provide appropriate assurances at this time while we are actively engaged in supporting the Johnson Mission? Could the question of assurances be postponed until early 1963?

2. Has the nature of the assurances been explored generally or specifically by Mr. Feldman with Ambassador Harman, and if so, what have these conversations revealed regarding the possible Israeli reaction?

3. Is the best method of achieving our objective in our negotiations with Israel to lay out our full bargaining position in a piece of paper at the outset?

4. Can more be done at an earlier stage to prepare the Arabs and to reduce the possible adverse repercussions, particularly with Syria?

I believe a full exploration of the above questions in a meeting in your office would be helpful. In addition, it would provide us an opportunity to consider Ambassador Stevenson's reservations as indicated to you on Tuesday of this week.

Tab A/2/

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.