NEA Files: Lot 55–D36
Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State
Chronological Summary of Correspondence and Exchanges of Views Leading up to the Discussions With the British on the Middle East, With Texts of More Important Documents Attached as Annexes
In a note dated July 301 (Annex 1) the British Chargé d’Affaires in Washington informed the Department that his Government had decided that they must, on financial and manpower grounds, withdraw British troops from Greece and reduce those in Italy to 5,000. After consultation with the War and Navy Departments, this Department instructed Ambassador Douglas2 (Annexes 2 and 33) to make strong representations to Mr. Bevin that British troops be retained (a) in Greece until after final consideration of the Greek case by the Security Council and the General Assembly, and following that, after realistic appraisal and full and frank exchange of views by the US and UK Governments, and (b) in Italy until a study had been made of the status of our respective forces by the military authorities of both countries. For Ambassador Douglas’ guidance in discussing this matter with Mr. Bevin, we pointed out that while we were aware of the critical nature of the British financial position, we did not feel that the full story had been conveyed to us, and we feared that we were being faced with the first of a series of actions stemming from new policies unknown to us. The British, we felt, must be made to understand that if these actions presaged a basic revision of British foreign policy involving a progressive withdrawal from previous commitments and previously held positions as a result of internal political pressures and not economic necessity alone, the United States must be told now of such probable course.
In a telegram dated August 34 (Annex 4), Ambassador Douglas reported that Mr. Bevin, in reply to our representations, had said that the reduction in British overseas forces had not yet been definitely fixed, that such reduction did not imply any change whatsoever in British foreign policy, and that if a change were at any time contemplated we would be given ample notice and full opportunity for consultation. Ambassador Douglas added that on the basis of conversations [Page 489] with members or the Labor, Liberal and Conservative Parties, he (Ambassador Douglas) felt that the proposed reduction in a British overseas force was “in response to a widely held view in Britain, quite irrespective of party affiliations” The reductions which Mr. Bevin has in mind, however, are substantially less than those advocated by the left wing back benchers.
In a Parliamentary Debate on August 6, Prime Minister Attlee stated “I must emphasize that despite this acceleration in the rate of withdrawal from overseas stations, and although certain calculated risks are being taken, there is no change in our foreign policy or in the defense policy which underlies our foreign policy”.
On August 75 (Annex 5), Ambassador Douglas was requested to inform Mr. Bevin of the grave apprehension of American officials in Greece and Italy over the proposed withdrawal of British troops. With respect to Greece, we reiterated our view that British troops should not be withdrawn until after final consideration of the Greek case by the Security Council and the General Assembly, and pointed out that at that time the matter could be reexamined in the light of circumstances then existing and a decision taken in full awareness of the future course of US and UK action regarding the Greek situation. Mr. Bevin replied that he understood our position as well as the serious consequences which might follow, and gave assurances that no action was contemplated in the near future with respect to either Greece or Italy.
On August 22 , the British Embassy transmitted to the Department a personal message6 (Annex 6) for the Secretary from Mr. Bevin stating that while he was suggesting to the British Chiefs of Staff that they discuss the matter with the US Chiefs of Staff, he and his colleagues, after most careful and anxious thought, had decided that on every ground it was essential that the withdrawal of British troops from Greece be completed during the Autumn and from Italy by December 31. He added that what was most necessary was to stabilize the situation in Greece through prompt increases in the effective strength of the Greek army as desired by the Greek Government and considered by the British military as “justified and desirable to enable the Greek armed forces to continue to conduct effective operations against the bandits”.
The Secretary, commenting to the Department from Petropolis7 (Annex 7) on Mr. Bevin’s message, stated that he did not accept either [Page 490] the premises or the categorical position taken by Mr. Bevin; that he could not reconcile Mr. Bevin’s stated essentiality of British withdrawals by Autumn with the drastically changed conditions that have occurred since March, and that he felt Mr. Bevin must realize that the problem is much larger than the mere offset of British withdrawals by an increase in the Greek army as Mr. Bevin suggested. With respect to Italy, the Secretary stated his concern rested with the maintenance of at least a status quo in that area. The Secretary concluded with “they are far too casual or free-handed in passing the buck of the international dilemma to the United States with little or no consideration for the harmful results”.
On August 27, the Department transmitted to the Secretaries of War and Navy8 the text of Mr. Bevin’s message and the gist of the Secretary’s comments with the request that the matter be referred to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff for study of the military implications of a British withdrawal from Greece and for consultation with the British Chiefs of Staff with a view to formulating positive military recommendations to both governments. It was further suggested that the possibility be explored of removing British forces of an even larger number than contemplated from areas where the withdrawal would have less significant consequences.
On August 29, the representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff submitted for discussion in the Combined Chiefs of Staff a paper9 which indicated that they were not in a position to recommend postponement on the decision of the British Government to withdraw troops from Greece by October 31. As a means of offsetting the political effect of such withdrawal, they suggested augmentation of the Greek Army and Air Force.
On August 3010 (Annex 8), we informed Ambassador Douglas that the British Embassy had inquired whether it would be agreeable to our military authorities for the British members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff to discuss with them the contents of Mr. Bevin’s note. We had replied that we had asked our Joint Chiefs to study the matter and possibly discuss it with the British military authorities, but that we did not accept either the premises or the categorical position on deadlines taken by Mr. Bevin. On September 1, Ambassador Douglas telegraphed11 (Annex 9) that he had informed Mr. Bevin of our views and that Mr. Bevin had enumerated three considerations which made his government most anxious to proceed with the removal of British [Page 491] troops: (a) he (Mr. Bevin) had told Mr. Byrnes over a year ago, and Mr. Marshall at Moscow, that he could not keep troops in Greece interminably; (b) he was under great political pressure at home to withdraw the troops; and (c) his government did not know our policy toward the Middle East, for example, the disposition of Cyrenaica, Ambassador Douglas’ telegram concludes the following with “He (Mr. Bevin) put forward as a purely personal suggestion the following: That we jointly review the whole position in the Middle East, including Cyrenaica, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Persia for the purpose of arriving at a gentlemen’s understanding in regard to a common policy and joint responsibility throughout the area, with Britain acting as the front and ourselves supplying the moral support. He said he may put this to his Cabinet, but inferred that he would like to have our views to the above personal suggestion before doing so. …”12
In a letter dated September 513 (Annex 10), signed jointly by the Secretaries of War and Navy, the Department was informed that while the Joint Chiefs appreciated that the British troops in Greece were not able nor intended to withstand armed attack, their presence was symbolical of the determination of Great Britain and the western democracies to insure the continued independence of the Greek State. They therefore had a marked influence on the Greek internal situation, and their withdrawal would constitute grave danger, through augmented guerrilla attacks, of Greece coming under Communist control, thus placing the USSR in a position to interdict shipping through the Mediterranean and to outflank Turkey to the west, north and east. The relationship to western democracies of Italy and Iran would be lessened and access by the US and UK to the petroleum products of the Middle East, which are essential to their economic welfare and military potential, would be jeopardized. The letter continues by stating that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have not concurred in the proposals of the British Chiefs of Staff with respect to the timing of the withdrawal of British forces, and points out that the US Joint Chiefs feel that such a withdrawal would surely result in a marked deterioration of our overall strategic position in the Mediterranean and might well provoke a critical situation in Greece itself.
At this point in our negotiations with the British, the question of the withdrawal of British troops from Italy ceased to have importance in view of the decision of the USSR to deposit ratification of the Italian Peace Treaty, thus, in effect, providing for the withdrawal of both British and US troops before the end of the year.[Page 492]
On September 8, the Department telegraphed Ambassador Douglas14 (Annex 11) the substance of the joint letter from the Secretaries of War and Navy as a basis of further discussion with Mr. Bevin. The Ambassador was asked to inform Mr. Bevin, in reply to the latter’s inquiry of September 1 concerning our policy with respect to the British position in the Middle East, that the “…15 fundamental cornerstone of our thinking is the maintenance of Britain’s position to the greatest possible extent. The US counts heavily upon continued close British-American cooperation in the Middle East. How this can best be maintained requires extremely careful consideration in the light of developments in the Middle East as a whole, taking into account the popular sentiment in the countries of the area and the external pressures and influences which may be brought to bear upon them”. The Ambassador was also asked to inform Mr. Bevin that the Secretary fully agreed with Mr. Bevin’s suggestion for a joint review by the US and UK of the whole position in the Middle East, with “a view to arriving at an understanding in regard to a common policy”, and that we were prepared to begin as soon as possible conversations which we felt should be divided into two steps: “First, on a military planning level to be arranged through the Chiefs of Staff and to take place in Washington, and, second, on a top political level at a place to be mutually agreed upon”. Pending these talks, we would of course hope that the British Government would postpone any steps looking toward the withdrawal of troops from Greece.
On September 9, Mr. Bevin outlined to Ambassador Douglas and Mr. Henderson his views on a number of Near Eastern problems. Mr. Henderson’s memorandum16 (Annex 12) written after the conversation, but in the first person, as if Mr. Bevin were speaking, contains the following pertinent statements:
[Here follow the second paragraph under “Greece”; the last two sentences under “American-British Discussion with Regard to the Problems of the Near East”; paragraphs two (except for the first three sentences) and three under “Egypt”; the last sentence under “Cyrenaica”; the first two sentences under “Transjordan”; and the last paragraph under “Iraq”, all included in Annex 1 to this document.]
On September 12 the Department telegraphed Ambassador Douglas17 (Annex 13) the information contained in a letter dated September 11 from the Secretary of War for use in further conversations with Mr. Bevin. The principle points brought out were (1) that it would present for us a serious question, vis-à-vis Congress, if we [Page 493] were forced to replace British troops with our own, and (2) the breaking of a common front in Greece through the withdrawal of British forces would undoubtedly cause a wave of resentment in this country against the British, which could have most serious effect in other areas where we have joint interests and could prejudice US support for continued aid under the Marshall Plan.
On September 12 the British Ambassador called on the Secretary and said that Mr. Bevin was anxious to have the talks take place in London. The Secretary replied that for a variety of reasons this was not desirable, one of which being that there would be little likelihood of publicity if the talks took place in Washington by members of the British Military Staff Mission and their opposite numbers in the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Ambassador concurred in the idea.18
In a telegram dated September 1219 (Annex 14), Ambassador Douglas reported Mr. Bevin as saying that he would like to withdraw one battalion of not over 800 men from Greece, leaving the remainder there until at least December 15. He felt that such a withdrawal would satisfy his own political situation and serve as a precedent for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Bulgaria. He added entirely personally that events between now and December 15 would in his opinion justify keeping troops in Greece longer. In a telegram dated September 13 to Ambassador Douglas20 (Annex 15), we agreed reluctantly to the withdrawal of one battalion provided (a) we were given definite assurances there would be no further reductions at least until December 15, and (b) the withdrawal was accomplished quietly without publicity in Greece and in a manner which would not create the impression that this was a start of a larger withdrawal movement.
In a note dated September 16 (Annex 16), Lord Inverchapel informed Mr. Lovett that “Mr. Bevin asks me to explain to you that he is doubtful of the desirability of starting these discussions on a purely military footing since our object is to coordinate policy over the whole area, taking into consideration political and economic implications as well as military. He thinks, therefore, that valuable time [Page 494] would be lost and nothing much gained by purely military preliminary talks. He suggests that the first stage should be discussions between our political and military experts, who would prepare recommendations for submission to Mr. Marshall and himself. Mr. Bevin will not be going to New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations and his first opportunity of seeing Mr. Marshall will therefore be at the Meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London. As you know, it is now tentatively proposed that this meeting should begin on the 25th November. Mr. Bevin proposes that I should lead the British side in the initial informal talks and that I should be assisted by a senior officer of the Foreign Office and representatives of the British Chiefs of Staff. His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom expect to be ready to begin the conversations early in October.”21
On the economic side of the problem, Ambassador Douglas telegraphed22 the Department (see Part A–323) the Foreign Office’s intention to include “the improvement of standards of living in the Middle East as a preventive measure against Communism”, among the subjects to be discussed. It thus became clear that the Foreign Office contemplated including in the scope of the discussions a broad consideration of economic development matters in the Middle East, and Anglo-American collaboration on them, this was the subject of a memorandum given to the Secretary of State by Mr. Bevin in Moscow last March,24 and of several informal conversations between British Foreign Office and other interested British officials and our London Embassy. The Department replied to Ambassador Douglas on September 2625 that it was our intention to take the occasion of the discussions to indicate a favorable general response to Mr. Bevin’s memorandum and to suggest [Page 495] that the matter be made the subject of further exploratory discussion in order that the British ideas might be more definitely determined and the possibilities of useful action ascertained.
On September 17 26 Ambassador Douglas reported that the Acting Head of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office had recommended early preparations and exchange of agenda for the talks. Among items on the British list were Palestine, a British base in Cyrenaica, Anglo-Egyptian disputes, and improvement of Middle East living standards as preventive measures against Communism. The British felt that the US would probably wish to talk about Greater Syria among other matters.
In a letter dated September 22,27 Lord Inverchapel informed Mr. Lovett that his Government hoped to be able to commence the conversations about October 11. The Department replied orally to the Embassy that this date was satisfactory.
On September 24 (Annex 1727), Mr. Lovett replied to Lord Inver-chapel’s letter of September 16 stating: “In general we are prepared to accept Mr. Bevin’s suggestion of having the initial talks cover both the political and military fields. We feel sure that these talks can be arranged in such a manner that tentative exchanges of political views could take place almost simultaneously with discussions among the military in order that there may evolve a synchronization of ideas. Following these exchanges it would be extremely helpful if the recommendations resulting from these discussions could later be reviewed by Mr. Marshall and Mr. Bevin.”
On September 29 the British Embassy left with the Department informally a paraphrase of a telegram27 (Annex 18) from the Foreign Office covering the following points:
(1) “They (the Foreign Office) do not envisage the military talks as detailed staff conversations leading to a plan for the defence of the Middle East, and would like to make this quite clear. Their idea is to work out a common line of action in the political and economic field, based on an agreed appreciation of the strategical position. For this reason they consider that the military experts’ assessment of the strategic factors should be brought to bear on each political problem, but they are quite prepared to leave the details of the manner in which this should be achieved to be settled when the talks begin”, and (2): “Their idea is that in the West the talks should include the former Italian colonies in North Africa, but not Italy and not Greece and Turkey, on the last two of which separate discussions have been undertaken. In the East they consider that the discussions should cover countries up to and including Afghanistan, but not India or Pakistan.”
The British Embassy was told informally on October 2 that the Department’s initial reaction to the Foreign Office’s latest message was (1) that we were not prepared to agree to the latest British proposal which subjugated the military talks to the political-economic talks, as we felt that the two aspects of the problem should at least be on a par, and (2) that we could not agree to the omission of Greece and Turkey which necessarily played such a vital part in Mediterranean and Near Eastern planning.
On October 6 the British Embassy informally notified the Department28 (Annex 19), that the Foreign Office now concurred in our views that the military talks should be considered as of equal importance with the political and economic. The Foreign Office had also stated that it had not intended that Greece and Turkey should be rigidly excluded from the conversations since it agreed that any strategic review would naturally include those countries.
In a telegram dated October 8,29 the Embassy in London stated that Michael Wright, Superintending Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, and Mr. Greenhill of the Middle East Secretariat, were leaving for Washington on October 11, and were being proceeded by General Hollis, Brigadier Mallaby, and Air Vice Marshal Foster.
On October 9, the Department tentatively agreed with the British Embassy, subject to Mr. Lovett’s concurrence, that the talks should commence on October 14.
- Ante, p. 268.↩
- Lewis W. Douglas, Ambassador in the United Kingdom.↩
- See Secretary of State Marshall’s telegram to Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and telegram 3304 to London, both dated August 1, pp. 273, 274.↩
- No. 4214, p. 277.↩
- In telegram 3396, p. 287.↩
- See p. 301.↩
- Not printed.↩
- For the letter to the Secretary of War, see p. 317; regarding the letter to the Secretary of the Navy, see footnote 1, p. 318.↩
- For further discussion of this paper, CCS 972, see the joint letter of September 5 from the Secretaries of War and the Navy to the Secretary of State, p. 327.↩
- In telegram 3799 to London, p. 319.↩
- No. 4743, p. 321.↩
- Omission appears in the original.↩
- Ante, p. 327.↩
- No. 3883, p. 330.↩
- Omission appears in the source text.↩
- Printed as Annex 1, infra.↩
- No. 3970, not printed, but see footnote 1, p. 336.↩
- The memorandum of this conversation by the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Hickerson) set forth also Secretary Marshall’s view that the talks should be separated into two phases, the first to “be an exchange of views at the military planning level on the strategic situation in the area.” The second phase should “be on a high political level,” to “be arranged after the military talks have taken place since they will have to be based on [in] considerable part on the military talks. The time and place of the high level political talks should be agreed upon later.” The Secretary of State suggested the possibility of starting the political talks in New York should Mr. Bevin attend the forthcoming meeting of the General Assembly. Should Mr. Bevin not attend the meeting, then the political talks might be started after the military talks had made some progress (890.20/9–1247).↩
- No. 4952, p. 337.↩
- No. 3988, not printed, but see footnote 1, p. 337.↩
- The initial part of
Lord Inverchapel’s note G.214/ /47 to Mr. Lovett read as follows:
“Mr. Bevin asks me to thank you for the reply, which has now been
delivered to him by the United States Ambassador in London, to his
proposal for an informal review by our two Governments of our policy
in the Near and Middle East. Mr. Bevin welcomes your general
agreement with his proposal.
“I understand, however, that the State Department suggested that these conversations should begin as soon as possible and should be in two stages: first, military discussions to take place in Washington, and second, high-level political discussions at a place to be commonly agreed.”
The concluding two paragraphs stated: “I should be grateful if you could let me know whether Mr. Bevin’s proposals are acceptable to the United States Government.
“Mr. Bevin wishes me to say that he is sure that the State Department will agree that the utmost secrecy should be observed regarding these proposed discussions.” (711.90/9–1647)↩
- No. 5006, September 16; printed as Annex 2, p. 502.↩
- The reference is to the “Chronology of Developments Stemming from Mr. Bevin’s Memorandum Regarding Raising the Standards of Living in the Middle East”, p. 505.↩
- Undated memorandum transmitted to the Secretary of State by Mr. Bevin on March 20; printed as Annex 3, p. 503.↩
- In telegram 4169, not printed.↩
- In telegram 5006, p. 502.↩
- Not printed.↩
- Not printed.↩
- Not printed.↩
- Memorandum of conversation by the Chief of the Division of South Asian Affairs (Hare), not printed.↩
- No. 5426, not printed.↩
- For the text of the pertinent part of Ambassador Johnson’s statement before the Security Council on August 28 and the “Explanations” furnished to the British, see telegram 3800, August 30, to London, p. 803.↩
- Not printed.↩
- For documentation on this subject, see pp. 738 ff.↩
Transmitted with a memorandum of March 20, 1947, which stated: “When we met on the 18th March I promised to let you have a memorandum on Social and Economic Development in the Middle East.
“I now enclose this memorandum with a special annex describing the work of the Haigh Irrigation Commission in Iraq. I hope you will be able to find time to give it your attention.”
The original copy of Mr. Bevin’s memorandum to the Secretary of State has not been found in Department of State files. The copy used here was sent by the Department to the Ambassador in Egypt in instruction 1877, April 23, 1947.
Messrs. Marshall and Bevin were at Moscow participating in the Fourth Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers which met there from March 10 to April 24, 1947.↩
- Undated paper entitled “Development of Irrigation in Iraq”, not printed.↩
- The editor is unable to find in Department of State files a copy of Secretary Marshall’s reply to Mr. Bevin’s memorandum. Airgram A–901, September 25, 1947, to London, contains information that the Secretary’s acknowledgment, sent on March 27, stated that the memorandum was being forwarded to the Department of State for study (890.50/9–1647). In a note of July 3, the Secretary of State informed the British Ambassador that the memorandum was “receiving the careful attention of officials of the Department of State and that a further communication will be addressed to the Ambassador at such time as it is possible to complete the Department’s study thereof.” (890.50/3–2047).↩