Secretary’s Letters: Lot 56 D 459: “Defense”

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge, Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Affairs (Stabler)

top secret
Participants: Mr. Dennis Greenhill, First Secretary, British Embassy
NE—Mr. Stabler


Mr. Greenhill called at his request this afternoon and handed me an aide-mémoire from his Government1 replying to US aide-mémoire of May 212 on the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations.

In delivering the aide-mémoire Mr. Greenhill said he would like to make a few comments. He said that the Foreign Office was quite concerned by what they felt was an underlying skepticism on the part of the United States regarding the necessity for retaining a base at all in Egypt in peacetime. The Foreign Office believed that if the US did feel this way, there was a fundamental divergence of views between us and it would be difficult to reach a satisfactory understanding.

The Foreign Office hoped that the United States would fully understand the complexity of the Parliamentary situation in the UK at this time. There is a current of feeling in Parliament against any action on the part of the Government which might be called appeasement to Egypt. In this connection, the Government has had difficulties over the Egyptian restrictions on the Suez Canal and the sterling balance question.3

[Page 369]

The attitude of Egypt toward the UK and the consequent hardening of the UK position have had as their immediate result the reluctance of the UK to provide arms, etc. to Egypt. However, the general effect has been to rule out even those concessions which in themselves would not have prejudiced the basic position of the UK in Egypt and its responsibility for the defense of the area. Consequently it was generally felt that the lack of mutual confidence made a bilateral solution of the problem nigh impossible.

The Foreign Office wished to emphasize that it was fully aware of the dangers of an open dispute with Egypt. It realized that such a dispute would increase the tension in the area and would probably lead to a discussion of the question in the UN. The UK desired to keep negotiations going and realized that it would be easier if concessions could be made. Since such concessions were out of the question, it was therefore necessary to spin out the negotiations. An attempt was being made to do this with the introduction of the Sudan question.

The Foreign Office was, however, considering a new approach to the defense problem. This approach might be the inclusion of Egypt in an “International Defense Organization for the Middle East.” The Foreign Office was not in a position to say at this time whether this would be useful and they were therefore not making any formal approach to us as yet. However, the Foreign Office wished us to know in general terms of their thinking.

I thanked Mr. Greenhill for the aide-mémoire and his comments. I said I was concerned by the Foreign Office belief that we were skeptical about the necessity of a base in peacetime. I said that quite on the contrary we regarded the base as most important. Our fear was that if the UK maintained an inflexible line, the reaction of the Egyptians would be so hostile that the base might become a liability rather than an asset. Certainly grave difficulties would ensue if the UK had to “dig in” in the Canal Zone. Mr. Greenhill said that he appreciated this point and would try to clarify the situation with the Foreign Office. I asked Mr. Greenhill whether he could tell me anything more about the “International Defense Organization for the Middle East.” Mr. Greenhill replied that the Foreign Office had not given any further details.

However, he assumed that the new approach would be the subject of the informal and top secret consultations which it was proposed would take place between us.4 He said that Commonwealth discussions on Middle East defense would take place probably shortly and that following these discussions the UK would be in a better position to formulate the exact nature of the new approach to Egypt. I gathered [Page 370] that the UK would hope to have consultations with us the latter part of the summer.

Finally, I mentioned to Mr. Greenhill the apparent disappointment of the Egyptian Foreign Minister that he was not being asked to visit London this summer. I said that while we realized the UK might not be in a position to do very much for the Foreign Minister, we, nevertheless, thought that such an invitation might help the Foreign Minister in his dealings with the Egyptian public.

  1. Attached to source text, not printed. It first expressed appreciation for past U.S. support for the British position with respect to current negotiations with Egypt; it expressed full agreement on the necessity for coordinating United States-United Kingdom policy toward Egypt and to correlating the new U.S. approach to the Near East with Britain’s efforts to secure Anglo-Egyptian agreements on Suez and the Sudan; it expressed the desire of the United Kingdom to keep the door open for negotiations with Egypt as long as possible; it defended the British negotiating position vis-à-vis Egypt with regard to Suez and the Sudan and informed the Department of State that instructions had been recently sent to Ambassador Stevenson to propose opening Anglo-Egyptian discussions with respect to the Sudan; it rejected the U.S. suggestion that the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs be invited to London on the grounds that such an invitation would inevitably lead the Egyptian Government and people to expect an early and favorable resolution of outstanding differences; in conclusion, it expressed general agreement with the U.S. position that the entire problem of Anglo-Egyptian relations had major implications in relation to the Western ability to defend the Near East.
  2. Supra.
  3. In despatch 63 from Cairo, July 13, Ambassador Caffery reported the official signing on July 1 of the Sterling Releases Agreement and the Sterling Payment Agreement by the Governments of the United Kingdom and Egypt in conformity with the letter of understanding of March 11 discussed in despatch 2190 of March 16, p. 348. Caffery enclosed copies of these agreements with his despatch. (874.10/7–1351)
  4. See editorial note, p. 383.