Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Satterthwaite)

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Participants: Lord Inverchapel, British Ambassador
Mr. Lovett, Under Secretary
Mr. Satterthwaite, NEA

Lord Inverchapel called at 3:00 p. m. today with the reply which he had received from his Government to Mr. Lovett’s suggestion, made to the Ambassador on January 26, that the British should if possible, in view of the pressure being brought in Congress to have the U.S. embargo on arms to the Middle East raised, issue a statement to the effect that they have suspended all shipments of arms to the Arab states. (Reported in full in Deptel 256, January 26, 7 p. m. to London.) As he was instructed to deliver the reply orally, the Ambassador did so by reading aloud his original telegraphic instruction, of which the following is a full summary:

HMG are responsible for Palestine until the mandate terminates on May 15 next. British troops may not be out until August 1. If the U.S. Government were to modify its position with reference to its embargo on arms to the Middle East two results would follow: (1) These arms would be used against the British, and (2) the British Navy would have to consider whether to allow ships carrying such arms to land in Palestinian ports.

HMG are bound by treaties of alliance with Iraq, Transjordan and Egypt. In respect of Egypt and Iraq they have entered into agreements for the supply of arms. They consider the fulfillment of these agreements necessary to prevent internal disorder and Communist penetration. To desist without the agreement of these two countries would be a violation of treaty obligations, the observance of which it should be to the advantage of our two countries to encourage, and would strike at the root of the friendly relations which the British maintain with them.

HMG have adopted the following attitude with reference to the supply of arms:

No arms destined for Palestine should be authorized, and
The only supplies being sent at present are in respect of longstanding orders on certain items to bring the local requirements up to the scale necessary for internal purposes and which arise out of treaty and contractual obligations.

The Ambassador is therefore to urge on the Under Secretary the dangers of our altering our position. If the U.S. have any doubts on [Page 582] this subject these issues should be considered by the British and U.S.; Services, the Embassy and the State Department in order to arrive at a joint assessment of the strategic and political stakes involved.

In any case HMG could not depart from existing treaty and contractual obligations without the consent of the other states concerned. Without violating any of Mr. Lovett’s confidences, HMG are therefore informing these other Governments of the U.S. position, saying that it looks as if the pressure being brought on the U.S. Government to lift the arms embargo could be avoided only if HMG were to suspend delivery of materials for say six months with a view to reviewing the situation at the end of that period. They are being informed that only with the consent of those countries with which HMG have contractual obligations would such action be taken. They are being asked what their decision would be if the matter came to the point where a decision was inevitable.

You are to say to Mr. Lovett that these Middle Eastern countries will inevitably ask whether, if they are to agree to the abandonment of the supply of arms by the British, the U.S. will continue to enforce its embargo. It is clear that only the U.S. Government can answer this question. If in spite of the considerations hitherto advanced the U.S. decides it cannot maintain the embargo unless HMG withhold all deliveries, it is suggested that U.S. Government at once explore with the Middle Eastern countries concerned their willingness to forego the receipt of arms provided the present U.S. ban is maintained. You should leave Mr. Lovett under no illusion as to the gravity of the issue he has raised, both in respect of the relations of our two countries with the Middle Eastern countries and as between ourselves. It is therefore urged that all concerned will reflect most earnestly on the wide considerations of strategic and political policy involved.

After the Ambassador had read the foregoing message, the Under Secretary summarized his understanding of it and commented that he had then been given nothing to tell Congress except that the British felt that they must continue to deliver arms for internal security purposes if assured such arms would not be used in Palestine. The Under Secretary felt it would be of no avail to make any such statement to Congress. This was a matter for the British Government to decide but in his view a statement in such limited terms might do more harm than good, since it would serve only to emphasize the fact that the British are in fact furnishing arms to certain Arab states. About the only thing we can do therefore is to let the matter ride as it is and hope that the U.S. can nevertheless succeed in maintaining the arms embargo.

If these are the facts we must face them, Mr. Lovett had hoped that the British Government would be able to take prompt action along the lines he had suggested. Perhaps at some future date the British will be able to say that they did endeavor to persuade those countries with which they have treaty and contractual obligations to release them from these obligations.

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The Under Secretary asked the Ambassador to thank the Foreign Office for the kind and prompt consideration it had given his request and to say that we will consider the information they have given us and hope that we may nevertheless be successful in holding the line as at present.

Lord Inverchapel enquired whether the British suggestion that the U.S. and British Services, the State Department and the British Embassy should assess the strategic stakes involved was not worthy of adoption. Mr. Lovett replied that he thought it would be impossible to hold such meetings without someone in the Foreign Office giving it out to the press. He therefore doubted the wisdom of holding such meetings. The Ambassador remarked that his Government had often felt in the past that more leaks had come out of Washington than out of London but that at the moment he had to confess that the British were several points up on us, Mr. Lovett retorted that he couldn’t guarantee that we wouldn’t catch up with them later.

In reply to the Ambassador’s question as to whether we might wish to follow the British suggestion that we explore the arms embargo problem with the Middle Eastern countries, the Under Secretary indicated that we would only reach a decision on this matter after careful consideration, but that he very much doubted whether any good result could be obtained by our taking the matter up with those countries.1

Lord Inverchapel asked Mr. Lovett to let him know when a decision had been reached on this phase of the matter and Mr. Lovett said he would be glad to do so.2

The Ambassador enquired whether the American public were generally aware of the fact that the British are at present refusing to ship any arms to Palestine and wondered whether it might be of some help if the British Government were to make a statement along these lines. Mr. Lovett thought that perhaps there wasn’t a full understanding of this point in the U.S. and that a statement along these lines might be of some help, although the Zionists would of course at once point [Page 584] out that their real concern was with the shipment of arms to neighboring states. The Ambassador remarked that he might suggest to his Government the desirability of making the British position on this point clear through the device of raising a question in Parliament.

  1. Mr. Henderson, in a memorandum of February 11 to Mr. Lovett and Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs Norman Armour, opposed making such an approach to the Arab Governments because “It would not be likely to lead to helpful results for the United States Government at this time to intervene in a matter which pertains primarily to relations between Great Britain and the Arab states” and because “The United States should not restrict its freedom of action by promising the Arab Governments to continue the present embargo. It is possible that recommendations of appropriate organs of the United Nations may cause the United States to alter its policies in this respect.” (867N.01/2–1148)
  2. Mr. Henderson’s memorandum recommended that the British Ambassador be informed orally of the Department’s decision, but the editors were unable to find any record that this was actually done.