Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Affairs ( Stabler )1 to the Director of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs ( Berry )
Subject: Anglo-Egyptian Negotiations
Background and Present Status
On March 21 the Egyptian Ambassador in London presented a letter from the Egyptian Prime Minister to Foreign Secretary Bevin regarding Anglo-Egyptian negotiations for the revision of the 1936 Treaty. In this letter Nahas Pasha requested the early opening, of conversations about the Suez and the Sudan, and expressed the Egyptian desire for an early evacuation of both areas. It is also understood that the letter expressed willingness to discuss future negotiations only after evacuation. At the same time the Egyptian Ambassador, apparently prompted by the King, suggested that Field Marshal Slim, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, pay another visit to Egypt.
Mr. Bevin thanked the Egyptian Ambassador for the letter and stated that while he regarded it as a personal communication and not as an official note, he would be glad to consider the points raised. This line was followed since the British Government did not wish the Egyptian Government to claim that official notes were being exchanged on this question. It appears, however, that the Egyptian press has [Page 290] been informed in general about both the March 21 letter and the subsequent British reply.
On May 17 Foreign Secretary Bevin sent a message to the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs through the Egyptian Ambassador in London. This message indicated that the UK desired a settlement of the Treaty question on the basis of mutual trust and equality, and suggested that as a first step Field Marshal Slim should visit Cairo on his way to Australia to discuss certain military aspects of the problem. The British Foreign Office has informed us that Field Marshal Slim’s line will be to impress upon the Egyptians their inability to defend themselves and the necessity for joint Anglo-Egyptian military collaboration. Slim will not discuss any political aspects of the question.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister has informed our Ambassador that the British reply makes no reference to the Egyptian desire for early evacuation and unification of the Nile Valley and that, on the contrary, it insists that military questions are now more important than political questions.
The Egyptian Foreign Minister has prepared a reply which is to be given to Foreign Secretary Bevin by the Egyptian Ambassador in London, in which he will state that the Egyptian Government will agree to military talks and will welcome the visit of Field Marshal Slim. He will also state that military talks, however, cannot take the place of political talks. Finally he will inquire whether the UK is ready to commence political talks on the basis of evacuation of both the Canal and the Sudan. It appears that the Egyptian Foreign Minister is upset by Bevin’s failure to reply directly to the March letter and to mention the points on which Egypt wishes to negotiate.
The UK is faced with two alternatives: 1) permit the Treaty to run until 1956 without making any effort to obtain a longer term agreement and then face the problem at that time; or 2) negotiate a new agreement now.
The British consider that the most important step at this time is to prepare a favorable atmosphere for the talks. They believe that King Farouk is favorably disposed to a satisfactory solution and that the present Egyptian Government, which is in a strong position, must reach some agreement if it is to live up to its campaign pledges. They also feel that time may modify some of the extreme and unrealistic views held by the Egyptian Government. It also is interesting to note that the British are wondering whether it might be advisable to scrap the agreement entirely and have some sort of multilateral agreement instead providing some ad hoc arrangements with a “political umbrella”.[Page 291]
With respect to the Sudan, the British are thinking of a time table which would result in the Sudan eventually negotiating its own future with Egypt and the UK.
Although there is evidence that the King and some of his close advisers are favorably disposed to a settlement of this problem, the Nahas Government continues to demand complete evacuation of Egypt and the Sudan before it will discuss any future arrangements. Recently the Foreign Minister has stated that there are four ways of dealing with the problem: 1) Negotiations with the British; 2) Appeal to the Security Council; 3) Appeal to the General Assembly; or 4) Appeal to the International Court. The Foreign Minister said that if necessary Egypt would in turn employ all four of these methods. The Egyptian Government has also approached the US Government with a view to obtaining support of the Egyptian position.
United States Attitude
We regard this question primarily one between the UK and Egypt. However, we have taken action recently to make quite clear to the Egyptian Government that there is no use for it to try to play off the US against the UK, and that we strongly support the maintenance by the UK of strategic facilities in Egypt. We have also pointed out that a satisfactory and reasonable solution is in Egypt’s own interest since Egypt can only stand to lose by instability in the Near East area, which would inevitably result from the military vacuum created by UK abandonment of its bases in Egypt.2
It would appear that the UK and Egyptian positions are still too far apart for successful political negotiations in the immediate future The British are unwilling to discuss evacuation of their bases unless some agreement is reached in advance regarding future arrangements. The Egyptians, on the other hand, will not discuss future arrangements until the evacuation has been completed. The most that can be hoped for is continued and increased military collaboration between [Page 292] the UK and Egypt. However, it is important that the Egyptians not be permitted to bring the political aspects to a head too soon and proceed with some ill-advised action such as referring the question back to the UN. Should it appear that the Egyptian Government is contemplating, for domestic political reasons, bringing the matter before the UN again, it might be advisable for the US to counsel moderation and patience. There is also the danger that the Wafd Government will inspire a violent press campaign on this issue against the US and the UK in order to cover up its inefficacy.
- Wells Stabler.↩
On May 2 the Department of State instructed the Embassy in Egypt to inform the Egyptian government that the United States strongly supports the United Kingdom on the grounds that:
“1. A satisfactory and reasonable solution is in Egypt’s own interest since Egypt can only stand to lose by instability in NE area which wld inevitably result from military vacuum created by UK abandonment of bases in Egypt.
“2. It is extremely important in interest security of NE and preservation world peace that UK have certain strategic facilities in Egypt particularly in Suez Canal Zone area.
“3. UK shld have right to maintain these facilities during peace time in such condition that they can be effectively and speedily used in case of immediate threat to security in NE.” (Telegram 367 to Cairo; 641.74/5–2450.)↩