Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, Whitman file
Memorandum of Discussion at the
133d Meeting of the National Security Council, Tuesday, February
Present at the 133rd meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding, the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director for Mutual Security. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury, the Under Secretary of State, General Vandenberg for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Acting Director of Central Intelligence, the Assistant to the President, the Administrative Assistant to the President for National Security Matters, the Special Assistant to the President for Cold War Operations, the Military Liaison Officer, the Executive Secretary, NSC, and the Deputy Executive Secretary, NSC.
There follows a general account of the main positions taken and the chief points made at this meeting.
The President referred in his opening remarks to two letters from Prime Minister Churchill—one some time ago and another received yesterday1—which expressed extreme urgency with regard to the part to be played by the United States in the current negotiations between the British and the Egyptians. The President said he was somewhat puzzled as to the nature of the problem, but he deduced from these letters that the Prime Minister anticipated urgently an American decision. He had therefore felt it best to call the Council together and to get everybody’s advice. The first question, which he put to the Secretary of State, was the nature of the problem Mr. Churchill was concerned about and why a solution was so urgent.
Secretary Dulles replied that he thought he knew the subject of Mr. Churchill’s letters, but that he could not see why the matter [Page 1998] was so urgent. He guessed that the Prime Minister was concerned with the part that the United States was to play in the current British-Egyptian negotiations for the evacuation of the Suez area and for the setting up of the Middle East Defense Organization. Secretary Dulles pointed out that just prior to the time when the new administration had taken over, this Government had discussed the program for the British-Egyptian negotiations and had reached agreement on the subject with the British Government. These negotiations were to take place in several phases. The first of these phases was to be direct negotiations between the British Government (on a two-party basis) and the Egyptian Government with respect to the withdrawal of the British forces from Suez. The United States Government was to take no part in this phase of the negotiations. Subsequently, however, when the negotiations began on the defense structure in the Middle East and on a program for supplying military and economic assistance to Egypt, the United States Government had committed itself to take part in the negotiations. What Prime Minister Churchill seemed to want, thought Secretary Dulles, was confirmation that the present administration would abide by the commitments made by the former administration at the end of its term of office. Furthermore, Mr. Churchill wished this Government to designate a military man of high rank to proceed to our Embassy in Cairo to engage in discussions there. So far as he knew, Secretary Dulles thought this was the only point which required decision at this meeting, and he didn’t think the problem very important.
The President disagreed with the latter statement, and felt that it was a matter of great significance to this Government to appoint at this time a high-ranking officer to take part in the Cairo negotiations.
At this point Secretary Dulles passed to the President the paper, prepared in the Department of State and Defense, which had been used for discussions with the British Government on this problem in London a few weeks back.2
The President again indicated his concern lest the urgency and somewhat frightening phraseology in Mr. Churchill’s letter to him should be the means of securing this administration’s agreement to something more than had been agreed to last January.[Page 1999]
Secretary Dulles pointed out that if we do send this high-ranking American officer, it would have a favorable effect on Egyptian morale.
The President agreed, but thought that perhaps Mr. Churchill in his letters was trying to tie our hands in advance to something about which we were not very clear, even though Mr. Churchill’s letter had stressed the fact that he did not anticipate that the United States would become involved in any possible military operations by the British against the Egyptians.
The President then asked whether this administration had agreed to support the plans of the preceding administration with respect to the British-Egyptian negotiations.
Secretary Dulles replied in the affirmative, so far as these plans were set forth in the paper which he had passed to the President.
Under Secretary Smith then read a cable in this morning from the Cairo Embassy, indicating that, despite his recent inflammatory statements, Naguib had indicated readiness to negotiate with the British at once on the withdrawal of British forces from Suez.3
Secretary Dulles confirmed this report, and said that information from Mr. Caffery indicated that the Egyptians desired to negotiate directly with the British on the evacuation problem, whereas the British preferred to intermingle the evacuation issue with the setting up of the defense arrangements (MEDO). Furthermore, Secretary Dulles expressed some concern about the implications of sending a high-ranking officer at this time.
Mr. Stassen expressed the view that the Egyptians desperately hoped to get military assistance from the United States immediately, instead of receiving it in a later phase as a reward for reaching agreement with the British.
The President stated that the answer to this problem seemed to be to inform the British Government that this administration is prepared to reaffirm the agreements reached by the previous administration in early January.
Secretary Dulles expressed agreement with this statement, but went on to recommend that we make no decision at this time to send a high-ranking officer to Cairo, but to discuss this with Foreign Secretary Eden, who is coming to Washington next week.4 In any case, it was easier to deal with Mr. Eden than with Mr. Churchill in such matters.
In response to a question from the President as to the officer which Defense had in mind to go to Cairo, General Vandenberg replied [Page 2000] that the obvious candidate was Admiral Austin, who was well versed in the British-Egyptian problem.
Secretary Dulles wondered whether a Naval officer was logical for discussions of what seemed to him essentially a land problem, and whether the choice of Admiral Austin would be agreeable to the Air Force and the Army.
General Vandenberg replied in the affirmative, and stated that Admiral Austin was the choice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Dulles again expressed the opinion that decision on this issue should be postponed.
The President concluded by stating that he proposed to tell Mr. Churchill that we are ready to reaffirm the prior agreement, but that the further points raised in his letter to the President should await Mr. Eden’s visit.
Under Secretary Smith volunteered to draft a cable for the President to send to the Prime Minister along the lines suggested by the President.5
The National Security Council:
- Discussed the subject in the light of the President’s report on two letters from Prime Minister Churchill.
- Noted the President’s decision that he would reply to these letters by indicating that this Administration is in general accord with the position arrived at during the January 1953 conference in London, but that further decisions by the United States on this subject should await the visit to Washington of Foreign Secretary Eden.6
[Here follows discussion of the Department of Defense budget for the coming fiscal year.]
- See footnote 6, Document 1100.↩
- The paper under reference is presumably Appendix C of the “Agreed Record” of the United States–United Kingdom Talks on Egypt, entitled “Paper Tabled by United States Side on Tactics in Securing Over-all Agreement with Egypt”, not printed. (774.5/1–1453)↩
- Not printed.↩
- For documentation regarding Eden’s conversations with President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles regarding Egypt, see Documents 1111 ff.↩
- Not printed; the telegram in question is telegram 5647 to London, Feb. 24. (Presidential Correspondence, lot 66 D 204, “Eisenhower Correspondence with Churchill, February 1953 thru November 1958”)↩
- These final two paragraphs regarding British-Egyptian negotiations were adopted verbatim as NSC Action No. 722. (S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) files, lot 66 D 95, “Record of Actions by the NSC, 1953”)↩