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John F. Kennedy Administration: U.S., Syrian Talks Concerning Israeli Jordan River Diversion System

(February 24, 1962)

This telegram is from the Department of State to the Syrian Embassy regarding Israel's policy concerning the Jordan River diversion, and the U.S.'s disagreement.

Embtels 504 and 505./2/ Re Syrian note on Jordan waters, you should at early opportunity make oral response to Prime Minister along following lines:

1. USG appreciates SARG concern re this problem. As SARG aware, USG in period 1953-55 made strong effort devise equitable plan and assist riparians reach accommodation on water usage that would prevent problem from becoming threat to area peace. At basis, USG considers riparians have the responsibility for reaching permanent accommodation that will protect interests of all users, but USG has watched situation closely and remains willing be helpful if asked.

2. USG considers precipitate action by any of riparians will only make it more difficult arrive at accommodation. So far, no riparian has taken action inconsistent with the most thorough and equitable plan for just utilization of basin resources that has been devised.

3. In addition these general considerations and while USG declines becomes guarantor of any riparian's intentions, we have no information to indicate Jordan River diversion by Israel is imminent. We too oppose revision in status quo in Demilitarized Zones without approval both parties. This was USG position in 1953/3/ and it remains our attitude today. USG has no indication that Israel is contemplating action in the Central Demilitarized Zone.

FYI: We do not wish commit ourselves at this time to written answer to Syrian note. Our ultimate decision in this regard will of necessity be determined partly by manner in which USSR handles it response.

Outline follows by separate telegram of other steps which Department has initiated in effort take some heat out of this issue./4/


/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.85322/2-2462. Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Crawford, cleared by Sisco, and approved by Grant. Repeated to Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, Jidda, London, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Tel Aviv, Bucharest, and USUN.

/2/Telegram 504 from Damascus, December 21, described the oral démarche made by Syrian Prime Minister Dawalibi while delivering the Syrian note. Telegram 505 from Damascus, December 21, transmitted a translation of the essential elements of the note. (Both ibid., 684A.85322/2-2162)

/3/Reference is to U.S. opposition to Israeli construction, begun on September 2, 1953, to build a canal to divert the waters of the Jordan River at Banat Yaacov in the central sector of the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel. The United States withheld foreign aid funds earmarked for Israel until Israel agreed to accept a U.N. requirement that it halt construction. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, vol. IX, pp. 1303 ff.

/4/Document 199.

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