Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State

Mr. Balfour3 called at his request. He said that the Ambassador wished to have him inform us of a change in the British attitude regarding the negotiations with Egypt. This information had already been conveyed to Mr. Byrnes in Paris4 and to our Embassy in London. Sir Ronald Campbell had advised the Foreign Office that to insist upon the maintenance of an administrative base and British forces in the Canal Zone would cause very considerable disorders in Egypt, probably resulting in invocation of the powers of the Security Council, et cetera. As a result of this warning by the Ambassador the British Government has now informed the Egyptian Government that it is prepared to abandon the idea of a base in the Canal Zone and to evacuate all British troops from Egypt and from the Canal Zone over a period of five years. They are willing to work out the stages of this evacuation starting with Cairo and Alexandria. The Foreign Office had expected that some announcement would have been made but probably they are still wrangling in Cairo over the five-year period.5

The British proposals also contemplate the establishment of an Anglo-Egyptian Joint Defense Board.

Sir Ronald Campbell is also to inform the Egyptian Government that this evacuation may impair British ability to carry out its treaty obligations regarding the defense of Egypt and therefore His Majesty’s Government will have to insist that the new treaty provide that all provisions of the treaty may be reviewed at the time the evacuation is completed in the light of all the circumstances then existing. Mr. Balfour was of the opinion that this meant that the British Government might not be willing to continue after the date of the evacuation provisions guaranteeing the defense of Egypt.

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Mr. Balfour also said that Mr. Bevin had said to the Secretary that the British had hoped that they were going to receive the trusteeship for Cyrenaica and if this could have happened the evacuation of Egypt would not have impaired British ability to play the role of protector in the Middle East.6 I thanked Mr. Balfour for this information.

Dean Acheson
  1. John Balfour, the British Minister.
  2. Mr. Byrnes was attending the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers which met at Paris from April 25 to May 15, 1946.
  3. In telegram 746, April 30, 1946, 1 p.m., from Cairo, Minister Tuck reported: “Campbell asked me if I had any opinion to offer. I replied frankly that I felt that when the Egyptians learned that the total evacuation of their country would take a period of five years it would come as a bitter blow. I reminded the Ambassador that general speculation locally as to the period of evacuation had varied from six months to a year and that I felt that it would be extremely difficult for the Sidky Govt in the face of strong Wafdist opposition to accept an evacuation proposal covering five years.” (741.83/4–3046)
  4. In his record of a discussion between Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Bevin on the Italian colonies and Egypt, H. Freeman Matthews, Political Adviser to the United States delegation at the Council of Foreign Ministers, wrote on April 27:

    “4. Italian Colonies and Egypt. Mr. Bevin then discussed the British position with regard to the Italian Colonies and his firm intention not to permit the Soviet Union to have a trusteeship in Tripolitania. The Secretary stated that he felt equally strongly on this question. Mr. Bevin then said in strict confidence that probably within the next 24 or 48 hours he was going to have to agree to the Egyptian Government’s insistent request that all British forces be withdrawn from Egypt. This would mean the abandonment of the Naval Base at Alexandria and withdrawal of British forces now stationed for the protection of the Suez Canal. This, he thought, would be a serious blow to the whole British position in the Near East with its vitally important oil resources. He said that in view of the Egyptian request he did not feel he could refuse, for most certainly the question would be brought before the Security Council and Great Britain would then be in the reverse position to that taken on Iran. The Secretary inquired whether they would be able to maintain the airfields in Egypt and Mr. Bevin replied in the negative. He said that possibly something might be worked out on this score, but the Egyptians were declining to discuss anything of the sort prior to British agreement to withdraw their forces from the country. He continued that this was the reason why he had hoped to obtain some strategic base rights in Cyrenaica, for otherwise he did not know what could be done to replace Alexandria in the protection of the Eastern Mediterranean. Mr. Byrnes pointed out that the American proposal with respect to Italian Colonies at least kept the Russians out of that area, to which Mr. Bevin agreed, but he seemed obviously unhappy about this latest development.” (740.00119 Council/4–2746)