Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State


Subject: Egyptian attitude regarding the following:

Uniting for peace resolution
Defense of the Near East
Relations with the U.K.

[Page 310]
Participants: Mohamed Salaheddin Bey, Foreign Minister of Egypt
Mohamed Kamil Bey Abdul Rahim, Egyptian Ambassador
The Secretary
NEA—Mr. McGhee1
NE—Mr. Day2

The Foreign Minister opened the discussion with a reference to certain amendments which his delegation had proposed for the Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly.3 Some of them had been accepted, he said, but the most important one had not. This amendment was to the effect that sensitive areas should be given priority in the supply of military equipment. He contended that some of the sponsoring governments had blocked it, in particular the United Kingdom. The U.K., he said, wished to keep Egypt weak so that it could maintain its troops there. I said that I had not been informed as to the positions of the other sponsoring states on this question.

Dr. Salaheddin then stated that Egypt was anxious to do its part in the defense of the Near East, in cooperation with the United Nations. However, so long as British troops were present in the country Egypt could never become strong enough, nor indeed would it be willing, to share in the common defense. The U.K. was assuming the responsibility for the defense of the area, and Egypt was not being permitted to play its part.

I asked if Egypt would care to see the British abandon their responsibility in this respect. The Foreign Minister replied that it would be happy to see this. Upon my expression of surprise at this view, he qualified it by stating that he had offered the U.K. very generous terms by which British troops could defend the area in time of war. These terms were:

The right of reentry for British troops in the event of war.
The use of British personnel to train the Egyptian army, during a transition period, to maintain the bases. This period would be about a year in duration, and throughout it British forces would be gradually decreased as Egyptians took their place.

The British, said Dr. Salaheddin, would not accept such terms either because they did not trust Egypt or because they wished to keep it weak. He could not understand any distrust in view of Egypt’s loyal cooperation in the two World Wars.

I asked if he was satisfied that Egypt could maintain the highly technical installations with its own personnel, and he replied that he was. He said that he had had a study made of all the jobs performed by British troops, and that Egyptians could fill all of them at once [Page 311] with the exception of several hundred. These they could fill after a year’s training.

The Foreign Minister said that the best way to achieve the security of the Near East was to arm the countries themselves. Maintenance of Western forces there was dangerous from the security point of view. Communists played upon it to good advantage, and the people resented it to the extent that they would be much less inclined to cooperate with the West. He said that they saw little purpose in defending one imperialism against another.

Mr. McGhee said that it might constitute a danger over the long-run, but that the immediate situation was serious and even a temporary power vacuum in the Near East would be dangerous.

Mr. McGhee then asked in what way the U.K. was blocking the efforts of Egypt to become strong, except that it was not at the present time supplying arms. Dr. Salaheddin replied that the U.K. was the only Western country to which Egypt could turn for arms. France and the U.S. needed their arms elsewhere, though he hoped that Egypt would eventually receive substantial quantities of arms from the latter. Mr. McGhee said that he could not see that the U.K. was doing any more than any other country to block Egyptian military development since the British Government was now unable to supply arms for the same reason that other countries were unable to do so, namely a greater need elsewhere. The Foreign Minister said Egypt might be forced to turn to the Soviet bloc, which was anxious to provide arms. He remarked that if the U.K. was interested in arming Egypt it could turn over the arms of British troops in the Canal area to Egyptian forcés, and then the British could go home.

He then turned to the question of the Sudan, stating that he desired to see a plebiscite taken there regarding the eventual disposition of that country. Such a plebiscite could only be taken under the auspices of the United Nations, however, since the Sudanese Government was in fact British and, he implied, could control an election. The U.K. did not wish a plebiscite under these conditions, he said.

The Foreign Minister concluded by apologizing for having taken up so much of my time. I replied that quite to the contrary, I appreciated very much the opportunity of learning Egypt’s views on these important questions directly from the Foreign Minister.

  1. George C. McGhee.
  2. Arthur R. Day.
  3. For documentation concerning this resolution, see vol. ii, pp. 303 ff.