No. 72
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Politico-Military Adviser, Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Daspit)



  • UK Memorandum on MEC


  • Department of State
    • NE-Mr. Jones
    • NE-Mr. Kopper
    • NE-Mr. Stabler
    • NEA-Mr. Daspit
  • British Embassy
    • Mr. Burrows
    • Mr. Greenhill
    • Mr. Marten

Officers of the British Embassy called to hand the Department a memorandum on the MEC1 further to their memorandum of January 312 on the same subject. The discussion on the memorandum which took place was intended to be preliminary only, and Mr. Jones indicated that the Department would make further comment.

As to the UK position that plans for a conference in London on the Middle East Command Organization should be further postponed in view of the unresolved state of UK-Egyptian negotiations, the British were told that the Department shared their opinion.

[Page 227]

There was some discussion of the UK suggestion that when the conference is held, it would be advantageous to invite Iraq and Egypt but none of the other Arab states. Mr. Burrows indicated that the UK was concerned about the problem of Arab participation in the MECO and felt that the chances of securing their cooperation would be better if they were brought into the discussion during the preliminary phase. On the other hand, it seemed clearly impossible to launch the organization at a meeting attended by representatives of the six Arab States as well as the seven sponsoring powers. The solution which recommended itself to them was to invite only these two states to the organizing meeting on the theory that if they joined the MECO the other Arab States would follow. This proposal was contingent on a successful settlement with Egypt, which would be invited because of its political and strategic importance. Iraq would be invited because of its friendly interest in the MEC, its strategic importance and its economic and military potential.3

Mr. Jones stated that the Department has also been concerned about the question of securing Arab support and felt that this probably required that the Arabs should be approached before the form of organization was definitely fixed. He agreed with the British view that it was impossible to expect a meeting of 13 powers, including all the Arab States, to develop a detailed organization plan from the general principles of last November. He found it difficult to accept, however, the conclusion that the British had drawn from this premise—that is, that two of the six Arab States should be invited to attend a meeting on the organization of the MEC while the remaining four were passed over. Such an action would hardly further the MEC objective of promoting area-wide cooperation on a [Page 228]basis of equality. If Egypt were to offer real concessions to MECO, bases for example, there would be plausible grounds for discriminating in her favor. If it was proposed that British military rights in Iraq were to be converted into general MECO rights, there might also be grounds for discriminating in favor of Iraq. Otherwise, he thought the effects of such discrimination would be most unfortunate. Why should Syria, for example, not be invited? There were numerous indications that the Shishakli regime might be embarking on a policy of cooperation with the West. To discriminate against Syria in invitations to the MECO meeting might have the effect of reversing this favorable development. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, which had been cooperating with the West and had granted the U.S. important military rights, would probably be seriously offended.

Mr. Burrows wondered if there was really much danger that the other Arab States would hold out if both Iraq and Egypt accepted membership in the MECO. Mr. Greenhill suggested that the two states might in fact consult with the other Arab States before accepting such an invitation. Mr. Jones thought that if they did consult it would be in a manner intended to emphasize their preferred position, and that this might poison the whole venture in the minds of Arab States.

There was a general informal discussion of possible ways of bringing the Arab States into the preliminary planning for MECO while avoiding the confusion and probable futility of a general thirteen power convention devoted to charter drafting.…

Mr. Burrows suggested that further progress in developing a common view of MECO might be made through ordinary diplomatic discussions. The general feeling, however, was that this procedure unless directed toward certain concrete proposals might produce endless complexities and an interminable round of conversations. It was suggested that a possible way to inject the necessary concrete element might be for the U.K. for example, to produce a memorandum setting forth in some detail its conception of the MECO. This memorandum could then be circulated for comments to the various sponsoring powers. After this stage two alternative procedures were possible: The Arab States could also be shown the memorandum informally, as if they were being consulted concurrently with all interested parties. After this, and depending on Arab reactions, a meeting might be called including all thirteen of the possible MECO members.…

Mr. Jones inquired whether the British had already prepared a memorandum on the MEC of the general nature discussed. Mr. Burrows said they had prepared such a paper some time ago, but [Page 229]that the problem would probably have to be restudied in view of the changes in the situation which have developed.

It was agreed that regardless of what specific procedures were followed, care must be taken to avoid injuring the susceptibilities of the French, Turks and Australians, and to maintain the utmost flexibility among the sponsoring powers in order to permit adaptation of the organization to the wishes of the Arab States.

Mr. Burrows raised the question of the treatment of Israel. Mr. Jones thought that this problem was soluble in the long run. Israel must be kept currently informed of developments and no secret should be made of this vis-à-vis the Arabs. The question of associating Israel with the Command would have to be handled separately in a separate meeting with Israel. He thought the Israelis would accept this procedure and that the Arabs would be unlikely to make strong objection.

Mr. Jones inquired whether the British expected a reply to their memorandum in writing. Mr. Burrows stated that they would be satisfied with an oral reply.


The British Embassy to the Department of State


Middle East Command

Her Majesty’s Government still feel that, since the negotiations between Her Majesty’s Government and Egypt are still unresolved, it would be premature to go ahead now with the plans for a conference in London on the Middle East Command Organization.

Her Majesty’s Government wish, however, to continue their exchange of views with the United States Government on the Middle East Command, and particularly on the question whether it might be desirable to invite other Middle Eastern States to participate in a preliminary conference on the Middle East Command Organization. They had in mind particularly the interest shown by the Government of Iraq, who indicated that they would be willing to participate in a conference with the four sponsoring Powers and Egypt. Her Majesty’s Government have accordingly considered how to proceed if the Egyptian Government agree to enter negotiations on a formula for defence acceptable both to the United Kingdom and to Egypt and if the defence negotiations thereafter make reasonable progress.
In that event to proceed with a conference in London of the four sponsoring Powers and Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa only, excluding Arab participation might lessen the prospect that the Egyptians and the Iraqis (who would feel rebuffed) would accept any proposals put forward by that conference and would increase the risk that Arab opinion would harden round the Arab Collective Security Pact as the only foundation acceptable to them for the defence of the Middle East. It seems, therefore, that the balance of advantage may lie in inviting Iraq and Egypt to be represented at the London Conference itself and that any previous exchange of views between the four sponsoring Powers and Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa which may prove necessary should be effected without a formal meeting between them. Both States would then be invited to become co-founders from the outset on the same footing as the other seven. This would admittedly present difficulties from a military point of view. The actual planning work would be complicated by the addition of these two Arab States to the Command, and by the appointment of Arab officers to suitable positions in the Command structure from the outset. But these drawbacks would have to be accepted.
The arguments for inviting Iraq in as a co-founder are:—
That Iraq alone of the Arab States has shown a keen and friendly interest in our approach to the problem of Middle East defence;
That after Egypt, Iraq is the most important Arab State in terms of size and economic potential;
That Iraq forms with Turkey the Northern bastion for the defence of the Middle East with Egypt as the natural base;
That Iraq is in a position to provide the Command with forces and facilities superior to those of any Arab State outside Egypt.
The argument against bringing in any other Arab States, other than Iraq and Egypt, at this stage is that, if we had any more, we should have to have them all. This would make the conference unmanageable, would confront us with an Arab league bloc within it, and would highlight the exclusion of Israel.
If it were agreed to invite Iraq, we would explain that we were doing our best to meet the views expressed by Iraq Ministers, but that at this stage it was for obvious reasons not possible to go ahead without France, Turkey and Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. (They had intimated that they would attend a conference of the four sponsoring Powers, Egypt and Iran, but that they would really prefer a four-power conference of U.K., U.S.A., Egypt and Iraq.)
If, on the other hand, our negotiations with Egypt break down, the prospect of securing other Arab participation in the defence of [Page 231]the Middle East will depend on the reactions of other Arab Governments to the circumstances of the break and on the situation obtaining in the Canal Zone thereafter. We therefore feel that we should leave for further examination the question whether, in the event of a breakdown of the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations, to invite Iraq to the London Conference or whether to proceed on the seven-Power basis originally suggested, or on some new basis altogether.
We should be glad to have the views of the United States Government on these questions.
  1. Telegram 4909 from London, Apr. 29, not printed, informed the Department of State that the British Foreign Office had also delivered a copy of the memorandum to the Embassy. The Ambassador advised the Department he had indicated to the British that their plan to single out Iraq to join a regional defense organization could present a number of difficulties with such states as Syria and Saudi Arabia. (780.5/4–2952)
  2. Regarding this memorandum, see the memorandum of conversation, Document 58.
  3. Telegram 805 from Baghdad, Mar. 28, not printed, reported that Dr. Fadhil Jamali, President of the Iraq Chamber of Deputies, had taken a definite stand against a four-power approach to Middle East defense. “He has stated to Embassy officer that presence of Turkish and French in ME defense not only unnecessary but, in view of their past imperialism in ME and the latter’s current record in Tunisia and North Africa, their participation in ME defense unacceptable.” According to the Embassy, while those views represented a trend in current Iraqi thinking toward the Middle East Command, “Jamali’s views may also reflect Nuri’s [Nuri as Said, Iraqi Prime Minister] reported desire to set up alternative approach to ME defense through Arab collective security pact or possibly Islamic grouping including Pakistan.” (780.5/8–2852)

    Telegram 955 from Baghdad, May 2, not printed, agreed it was desirable to take advantage of Iraq’s interest in defense arrangements with the Western powers. It doubted the wisdom, however, of inviting Iraq to a preparatory meeting if Egypt showed a willingness to participate, since special consideration for Iraq “might further adversely affect Iraq’s already poor relations with other Arab States.” The Embassy also suggested that Iraq’s desire to attend a preliminary meeting might come from “wish to shape MEC to its own pattern rather than from any clear desire to participate with west in defense of area.” (780.5/5–252)