Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs (McGhee) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews)1

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Subject: Letter to the Secretary of Defense regarding the Anglo-Egyptian question.


At a meeting on October 26 between the U.S. and British Chiefs of Staff at which Ambassador Jessup represented the Department and the British Ambassador the British Foreign Office, it was agreed that the Department and the Foreign Office should discuss further the advisability of a joint approach to Egypt pointed towards a tripartite agreement on bases and equipment with Egypt.2

It is believed desirable to request the Defense Department to indicate whether a price should be paid, and, if so, how high a price, having in mind that this “price” might be the deciding factor as to whether the British retain their strategic facilities in Egypt.

As you will recall this letter was originally sent up to the Secretary for his signature, but it was decided that because of the urgent developments in Korea, it would be inadvisable to present this matter on a high priority basis. However, in view of the discussion of October 26, we believe that it is essential that the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the problem as soon as conveniently possible.


That you sign the attached letter (Tab A) to Secretary of Defense Marshall.3

[Tab A]

Draft Letter From the Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Secretary of Defense (Marshall)4

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My Dear General Marshall: I quote the following agreed minute regarding the meeting of October 26, 1950, between the United States and British chiefs of staff. On this occasion Ambassador Jessup represented [Page 327] the Department and the British Ambassador the British Foreign Office.

Egyptian Base Facilities

“It was agreed that the State Department and Foreign Office would conduct further discussions on the advisability of a joint approach to the Egyptians pointed towards a tripartite agreement on bases and equipment with Egypt. The question was raised as to the positive results which might be obtained, but it was further observed that, at the least, the proposed course of action would give the Egyptians opportunity to say that the end result was a joint defense agreement with two great world powers and Egypt, all on an equal basis.

“It was generally the concensus of opinion that if the tripartite approach were agreed upon, the agreement itself, the use of Egyptian territory as a base, including airfield facilities for the United States, and equipment for the Egyptians should all be in the same package.”

In preparation for further discussions with the British Foreign Office, with whom the initiative now lies, we requested the views of Ambassador Caffery in Cairo (enclosure 1) and now have his reply (enclosures 2 and 3).5 You will note that although Ambassador Caffery is cautious as to the outcome of any US-UK approach to Egypt he feels that “a possibility exists if the United States is prepared to pay the price involved.” Although he indicates that “the price is particularly difficult to assess offhand,” he is certain that it would be “high” and would include “armament, Egypt participation in any pact on an ostensibly full sovereign basis, some sort of security guarantee, at least a facade of military consultation, and something on Palestine.”

Since the announcement at the opening of the Egyptian Parliament on November 16 that the Egyptian Government was considering the abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, popular feeling in Egypt against the presence of British troops has run high and there have been a number of anti-British demonstrations. While the Egyptian Government has banned further demonstrations, at least during the period of the talks between Foreign Secretary Bevin and the Egyptian Foreign Minister in London, it is undoubtedly true that the demand for the immediate evacuation of British troops has a widespread and genuine popular basis and in our opinion this demand will continue to gain momentum. The tension in Anglo-Egyptian relations was recently further increased by the action of the opposition in the British Parliament in forcing the British Government to halt the shipment of 16 Centurion tanks which had already been contracted and partially paid for by Egypt. The present international events may have a sobering effect on the Egyptian Government [Page 328] in connection with the Treaty question. However, this effect may well be transitory and we believe that if the demand for evacuation is pressed, the British will be unable much longer to withstand it, unless a new element is injected into the picture. A tripartite agreement with Egypt along the lines indicated in the minute quoted above is one of the alternatives which might constitute such a new element.

In view of this situation we believe that there is an added urgency to the need for definitive discussions with the British. We fully understand that urgent needs elsewhere in the world dictate that we keep any investment in Egypt to the bare minimum necessary to insure our security requirements there. As a basis for these talks, however, we need an indication from the military point of view, of whether a “price” should be paid, and, if so, how high a “price”, having in mind that this “price” might be the deciding factor as to whether British troops remain in Egypt. In all candor I must tell you that we are not optimistic that exchange of United States arms for base rights will be sufficiently appealing to the Egyptians to cause them to forego their “national aspirations” to be free of foreign troops.

We also recognize that on our side there will be other difficult problems which would have to be faced in reaching a final determination of this question. Among these problems would be the availability of arms, the ability to obtain authority to transfer such arms on a basis acceptable to Egypt, the Palestine question and the attitude of Congress.

I hope that you will have attention directed to this question and that you can arrange to let me have your views at an early date.

Sincerely yours,

For the Secretary of State:
H. Freeman Matthews
  1. Drafted by Stabler.
  2. For information concerning this meeting, see telegram 460 to Cairo, November 20, p. 321.
  3. Attached to the source text was a note which read: “This was signed by Mr. McGhee today. 12/8/50.” The letter to Secretary Marshall was subsequently signed by Matthews and sent to the Pentagon on December 11.
  4. Drafted by Stabler and Jones.
  5. Enclosure 1 is telegram 460, November 20, p. 321; enclosure 2 is telegram 513, November 22, p. 322; and enclosure 3 is telegram 529, November 25, p. 323.