Memorandum of Conversation, by the Regional Planning Adviser for the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs (Howard)1
top secret

Subject: The Middle East and Iran

Participants: British Embassy Department of State
Mr. B. A. B. Burrows, Counselor Mr. George C. McGhee, NEA
Mr. Fraser Wilkins, NE
Mr. William Rountree, GTI2
Mr. C. V. Ferguson, GTI
Mr. Lewis Jones, S/P
Mr. Charles W. Yost, S/P
Mr. John B. Howard, NEA

The meeting was held at the request of Mr. Burrows who had expressed an interest in having an exchange of views in advance of the U.S.–U.K. political-military discussions commencing October 26. Mr. McGhee said that we welcomed the opportunity to have an advance exchange of views. He handed to Mr. Burrows copies of papers prepared in NEA, as a result of the earlier U.S.–U.K. discussions, on the subjects of Iran and the attitudes of the Arab States and Israel. Mr. McGhee said that although these papers did not represent final Department papers, Mr. Jessup and he thought they would be helpful to the British in connection with the forthcoming discussions.

Mr. McGhee then proceeded to give Mr. Burrows our comments on the British papers on Persia and the Middle East along the lines set [Page 231] forth in the memoranda of October 19 from Mr. McGhee to Mr. Jessup on these subjects,3 a procedure which Mr. Jessup had earlier approved. The highlights of the ensuing discussion were as follows.

British paper on Middle East Policy and Strategy.

It was noted that the U.K. and U.S. assessed differently the strategic importance of the Middle East and that the U.S. was not planning any military sacrifices to retain the countries of the Middle East within the Western orbit whereas the U.K. was proposing the additional military sacrifice of sending a brigade of British forces into Iran which they felt would make a significant contribution to the achievement of Western cold war objectives in the Middle East.

It was noted that the military essentiality of Israel and the Arab States would depend upon the strategic concept adopted in planning for a global war. Mr. Burrows indicated that under present conditions the U.S. would be better able than the U.K. to gain access to military facilities in Israel, in particular the strategic port of Haifa. Mr. McGhee indicated that the primary U.S. objective should be to support the U.K. in its command responsibility in the Middle East and that if Israel could feel assured that the U.S. would supply its minimum needs in time of war this might make Israel more amenable to cooperating with the U.K.

Mr. Burrows restated the British position that the U.K. regards it as essential to maintain a base in Egypt, but no solution has yet been found which would meet the objectives of both the U.K. and Egypt. The British forces in Egypt had an important role both in the cold war and in the event of global war. The British base in Egypt was needed in order to move a brigade forward into Iran as proposed in the British paper. The Egyptian base would also be essential in the event of a localized Korean type of conflict in the Middle East. The British did not believe that the Egyptians would be able to defend the Cairo–Suez area without British forces nor were the British trying deliberately to keep Egypt’s military potential down in order to ensure that Egypt would continue to be unable to defend itself.

Mr. McGhee said that under the Point IV program approximately one and one-half million dollars was allocated for the Arab States and one-half million dollars for Iran. The proposed program of grant aid to selected countries in the Middle East was still under consideration. The countries most in need of aid under this program were, Mr. McGhee believed, Iran and Syria and to a lesser extent Lebanon. Iraq and Saudi Arabia had considerable revenue from oil and Jordan was presently being helped under PRA.

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Mr. Burrows said that one of the U.K. objects in the current discussions, with the U.S. was to try to persuade the U.S. to give the Middle East a higher priority, particularly in the cold war stage. Apart from its oil resources and strictly military potentiality, the Middle East as a bridge to Asia had assumed even greater importance in the eyes of the British. If the Middle East should be lost before the outbreak of a general war the probability of losing Asia would be considerably increased. Only Western Europe and the Americas would remain. For these reasons the British felt that it was a good calculated risk to use in the Middle East during the cold war stage military resources and other resources which on purely military estimates of the importance of the Middle East would be concentrated in other areas. Thus U.K. plans to send a brigade into Iran went beyond former British plans for allocation of its military resources to the Middle East. The U.K. had interesting promises of Commonwealth help. To complete the picture the U.K. wanted the U.S. to come into a Korea like situation in the Middle East quickly. For this purpose the U.S. would need forces stationed in the area. In this way a strong area reaction could be assured against a possible Korea type situation which would help to prevent such a situation from arising and help to prevent the outbreak of global war and the loss to the West of the Middle East.

Mr. McGhee pointed out that U.S. planning had concentrated more heavily upon the strengthening of Turkey. In response to his inquiry whether Commonwealth forces could be made available in time, Mr. Burrows replied that it was hoped that the three months required for South African forces could be shortened and that should the Kashmir dispute be settled the Pakistanis could probably be counted on for substantial help.

Mr. McGhee said that it was his understanding that the possibility of sending U.S. forces to the Middle East was remote. Mr. Burrows commented on the tremendous psychological benefits which U.S. forces would bring about in the Middle East as well as the importance of their presence there in time of war. Mr. McGhee replied that we had not thought the situation unstable enough to require the presence of U.S. forces. Mr. Burrows said that we should not be guided by the present situation alone and should consider the type of situation which might arise when the Soviets really put the heat on the area. Mr. McGhee said that we would, of course, take another look at the situation if the possibility of a shooting war increased, that we want to keep our plans for the area under constant review, but that for the time being limitations on our equipment and armed forces were the determining factor.

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Mr. Burrows said that there was a “trend of opinion” that it may be essential in the event of a general war to have Middle East oil and that if this were the case it would of course profoundly affect military plans for the defense of the area. Defense of the Outer Ring would then become essential. Mr. McGhee observed that it was his understanding that the present plans to do without Middle East oil were based not so much on an estimate of oil requirements as on the fact that whichever side might hold the area the oil fields would be neutralized through air bombardment.

[Here follows discussion of the British Paper on Persia.]

  1. Copies to Jessup and Nolting.
  2. Director, Office of Greek, Turkish and Iranian Affairs.
  3. See Memorandum from McGhee to Jessup, October 19, entitled “British Review of Middle East Policy and Strategy” and footnote 1 thereto, p. 217.