641.74/2–1351: Despatch

The Ambassador in Egypt (Caffery) to the Department of State 1

top secret
No. 1942

Ref: Embtel 860 February 12, 19512

Subject: Current British thinking re Egyptian demands.

The reference telegram described briefly the current situation regarding Anglo-Egyptian negotiations. The following information supplements the reference telegram, and should be read in conjunction therewith.

The British Ambassador’s proposals with regard to the Sudan (largely formulated by the Counselor of the British Embassy, J. Wardle-Smith, recently returned from a 6,000 mile trip of the Sudan) are as follows:

The British Government would propose a basic agreement (to be embodied in an exchange of notes). Three principles would be emphasized:

The need for close and friendly ties between all peoples of the Nile Valley (Wardle-Smith prefers that this specifically mention Egypt and Sudan, because Nile Valley includes other countries).
It would be agreed that the common aim of the British and Egyptian Governments was the establishment of self-government in the Sudan as soon as practicable. Thereafter, the Sudanese people would have the right to choose freely the form of government under which they desired to live.
The wide differences of race, religion and political development requires the closest cooperation between Egypt and Great Britain with the Sudanese.

If these principles were agreed to they would be embodied in an exchange of notes in which the Egyptians would state their views on what they thought the future of the Sudan should be. The British would reply welcoming that system or any other which the people of the Sudan might choose. (Wardle-Smith prefers the word accepting instead of welcoming and hopes to persuade his Ambassador in this sense.)

The agreement might also provide for a standing Anglo-Egyptian Sudanese Supervisory Council which would be established for the specific purpose of putting into effect the principles enumerated in the proposed exchange of notes.

The British Embassy feels that the Egyptians may not find these proposals acceptable. However, it believes that there would be a tactical advantage to having such refusal on record. It would give the British a good moral case as far as world opinion goes, in that the Egyptians would be on record against an arrangement providing for self-determination after the achievement of self-government.

This Embassy is in entire concurrence with the view taken by the British Ambassador, namely that Anglo-Egyptian negotiations cannot be concluded on the basis of a “defense” settlement alone. The Sudan has been far too much of a political issue in Egypt to be totally ignored in a prospective settlement of outstanding Anglo-Egyptian problems. There is a chance, however, that the British proposal outlined above, would prove acceptable. It is essentially a face-saving device for the Egyptians, as it gives very little away of the British position on the Sudan. Self-government must be established as soon as “practicable”. The Sudanese would have the right to determine what form of government they desired. The crux of the matter might well rest on such variance of wording as “welcoming” versus “accepting” the Sudanese decision. The Egyptians might well regard the word “accepting” as a form of concomittent which would be sold to the Egyptian public.

The second part of this despatch deals with the current thinking of the British Chiefs of Staff, and what they propose recommending to Foreign Secretary Bevin. (Paragraph 7 of reference telegram)

The Chiefs of Staff have examined the prospect of a “temporary” base in Israel. They found that it would cost approximately 50 million pounds and 8 years to construct.

[Page 346]

British Embassy comment: The British Treasury’s objection to such a move would be acute, and the political disadvantage of the Egyptian reaction would be obvious.

The Chiefs of Staff think in terms of a phased evacuation, starting immediately, to be effectuated by 1956, with the gradual replacement of essential technical units by civilians (obviously army in civilian dress).

British Embassy comment: The Egyptian government would be ready to accept a certain number of “civilians” but not any really effective number.

The Chiefs of Staff propose that the base be leased from the Egyptians after 1956 for an agreed sum.

British Embassy comment: It would be impossible to negotiate an agreement with the Egyptians for the lease of practically the entire Canal area. Possibly workshop areas, and desert storage could be leased, but nothing as extensive as the area presently occupied by British forces.

The Chiefs of Staff propose that arrangements be concluded with the Egyptian government whereby the administrative control of the base after 1956 remain with the British government, but that the Egyptian government participate with the British government in the joint lease hold.

British Embassy comment: The Egyptian Government would be unlikely to agree to British administration of the base. As far as Egyptian participation in the joint lease hold, the British Embassy “hasn’t a clue what the C.O.S. mean”.

The Chiefs of Staff propose that the Egyptians be responsible for the policing of the base and that suitable indemnity be arranged for losses sustained from pilferage.

British Embassy comment: This is the height of an unrealistic approach. Admittedly the rate of pilferage is high now, and would be excessively high under Egyptian policing; but, to expect the Egyptian government to indemnify the British government for pilferage from a leased base reflects a total lack of appreciation of the realities of the local situation.

As can be seen from the comments of the British Embassy it did not look with favor on the Chiefs of Staff proposals. The British Ambassador, as indicated in Para 7 of the reference telegram, has expressed the opinion that it would be unrealistic for the British to consider occupation of the base after 1956. Stevenson advocates plans for the progressive evacuation of the Canal area to be completed by 1956. Whatever rights (if any) of reoccupation in the event of war which may be secured will be to the British advantage. To a large extent the effectiveness of such reoccupation rights will depend on the extent to which the concept of “joint defense” is developed. In this [Page 347] connection Stevenson feels that the British are not in a position to talk “joint defense” as long as they are withholding certain essential arms shipments from the Egyptians. The withholding of such shipments implies lack of faith in the possibility of joint defense arrangements and also gives rise to justifiable suspicions of political pressure among Egyptians. This is particularly unfortunate among certain elements of the Egyptian armed forces who have been British trained and are basically friendly. They see, for instance, planes grounded for lack of spare parts and other equipment immobilized through the British embargo.

Stevenson recommends certain steps be taken to alleviate this situation. The 208th Squadron (R.A.F.) is about to be converted to jets. The Spitfires which comprise this squadron are now slated for shipment to either India or Pakistan. The Egyptians are anxious for these, and the British Ambassador believes that they should have them. The knowledge that these had been disposed of elsewhere would certainly cause ill feeling. There is also an outstanding question of 20 Bailiol trainers. The British Embassy believes that these should also be delivered. Shipment of certain Meteor jets previously processed for delivery should be allowed.

The British Embassy has yet received no reply to its comments and suggestions to the Foreign Office. Aside from the ever difficult attitude of the Egyptians, it is obvious that Stevenson is worried about the somewhat unrealistic approach of the British Chiefs of Staff to the problem. He also feels that the Foreign Office may be banking too heavily on the previous success of stalling tactics. With these views, this Embassy is in entire concurrence. It is at least a minor miracle that serious disturbances have not already occurred over the long protracted negotiations.3

Jefferson Caffery
  1. Drafted by Counselor of Embassy George H. Mattison. Copy to London.
  2. Supra.
  3. In despatch 2042 from Cairo, February 27, Caffery reported, inter alia, that British Ambassador Stevenson had informed him “The British Chiefs of Staff seem to be coming around to a more realistic view of the negotiations with the Egyptians over base rights in the Suez area. Their thinking now tends towards a staged evacuation until 1956, with leasing of base rights thereafter. An annual rental figure of L.E. 2,000,000 is being considered.” Caffery added that it was the British hope that these proposals would receive final Cabinet approval by the middle of March and that then the British Ambassador would be in a position to resume negotiations with the Egyptian Government. (641.74/2–2751)