NEA Files: Lot 55–D36

Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State

top secret

Chronology of Developments Stemming From Mr. Bevin’s Memorandum Regarding Raising the Standards of Living in the Middle East

By Top Secret telegram No. 50061 (Annex 20) the Embassy, London reported the Foreign Office’s intention to include “the improvement [Page 506] of standards of living in the Middle East2 as a preventive measure against Communism”, among the subjects to be discussed. This clearly had reference to a broad review of economic questions, including projects for economic development in the Middle East, and procedures for Anglo-American collaboration. A memorandum given to the Secretary of State by Mr. Bevin in Moscow last March,3 and several informal conversations between British Foreign Office and other interested British officials and our London Embassy during subsequent months, serve to indicate the scope and character of British views on the subject.

Mr. Bevin’s memorandum (Annex 21) refers to the British Government’s interest in improvement of economic conditions, agricultural methods, industrial production, and the general standard of living in the Middle East. Such improvement is favored as a contribution to internal stability and security of the area, and to reduce the danger of revolutionary development and of Communist penetration. The British Government therefore wishes to assist the Governments of Middle Eastern countries and stimulate them to work out schemes of economic development. The British Middle East Office in Cairo provides a staff of agricultural, labor, health and statistical advisers who are at the disposal of any of the Middle Eastern countries who wish to consult them. Several development proposals in the Middle East are mentioned, including particularly a comprehensive scheme of irrigation and flood control for Iraq. The far-reaching possibilities of this scheme are outlined in a note attached to Mr. Bevin’s memorandum. The British Government hopes to be able, with the good will of the Middle Eastern countries, to make an important contribution toward the extensive outside assistance which these development programs of the various countries will require. Mr. Bevin assumes that the United States shares the British views as to the importance of social and economic development in the Middle East and the raising of the general standard of living. He expects that United States activities in the area will also be maintained and developed, and believes this will provide considerable scope for Anglo-American coordination and cooperation [Page 507] in this important area. He expresses the hope that substantial assistance may be afforded in meeting financing requirements in suitable cases through the International Bank.

Substantially the same views have been developed in greater detail by officials of the Foreign Office and Middle East Secretariat in informal discussions with United States Embassy officers. The necessity for broad and balanced approach has been emphasized, including the necessity of dealing with problems of public health, surface drainage, agricultural methods and communications. Attention to these problems is necessary to assure that the beneficial effects of large and expensive irrigation projects do achieve their potential beneficial effects for the local population.

Methods of Anglo-American cooperation in the matter have also been discussed. Thus, according to airgram A–1458 (Annex 22) of June 27, 19474 from the Embassy, London, Mr. D. A. Greenhill of the Middle East Secretariat informed an Embassy officer that his office had been hard at work for some weeks drawing up an over-all British economic policy statement for the Middle East. He said this included a section recommending that there should be increased Anglo-American cooperation in connection with economic and cultural developments in the area. This section had been endorsed by the Interdepartmental Middle East Committee, for which the entire policy statement was being prepared, and the Middle East Committee had directed that a Working Party be set up under Mr. Greenhill’s chairmanship to study the possibilities of improved Anglo-American cooperation in this field.

By airgram A–1704 (Annex 23) of August 5, 1947,4 the Embassy, London reported a further conversation on the subject with Mr. Greenhill on July 29. Two schools of thought have been expressed in the meetings of Mr. Greenhill’s Working Party. “One felt that it was essential that there be a formal American-British organization which would divide responsibility for the problems of the area between the two countries, thus avoiding conflicts and preventing duplication. The proponents of this view were largely British officials who had served in the Near East.” The other, “which is in the ascendant”, was in line with a previous expression of Mr. Greenhill’s personal views (reported in London, Embassy airgram A–1458 of June 27 above-mentioned) to the effect that “in his opinion the fullest exchange of data in Washington and London on an informal basis might be of far more value than the establishment of a formal Anglo-American Committee, either in the Middle East or elsewhere to deal with economic and cultural problems”. In the July 29 conversation (reported in London Embassy [Page 508] airgram A–1704 of August 5 above-mentioned) Mr. Greenhill said “that he himself was coming around more and more to think that American-British cooperation in the area depends ‘more on a state of mind than anything else’. He thought that if both Governments were able to inculcate the proper state of mind, most problems could be worked out on the spot.”

On August 29, as reported in London Embassy telegram 4757 of September 25 (Annex 24), Mr. Greenhill advised that the report of his Working Party had now been approved by the Middle East Informal Committee. This report, he said, recommended informal rather than formal organized cooperation. Mr. Greenhill mentioned a circular instruction5 (Annex 25) despatched by the Foreign Office to all of its Middle East Missions in or around May 1944, instructing them to cooperate fully with United States Missions. He said that the Foreign Office was now considering the despatch of a further circular instruction to all its Middle East Missions reminding them of this earlier instruction. Asked whether there were any specific instances making such reminder necessary, he said there had been one or two instances in which the Foreign Office felt their people had been “unnecessarily secretive” with our people. He said the Foreign Office intended to send its circular reminder anyhow, but that it had occurred to them that the United States Government might wish to do the same thing.

The circular instructions referred to were sent by the Foreign Office at the same time that the Department of State sent circular instructions to the United States Missions in the Middle East, in May 1944,6 calling for close cooperation with British Missions in the area. These parallel instructions were the result of conversations held with British Foreign Office and other British officials by Mr. Wallace Murray, then Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs, who accompanied the Under Secretary of State on the occasion of Mr. Stettinius’ visit to London in the spring of 1944. In the course of these conversations questions of mutual interest to the United States and Great Britain through the Near and Middle East from Egypt to Afghanistan were informally reviewed. Cordial agreement was reached to the effect that there was no conflict between British and American interests in the area, and that a spirit of cooperation based on mutual frankness and good will should govern the conduct of Anglo-American relations throughout the area. It was further agreed that instructions should be sent to the United States and British Missions in the area with a view to the establishment of “machinery” in the Near and Middle East for the joint examination and immediate disposal of rumors, complaints [Page 509] and grievances, which if left unsettled might subsequently be ventilated publicly, with effects harmful to both sides. The telegrams by which the Department’s circular instructions were conveyed and correspondence with the British Embassy in Washington outlining the instructions despatched by the Foreign Office, are reproduced in Annex 26.7

On August 29, 1947, in the course of his conversations with an officer of the United States Embassy (as reported in Embassy telegram 4757 of September 2 above-mentioned), Mr. Greenhill intimated a desire for an early reply to the memorandum from Mr. Bevin to the Secretary of State, of March 1947. He said that until such reply was received by the Foreign Office, little action could be taken on his Working Party Report, approved by the Middle East Interdepartmental Committee, recommending that informal cooperation between United States and British Missions in the area should be stimulated. By telegram No. 5014 of September 167 (Annex 27), the United States Embassy, London reported further inquiries from Officers of the Eastern and Egyptian Departments of the Foreign Office as to when this reply might be expected. The British officials reiterated the view that the general economic problem in the Middle East is of growing importance.

Some explanation of this urgency of mind is indicated in airgram A–1990 7 (Annex 28) of September 26, 1947 from the Embassy London, which reports Mr. Greenhill as indicating that economic betterment in the Middle East is visualized “as a two-fold race against time”: the first “to immunize the Middle East from Communist doctrine by alleviating the economic and social disabilities which offer such a fertile ground for the spread of Communism”, and the second, a race against population increase, particularly in Egypt. Progress on the Lake Tana Dam project is termed urgent, as a means to provide enough additional irrigated land to cope with an Egyptian population expected to reach 26 millions in 1980.

Mr. Greenhill is further reported to have referred to the difficulty of obtaining firm commitments from the British Treasury and Board of Trade “as to what the British Government is prepared to spend on the well-being of the Middle East”. Owing to the economic crisis in Britain, it appears doubtful whether the British Government could do much more than give advice to. Arab states when they asked for it, and some assistance in the recruitment of British experts and teachers to be hired by the individual Arab states, through the British Middle East Office in Cairo and the British Middle East Secretariat in London. [Page 510] “It is beginning to look”, the United States Embassy representative was informed “as though only the United States Government can give practical help to the Middle East. We certainly hope that you will”.

Meanwhile a preliminary reply to Mr. Bevin’s memorandum (which had been previously acknowledged by a note to the British Embassy dated July 3, 19478) had been prepared in the Department. This proposed reply indicated concurrence in the views expressed by Mr. Bevin as to the importance of improving economic conditions in the Middle East and expressed concurrence in the desirability of taking the fullest advantage of all appropriate opportunities for useful Anglo-American cooperation. It indicated a desire for free and fully cooperative relationships between British and American Missions in the Middle East, and expressed the intention to consider what further steps might be taken by the Department for that purpose. It suggested as the best immediate approach to the subject that the Embassy convey this favorable general reaction to the interested British officials and propose further informal discussions to develop more specifically just what they have in mind.

The proposed reply further referred to the importance of avoiding not only in fact, but also in appearance, the creation of any impression that the British and United States Governments had private arrangements for the division of countries or areas of the Middle East into spheres of economic influence, or for Anglo-American cooperation which in effect would establish a practical monopoly for dealing with the peoples of the Middle East, thus depriving them of their freedom of choice. Reference was also made to the importance of encouraging local and regional initiative.

In view however of the reference in the Foreign Office’s Top Secret telegram No. 5006 of September 16 to the improvement of Middle East living standards as a subject for discussion in the proposed conversations, action on this proposed reply was suspended. Instead, the Embassy, London was advised9 of our intention to take the occasion of the discussions to indicate a favorable general response to Mr. Bevin’s memorandum and to suggest 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.

  1. Annex 2, p. 502.
  2. Loy W. Henderson, Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, had discussed the subject with John Balfour, the British Minister, on August 6, 1946, and several weeks before. Mr. Henderson’s memorandum of the August 6 conversation notes that the British Foreign Office had proposed to induce creation by the Arab League of an organization for developing economic, social, and cultural activities and to encourage establishment of specialized regional agencies, with the British Middle East Office to offer them advice and personnel. Mr. Henderson’s immediate reaction had been “that conferences held under the auspices of the Arab League, the British Middle East Office, or similar organizations, would not be of much assistance in solving the difficult problem of Near East social and economic reform … a more dynamic approach was necessary.” (890.50/8–646)
  3. See p. 503.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. See telegram 1167, May 17, 1944, to Cairo, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. v, p. 6.
  9. Not printed.
  10. Not printed.
  11. Not printed.
  12. See footnote 35, p. 505.
  13. In telegram 4169, September 26, 5 p. m., to London, not printed.