The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Morrison) to the Secretary of State 1

top secret

May I say how deeply we in this country appreciated your timely declaration2 on the situation created by the Egyptian Government’s move to abrogate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and the Condominium Agreements of 1899 regarding the Sudan? It is a great comfort to know that the United States are at one with us in appraising a situation which is of critical significance to the whole of the free world.

2. As you know we were determined that the Egyptian Government’s action should not be allowed to deflect us from our intention to present to the Egyptian Government the proposals which we had worked out in the fullest consultation with our Allies not only for the settlement of Anglo-Egyptian differences, but for broadening and strengthening the foundations of the defence of the whole of the Middle East region. The support of the United States with that of France and Turkey in presenting these proposals will do more than anything else at the present time to convince Egypt of their value to her and to bring her as we hope she will be brought to play her part with us all in this great task.

3. It may be too much to hope for an early conclusion of a settlement with Egypt on the basis of our proposals. If the atmosphere improves and united firmness by us all is the best means to that end it may be as well that as has already been suggested General Bradley, [Page 399] Field Marshal Slim and General Lecheres with a Turkish General should go on from Ankara to Cairo.3 Given an initial measure of willingness on the Egyptian side they would be able to explain in military terms the full practical implications of our proposals and to answer questions. There would of course be no question of their conducting negotiations.

4. Urgent as it is to complete the arrangements for setting up the Allied Middle East Command it is not our intention that the negotiations with Egypt should be rushed. We are prepared to talk patiently but I ought to make it clear that we have reached in the agreed proposals the limit of concessions we could make regarding the position of British troops and the base. It is also out of the question as I am sure you will agree for us to depart from our undertakings to the peoples of the Sudan. These we publicly re-affirmed on the 11th October.

5. You will have seen that the statement by His Majesty’s Government on the 9th October4 in which they announced that they maintained their full rights under the Treaty and the Condominium Agreements pending a satisfactory agreement with Egypt on the new proposals carried the implication that until such an agreement were reached our troops would stay in the Canal Zone. This is indeed our intention. You will remember that I informed you to this effect in my personal message of the 15th August5 and again on the 10th September in the course of our conversations in Washington6 prior to the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Ottawa.

6. We have naturally considered the implications of this decision. Our Commanders-in-Chief in the Middle East have the necessary plans ready. These foresee action by the Egyptian Government together with the appropriate British counter-measures under various stages.

7. Stage I can be said to have begun with Nahas Pasha’s action on the 8th October. At this stage the Commanders-in-Chief contemplate and have been authorised to institute at their discretion what may be called passive security measures. These involve a formal request to Egyptian local authorities to maintain order, the stopping of leave to Caior [Cairo] and Alexandria (which has already been enforced), the posting of additional security guards and the like.

8. Stage II arises if the Egyptian Government resorts to administrative non-cooperation. At this stage the Government might obstruct and delay customs posts, civil aviation, quarantine clearances and the [Page 400] clearance of ships through the Suez Canal and interfere with our labour supply. There might be increased rudeness official and individual to the British personnel. Hostile demonstrations and minor violence might take place. In such a situation our passive security measures would be continued but intensified. Military protective patrols might have to be instituted and families of all ranks in the Canal Zone concentrated into more secure areas. Here again the Commanders-in-Chief have been given authority to take the appropriate counter-measures.

9. Stage III would amount to an Egyptian blockade of our forces. The Egyptian Government would no doubt pretend that our position in Egypt was illegal and would attempt to persuade us by such measures as the withdrawal of labour supplies and port facilities and restriction of movement in and out of the Canal Zone to withdraw. They might refuse the passage of ships through the Canal. We naturally hope that this stage will be averted but if it is forced upon us we should have to take counter-blockade measures. The nature of these would naturally depend on the particular steps which the Egyptian Government took on their side. It would almost certainly be necessary to reinforce our troops in the Canal Zone and might eventually be necessary to take complete control there. In the worst case Egyptian troops might have to be removed by force if necessary. We might also have to take certain additional measures to ensure the passage of shipping through the Canal.

10. As I have said we trust that we shall not be faced with Stage III. If it should however be forced on us we shall face it and see it through and I hope not alone. Our Military Advisers are completely confident of our ability to hold and maintain ourselves in the Canal Zone. Much as we should regret the necessity of using force we would not shrink from our responsibilities if the situation demanded it. I am confident that in this course we should have the full moral support of the United States and the other countries to whom as well as to us the freedom of the Middle East region is a vital interest. The consequences of a withdrawal which to us is unthinkable whether from the military, political or moral point of view would be so disastrous not only for this country but for the Western Allies as a whole as to leave us all no alternative but to stand firm together. Indeed if we were to withdraw the whole world would say that Britain had lost not to Egypt but to her Allies.

11. None of the counter measures envisaged under Stage III has yet been authorised. It may be some time before the need for this arises. On the other hand it might arise at any moment and without [Page 401] warning. In giving such authority His Majesty’s Government would naturally do their utmost to consult the other Governments principally concerned in organising Middle East Defence.

12. Should matters come to this pass there would of course be no hope of organising the Middle East Command on the lines agreed and in our view we should be obliged to proceed without Egypt. Indeed that hope would be shattered much sooner if the Egyptian Government definitely reject the agreed proposals. But in either case it would seem all the more urgent to press on with the Command arrangements and we would be strongly in favour of agreeing at least upon the appointment of a Supreme Allied Commander and we would place British forces in the Canal Zone under his command as contemplated in the agreed proposals. In view of Egypt’s non-cooperation the Allied Headquarters would no doubt have to be set up outside Egypt, His Majesty’s Government for their part would agree to the establishment of the headquarters in Cyprus.

13. It might be contended that the existence of a base in Egypt is a cardinal feature of the Allied Middle East Command organization and that if Egypt will not participate there can be no Allied base there. I hope that there will be no thought of listening to such an argument. The plain fact will be that the British as I have said intend to hold the Egyptian base. If the Egyptians agree to participate in the Middle East Command well and good and the base would become an Allied base. But if there is no agreement with Egypt we still intend to hold the base so that it may be available for use by the Allies. And it is in this sense that I think we may regard ourselves as agents acting on behalf of the free world when we say that we intend to stay in Egypt at whatever cost and ask for the support and encouragement of the United States Government in our stand.

14. There is one more point. The Turkish attitude I am sure will be profoundly affected by British and American intentions regarding Egypt. The first thing the Turks will want to know is what we are going to do in Egypt and by our answer they will judge whether it is safe for them to come into a Middle East Command. In fact in response to the most urgent representations from Field Marshal Slim who is in Ankara with General Bradley and General Lecheres we have authorized him to assure the Turks that our policy is to stand our ground in Egypt. We shall be explaining our policy to the French and Turkish Governments and appropriate Commonwealth Governments but I wanted to have your reaction first and hope to hear from you urgently.

  1. A notation on the source text reads: “Recd from Mr. Greenhill 10/12/51 10:30 p. m. Wells Stabler.”
  2. See editorial note, supra.
  3. Regarding the visit of Generals Bradley and Lecheres and Field Marshal Slim to Ankara, October 13–14, see the editorial note, p. 211.
  4. See footnote 2, p. 396.
  5. Ante, p. 372.
  6. For documentation on the September 10 AchesonMorrison talks, see vol. iii, pt. 1, pp. 1163 ff.