The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Harriman) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 24—3:06 p.m.]
5434. Top secret and personal for the Secretary. Bevin called me over to the House of Commons during the midday recess today to explain the difficulty he was having in Egypt. As you know the British are meeting resistance from the Egyptians on their latest proposals in connection with the withdrawal of their troops and military establishments from Egypt over a period of 5 years. In the wave of nationalistic feeling Sidky is insisting that the withdrawal should be at once. According to Bevin, Sidky has stated that his “friends” believe that the retirement should and can be immediate. Bevin’s impression is that his “friends” include American representatives in Egypt possibly American officers. He is however not at all sure of this and wants it to be understood that he is in no sense critical of any [Page 73] of our people. He went on to explain that at the meeting of Arab leaders on Tuesday, May 28, to discuss the Palestine problem7 they will also discuss secretly, according to his information, the whole problem of mutual defense. Underlying is the grave fear of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East.
Bevin requests if you find it consistent with American policy that you request our Minister in Cairo to have a most informal talk with King Farouk indicating our interest in the whole question of the defense of the Middle East. Bevin suggests that before this talk it would be well for our Minister to see Lord Stansgate in order to get the full details of the situation from the British viewpoint. It may be that the King will suggest that Tuck see Sidky Pasha as well but it is not clear whether this would be desirable.
Bevin further explained it is his conviction that the Egyptians will be able to develop a reasonably good military establishment if the British sincerely assist them. He contends that previous governments have offered to help the Egyptians but failed in fact to do so. He is anxious if possible to work out some sort of an arrangement which would give the British some military rights in Egypt for quick use of advance bases in cooperation with the Egyptians in the defense of the Canal Zone along the lines of our arrangements with Canada,8 or else perhaps a lease of bases similar to that the British granted us in Bermuda, West Indies,9 etc. He is not discouraged and still hopes something can be worked out because he feels that the British Government is for the first time sincere in its objective to respect and assist full Egyptian sovereignty. He told me that he intended to indicate to Parliament today that the first British move should be to help the Egyptians solve their problem of debilitating diseases coming from the infected water supply. In this connection he hopes that he can get the assistance of American experts such as the Rockefeller Institute who have had such great experience in combatting disease on a large scale. He believes realistically that the reduction of disease in Egypt is the first stage in the advancement of that country.
Bevin feels that if you are willing to indicate in the most general way our interest in the security of the Arab World to King Farouk without of course any commitment or participation it will materially assist him in bringing his negotiations out of the emotional stage it is now in to a realistic discussion. He realizes time is very short but [Page 74] still hopes that you can ask our Minister in Cairo to take some action prior to the May 28th meeting.
Bevin points out incidentally that if he can work out something reasonable with the Egyptians it may relieve necessity of his pressing for bases in Cyrenaica.
I would greatly appreciate being informed of your decision in this matter as I would like to be able to explain it to Bevin. Bevin is on a hot spot over Egypt because of the House debate and Churchill’s10 attack in the middle of the negotiations.
I am impressed with Bevin’s sincerity in attempting to forward the moral issue of full respect for Egypt’s sovereignty in the withdrawal of British troops and at the same time realistically dealing with the security needs of the Canal and the Middle East.11
- A meeting of the Arab League on Palestine was held at Inchass, Egypt, on May 28 and 29, 1946.↩
- For documentation on the agreement between the United States and Canada concerning the establishment of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, pp. 144 ff.↩
- For documentation on this subject, see ibid., pp. 49 ff.↩
- Winston S. Churchill, leader of the Conservatives, the opposition party in the House of Commons.↩
- On May 9, 1946, Mr. Bevin had sent a memorandum to Mr. Byrnes at Paris which read: “Now that the British statement regarding the ultimate evacuation of British forces from Egypt has been issued, the British Government would be glad if the United States Government could emphasise to the Egyptian Government their interest in the security of the Middle East. It is suggested that the United States Government might urge upon the Egyptian Government the importance of providing and maintaining the necessary military facilities in their territory.” The memorandum was transmitted to the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson) by the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews) on May 20 with the notation: “So far as I know there was no discussion between the two with regard to its content.” (890.20/5–946)↩