McGhee Files: Lot 53 D 468: Egypt1

Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Affairs (Stabler) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs (McGhee)

top secret

Subject: Anglo-Egyptian Relations

Problem: The Egyptian Government insists that the UK withdraw its troops from the UK bases in the Suez Canal Zone and relinquish its share of control over the Sudan, both of which rights are enjoyed by the UK under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936.

Discussion: Since the present Egyptian Government came into office last January the UK and Egypt have been carrying on a series of conversations on possible modification of the Anglo-Egyptian [Page 331] Treaty of 1936. This Treaty permits the UK to maintain bases in the Suez Canal Zone with 10,000 troops, 400 pilots and service and technical units and confirms the 1899 Condominium arrangement for the Sudan. The Egyptians have insisted that the UK should evacuate its troops from the Canal Zone as soon as possible and in any case not over a year, and that the Sudan should be united with Egypt under the full sovereignty of the Egyptian Crown. In the Speech from the Throne on November 16, 1950 the Egyptian Government threatened to abrogate the 1936 Treaty if Egyptian national aspirations were not satisfied. This statement brought a prompt reply from the British Government to the effect that the Treaty remained in force until 1956 and that it would not recognize unilateral abrogation.

At the present time Foreign Secretary Bevin and the Egyptian Foreign Minister Salaheddin Bey, are holding discussions in London, but no progress has been recorded to date. It is understood that the talks will be adjourned shortly to be resumed some time later in January in order that both Governments may have time for further thought on the problem. We have been informed that the Foreign Office is anxious to give Salaheddin Bey some proposal based on principles which have the weight of UK Cabinet approval and which Salaheddin Bey could submit to his Government for consideration. Our London Embassy believes that Mr. Bevin may be thinking along the lines of a possible compromise on the evacuation time element, i.e. he might suggest a progressive, real or apparent evacuation after 1953 but prior to 1956.

At one point the UK considered the possibility of Egypt’s association in some form or another with NATO as a method of reducing Egyptian pressure for evacuation. While the Department did not close the door completely to this idea, we did indicate to the British our lack of enthusiasm for this idea on the grounds that it would overburden the NATO structure and lead to demands for similar treatment from other states without changing the Egyptian “national aspiration” to be rid of foreign troops in time of peace.

At a meeting on October 26, 1950 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 joint approach to Egypt pointed towards a tripartite (US-UK-Egyptian) agreement on bases, including one U.S. base, and, if necessary, equipment for Egypt. In preparation for these talks the Department is awaiting the views of the Defense Department as to the price, if any, it is willing to pay for such an arrangement.

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The crux of the problem is UK-Egypt defense collaboration during peacetime. The Egyptians have already stated, both to the UK and to us, that they would find no difficulty in permitting Egyptian territory to be used during time of war by the UK and its allies.


In the event that Mr. Bevin indicates that the UK has been unable to propose any compromise plan and intends to carry on “business as usual” with Egypt, it is suggested that you reiterate our basic attitude toward this problem along the following lines:

As the British have primary military responsibility in this area, we believe that it is in the joint interest of the U.S. and UK that they should have the right to maintain their strategic facilities in Egypt during peacetime in such a condition that they could be effectively and speedily used in case of an immediate threat to security in the Near East. We shall continue to give strong support to the UK position in Egypt. At the same time we earnestly hope that the UK and Egypt will be able to come to a satisfactory and reasonable solution of this problem which will take into account both the security requirements of the area and the national aspirations of Egypt. We consider that in the long run both the UK and the U.S. will stand to lose if a compromise solution is not found which will give some satisfaction to Egyptian national aspirations. In this connection we have in mind the possibility of a hostile population in Egypt during the time of war. We believe that an inflexible stand on this question will exacerbate passionate Egyptian sentiments and in the long run create an Anglo-Irish type of situation to the detriment of US-UK interests.

In the event that Mr. Bevin indicates that the British are considering a compromise solution along the lines described above or similar lines, it is suggested that you offer appropriate encouragement, indicating at the same time that you would like to refer the matter to Washington for immediate consideration.

  1. Lot 53 D 468 contains copies of memoranda and correspondence of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs George C. McGhee for the years 1049–1951.