Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Acheson)

Lord Halifax1 called at his request. He stated that the purpose of his call was to inform the State Department of the attitude of the British Government toward the negotiations with Egypt which were to begin in earnest next week. He stated that the ultimate objective was the organization of the defense of the Middle East on a collective basis within the structure of the United Nations. He stated that the British preference would be for Anglo-Egyptian collaboration on the basis of separate contributions to a defense system rather than on the basis of a bilaterial agreement based on the defense of the Suez Canal area. However, it was the understanding of the British Government [Page 70] that the Egyptians preferred a bilateral agreement. The British Government hopes to get, as a result of these negotiations, the renewal of the same provisions and facilities in case of war or emergency as are provided by the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. In this connection Lord Halifax called attention to Article 16 of the 1936 Treaty, which he stated in specific terms provided for the renewal of these arrangements and facilities.

So far as peacetime is concerned, Great Britain wishes to station minimum land and air forces in the Suez Canal zone and also to establish an administrative base and headquarters in that zone which could serve as a nucleus of expansion in case of trouble.

Lord Halifax stated that the Egyptian drive for evacuation is strong and that the British Government would be willing to agree to the withdrawal of all combat troops by stages except air fighter squadrons. They might agree to withdraw the air fighter squadrons later on when Egyptian fighter squadrons were trained and ready to assume responsibility.

If, as and when the Sudan comes up in the discussions, Great Britain will want both parties to make the principal objective of their negotiations the welfare of the Sudanese.

So far as United Nations considerations are concerned, the Ambassador pointed out that the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty has, under its provisions, ten years to run. Great Britain however is willing to modify this treaty as the Ambassador has stated above, and in doing so will safeguard the overriding authority of the United Nations. The Ambassador pointed to Articles 51 and 52 of the Charter as sanctioning a continuing Anglo-Egyptian alliance.

Broadly speaking, the Ambassador said, the Middle East is of immense strategic importance to Great Britain, and the defense interests of Great Britain in Middle Eastern countries and Egypt are the same but, he added, Egypt must “come clean” in these negotiations. By that, he explained, he meant that Egypt wishes now to achieve inconsistent ends. It wishes all the advantages of the security which would come from an adequate defense in which the British participated without the inconvenience of making any provision upon which British participation can rest. He said that at some stage of the negotiations the British might have to ask for our support but that they would see how the negotiations go.

He added that Sir Ronald Campbell, as British Ambassador to Egypt, would carry on the negotiations for the British Government,2

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The Ambassador did not ask for or expect any reply from me. I thanked him for this information and he assured me that the British Government would keep the Department informed.

Dean Acheson
  1. The British Ambassador, the Earl of Halifax.
  2. The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Bevin, announced to the House of Commons on April 2 that he would be unable to be present at the earlier stages of the negotiations at Cairo and that the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Stansgate, and the British Ambassador to Egypt would conduct them on his behalf; see Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 421, col. 1110.