Conference files, lot 59 D 95, CF 156: Telegram
The Ambassador in Egypt (Caffery) to the Department of State
2423. Personal for Smith from the Secretary. In discussions with both British and Egyptian officials it became clear that there are a number of points of disagreement on technical matters. Some of these are apparent by comparison of British and Egyptian text already transmitted.1 It became clear in discussions, however, that major differences were really over following two points:
- The British position is that British “technicians” (which also covers superintendents, administrators and the like) under direct instruction from London should remain on base as long as British equipment is stored there, i.e., perhaps indefinitely. The Egyptian position is that British personnel should remain only long enough to adequately train Egyptian replacements.
- The manner of channeling instructions from London to British technicians so long as they remain on the base.
In discussing point 2 above with the British it became obvious that a real point of principle could be involved. The Suez base is at [Page 27] the present time utilized by the British to supply their forces in Cyprus, Libya and Jordan and certain local forces such as the Arab Legion. Question therefore arises as to whether the base in Egyptian hands can continue to be utilized for this area-wide function. The best solution, of course, is for a regional defense organization to provide instructions on such supply matters. In absence of such solution it would seem essential both for us and British that base can continue to serve the area and not be in that respect purely an Egyptian base.
When the member of the RCC called upon me this afternoon I put this question bluntly to them. I was surprised to have them give every assurance that they would allow the British complete freedom of action on matter of shipping supplies. They stated that they had already so informed the British and this was a matter of record. I am inclined to doubt this and believe they had only considered the matter fully late last night in view of our pointed questions of yesterday.
Believe British should meet the principle of training Egyptians and if Egyptians will agree in writing on the latter point this should go a long way to solving the present dilemma. We have attempted to meet this point in the US draft.
Another point which we have discussed extensively with the Egyptians and which is beyond the scope of the present British and Egyptian drafts is the question of a regional defense organization. The Egyptians go to great length in assuring us of their future intentions, but state that they cannot accept MEDO. While we cannot be sure of their future intentions, it is obvious that to attempt to impose a preconceived defensive arrangement upon the Egyptians will meet with complete failure. This is apparently a general attitude of the Arab States. Am convinced that past concept of MEDO not feasible under present conditions, but regardless of our views it is obvious that MEDO at present does not have a chance.
I think it well to look back at the reasons why the MEC and MEDO were proposed. In the beginning MEC was an obvious attempt to solve the Suez base problem by substituting international command for British command. This did not work. During the intervening period we have forgotten this initial reason and become enmeshed in the concept itself rather than for its original purpose, i.e., a solution to one specific base problem. While there is no doubt that we should continue to work towards an area defense arrangement, there is no point in attempting to force one of a particular type in the immediate future if it would be politically unacceptable. Furthermore, I believe we can obtain a Suez base agreement by other means if it can be done quickly. The British would not [Page 28] like this as the concept of trading evacuation for MEDO has become a fixation.
Egyptian thinking on defense arrangements for the area centers around building up the Arab States under the Arab League pact. They stress the theme that the US and UK already have treaty arrangements with members of the Arab League which provides the necessary Western tie-in. In addition to this they state they are ready at any time to undertake defense planning with the US and cooperate fully upon any needed infrastructure for the defense of the area as a whole. They state they are willing to contemplate similar plans with the British, but cannot make such fact public at present time. They state they also would have difficulty in agreeing at this time in writing that British could have re-entry right in event of hostilities. We gave them no reason to believe such an arrangement would be satisfactory. They finally devised a formula which specifies that in event of attack upon any Arab State, access and use of the base would not only be given to Arab partners, but to any nation allied with any of them. It is not clear whether they would agree to put this in writing.
Although there is considerable urgency in getting matter here off dead center, have declined to become middleman because of nature my trip and fact that matters raised in this cable are of such fundamental nature as to require Washington decision. Consequently US draft reported separately has not been shown in Cairo to either British or Egyptian officials. I am inclined to believe question can wait my return Washington before need for action on part of US with British and Egyptians. Full report by cable being sent so that you will have opportunity form recommendations for early action after my return and basis for action if, in your opinion, developments after my departure here indicate need for quicker action on our part.
- The texts of these documents were transmitted to the Department in despatch 2367 from Cairo, May 7. (641.74/5–753)↩