Jerusalem, December 22, 1996

REGIONAL CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN DESALINATION

(Communicated by the Foreign Ministry Spokesman)

The agreement for the creation of a regional center for research in desalination was signed on December 22, 1996, in Muscat, Oman. It is the first regional center in the Middle East to start work on a large scale. It will deal with coordination of research in desalination, constructing experimental installations at various sites in the Middle East, and training in desalination-related subjects. It was agreed that the subject of desalination through solar energy in Israel will have a central place in the center’s activities.

The center will have available for its operations, already in the first year of its existence, about $7-million for an agreed operating program.

The head of the Israeli mission in Oman, Oded Ben-Haim, signed the agreement together with ambassadors of the other founding countries, and a representative of the Omani government, Ambassador Sa’id Badr. The Israeli delegation to the ceremony was headed by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Middle Eastern affairs and the peace process, Yoav Biran. He travelled specially to attend the first session of the center’s directorate. In his greetings, Ben-Haim stressed the great importance of establishing the center as a symbol of constructive cooperation between the peoples of the Middle East.

Israel was among the initiators in setting up the center and its confirmation by a working group for water questions in the framework of the multilateral meeting held in Oman in 1994. Since then, the negotiations have proceeded with the participation of the Ministry’s director for multilateral negotiations, Ram Aviram, and a representative of the Water Commissioner, Shmuel Kantor.

As a founding member, Israel has equal rights in the center’s directorate together with the U.S., Japan, Korea and Oman. The negotiations have almost been completed with the European Union for its joining the founding members.

BACKGROUND TO THE EVENT

Politically, this is an important achievement for the peace process. Scientifically, it will offer an opportunity to advance a possible solution for the problem of water in the Middle East, through research, meetings of experts, model installations, and training in efficient, cheap techniques and through electronic information networks. Israel will contribute substantially from her knowhow, but will also be able to enjoy the great experience accumulated in the Gulf region. About half the quantity of water desalinated in the world, amounting annually to millions of cubic meters, is produced in the Gulf. In addition, scientists from Europe, Japan and the U.S. are participating in the center’s work, and Israel will thus also have access to the knowledge accumulated in those countries.

The Mekorot Company in Israel will soon be establishing, for the first time in Israel, an installation for desalinating sea water in commercial quantities. The director of the research center in Oman visited the project about a week ago, and was impressed with the engineering capability he observed. Following his tour of the installation and meetings with academic figures in Israel, he is now drawing up a detailed plan to incorporate Israeli institutions in the activity of his center. In about three weeks’ time, members of the scientific council of the center will visit Israel and conduct studies of the plans at a joint seminar with their Israeli colleagues and members of Mashav, the International Cooperation Department of the Foreign

Ministry.