Charges Hickel Does Not Support Federal Budget Item for Desalination Plant in Israel

Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, does not support a Federal budget item that would provide $40 million for a nuclear desalination plant in Israel, Rep. William Fitts Ryan, (D. , N.Y.) charged today. Rep. Ryan disclosed that Secretary Hickel appeared before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, on which the Congressman serves, and “did not express support for the project.” Pursuing the matter, Rep. Ryan was later told by Mr. Hickel that the matter “would have to be decided by President Nixon.”

Last Jan. 17, then president Johnson included a provision for a desalination plant in Israel in the budget submitted for fiscal year 1970. On Jan. 19, the late Premier Levi Eshkol publicized this action in Israel upon advice from the White House. The Interior Department of the outgoing Democratic Administration told Congress that new sources of water for Israel were vital if Israel was to maintain its industrial and economic growth.

Rep. Ryan submitted a bill Jan. 23 to provide assistance to Israel for a dual purpose electrical power and desalination plant, citing the recommendations of the Johnson Administration. During February the matter was considered by the House Interior Committee in a way which led Rep. Ryan and some other members to conclude that “this Administration may not fulfill the commitment which President Johnson made to Premier Eshkol.”

Reps. Ryan and Hugh Carey (D., N.Y.) have now written President Nixon that “we are very concerned that your Administration may Intend to back away from the commitment which President Johnson made to Israeli Premier Eshkol to participate in the construction of this vitally needed facility.” They pointed out that research benefits would be gained by the U.S. and that the cause of peace would be served in the area by it. President Nixon was reminded that “during the course of your campaign for the presidency, you made reference on several occasions to the need to maintain America’s commitment to Israel (on desalting).” He was urged to reaffirm Presidential support for the undertaking.

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