110.11 DU/5–1253: Telegram

No. 1160
The Ambassador in Egypt (Caffery) to the Department of State1


2417. From Secretary.

Secretary and Stassen spent more than three hours yesterday (May 11) afternoon discussing with General Naguib and Foreign Minister Fawzi Egyptian ideas Suez base. Conversation continued at dinner with Nasir and other principal lieutenants of Naguib.
During call at Foreign Office Fawzi first gave recital of Egyptian case. Since we were to meet subsequently with Naguib, Secretary did not attempt to expand United States thinking regarding base, but confined himself largely to asking questions.
Fawzi touched briefly upon other matters: meeting of Arab League Finance Ministers soon to study cooperative economic developments; Arab-Israel border difficulties; Arab refugees; and threat of Israel which “partitioned” Arab world. Fawzi mentioned that Arab leaders disturbed by Secretary’s visit Jerusalem and Secretary replied they should not attach political significance to his visit to Jerusalem.
Two hour conference with Naguib had more substance. After Secretary gave him President’s gift (it was evident he was very pleased), Naguib launched into exposition Egyptian case saying he would speak with complete frankness.

His government seeking effect economic, social and political reforms so that peaceful Egypt can play useful part in modern world.

These reforms are hindered by “aggression” of United Kingdom in Egypt. Only social and economic advancement, by rectifying differences between rich and poor, by democratic processes, and by liberty could living standards of people be raised, and thus strength achieved. British occupation and “stubborness” has aroused everybody. Arabs have always considered United States as country of freedom, friend of weak nations and sympathizer with national aspirations. Emergence Israel weakened United States position and now considerable Arab bitterness (previously reserved for United Kingdom) has now shifted to shoulders United States. Arabs see miserable refugees and feel United States always supports Israel. Egypt (and Arabs generally) have had bad experience with agreements not kept by United Kingdom. Only week after Sudan agreement [Page 2066] British officials began to undermine it. It is not surprising, therefore, that Egypt and Arabs fear to enter into agreements such as one for Middle East defense. Agreements are only “respectable” when made between equals. Master-slave relationship is impossible basis. Egypt and Arabs inhibited by this idea when confronted with proposals for MEDO. “If I and my people feel oppressed, there is no point in making an agreement with us.” Popular will must be respected. Agreement regarding defense only possible if these suspicions allayed and confidence re-established between United Kingdom and Egypt. Because of its strength United States has capability of “doing anything”. Nevertheless, “if I say I will make a pact I will lose all my supporters” and compliance with pact would be impossible. However, once liberty achieved, Egypt would be willing to have confidence in everybody—even United Kingdom.


Naguib said defense Egypt is Egyptian responsibility which country desires to undertake with strength and enthusiasm. Regardless number of United Kingdom troops in canal area, without an agreement they will “never be safe” from 22 million Egyptians who see them as aggressors. He foresaw worsening situation because “agreement I could make with United Kingdom now, I will not be able to make in month or two”.

Naguib then outlined discussions with United Kingdom regarding establishment technical committees and said that root difficulty was terms of reference for base committee. United Kingdom wanted to start committee without terms of reference, but Egypt insisted on establishing “broad lines of principles” for guidance. Egypt accepted British technicians (“a courageous act in the light of popular feeling”) until they could eventually be replaced by trained Egyptians, but insisted on “full control of base” because “otherwise it would be an infringement on our sovereignty” and eventual replacement all British technicians. Sovereignty vital to Egyptians.

Naguib said no government in any Arab country can go against will of people “who hate British. and who are bitter against United States and to some extent France for supporting United Kingdom. Egypt knows in modern world “no country can stand alone and therefore must look for friends. Russians not our friend”. Solution of Anglo-Egyptian problem will unlock door to the solution of many problems confronting other Arab states such as Israel, area defense (he mentioned ALCSP), and communication. If problem not solved world may be faced with chaos in Egypt suitable for exploitation by “United Kingdom, Communists and others who have an interest in chaos”. Naguib said he faces problem vis-à-vis United States because Communists are already saying his government selling out Egypt to United Kingdom at United States [Page 2067] behest. “We welcome loans from United States, but as long as Egypt weak people, fear repetition 18862 when foreign powers intervened to collect Khedive Ismail’s debts.”
Secretary thanked Naguib and said straight talk was just what he had come to hear. When new administration in United States took over it was faced with established foreign policies. Some were good and others needed revision or change. Effective foreign policies cannot be made in Washington without knowledge of what is in minds of other people. Secretary said our policies would be based on confrontation of Communist threat: we had no evidence that Communist philosophy had changed and felt that threat of further Red expansion real and present. To cope with this threat we need help of others. We consider Middle East as danger area hitherto neglected by United States which has focused, perhaps, excessive attention Israel. We want balanced Middle East policy directed against neither Arabs nor Jews.
Secretary said what happens in Egypt is Egypt’s business. We cannot dictate to Egypt. Nevertheless, we have concluded from studies world strategy in Department and NSC that Egypt under Naguib’s guidance has the capability of providing kind of leadership and example Arab world lacking for long time. He stressed President’s personal esteem for Naguib and indicated we would like to assist Egypt to take lead in Arab world through economic and military assistance even though arms desperately needed many places (e.g., Siam, Laos, NATO, et cetera). Egypt might become example for other Arab states to follow. We were open to any ideas Naguib might wish to advance in these spheres.
Anglo-Egyptian differences real problem for United States. United States not ashamed close United States–United Kingdom ties. We have differences with United Kingdom and do not automatically accept British policies as our own, but we are fundamentally agreed on broad principles. We have no colonial ambitions as proved by freeing Philippines et cetera.
When Suez base discussed last March with Eden (as Truman administration had done earlier) we agreed with United Kingdom that there must be a prompt change in situation of the base which would fully recognize Egyptian sovereignty both in theory and fact. However, to United States it vitally important that change in base status not create power vacuum and that base should be instantly available at high level of efficiency in event of war. Base in such a state is a necessity and in view United States greatest deterrent to [Page 2068] aggression this area by USSR. Secretary reminded Naguib of Stalin’s statement in 1940 to Hitler that the center of Soviet aspirations lay in general area of Persian Gulf. He said that as General to General the President sent Naguib word that impetuousness must be avoided if the base is to continue as a deterrent to aggression and as a point of free world strength. Therefore, United States believes in phased withdrawal British troops, but in instant readiness of base—readiness in three to six months might be too late. British technicians to handle British equipment represent system which United States does not want to see broken up without adequate and appropriate replacement arrangements. We asked whether Naguib agreed regarding instant availability.
Naguib and Fawzi both assured Secretary that they believed in instant availability and that they were confident Egyptians could be trained to keep base adequately. Latter said best deterrent to Soviets would be seeing relationship between Egypt and United Kingdom—then Soviets would never dare attack. However, during negotiations, United Kingdom had said there must be British technicians in base as long as British property remained there. Why this desire for control? “We cannot accept anything which infringes our sovereignty.” Egypt prepared to take over base gradually and would not abuse Egyptian control, but without Egyptian control United Kingdom might increase number of technicians or in other ways remain indefinitely, thus impairing Egyptian sovereignty.
Byroade referred to expeditiousness of base and asked Egypt’s views regarding United Kingdom sending supplies to Arab Legions, Libya, et cetera. Naguib and Fawzi thought a moment and then replied that stores were British property and that they could do with them as they liked.

Secretary remarked that it seemed stupid to think that the great vision of a new Egypt can collapse on the point of who directs inventory-keepers. Agreement resulting in evacuation of British troops would be a great political victory. Control appears sticking point.

Can Egyptians assure efficient control by them and would base be available if needed? They replied that committees could study control matter and work out efficient system. Secretary said that he had not come to Egypt to involve himself in Anglo-Egyptian negotiations: He was interested in the role Egypt might play in their future and wanted to discuss this again with Naguib. He wanted to see present impasse between Egypt and United Kingdom cleared away. It must be plain to Egypt that “United States cannot allow Egyptians to fight British”. He wanted it out of the way also so that he could talk about such matters as collective security and peace with Israel. Regarding collective security, he was interested [Page 2069] in strong Egyptian view that MEDO proposal was out of date and something new must be found.

Regarding Israel, Naguib said that everything depends on confidence and Jews have long record of noncompliance with United Nations resolutions. Nevertheless, “after British get out, I am pretty sure I can reach an agreement”. Naguib said that even now Egypt prepared to discuss informally with United States planning for area defense.

As meeting about to break up, Naguib was handed partial press report on Churchill’s speech3 which he read aloud, but did not comment on specifically.
  1. Repeated to London as telegram 778.
  2. The Dual Control of Egyptian finances by the United Kingdom and France was first established in 1876 and was renewed in 1879. This system was abolished by the British at the outset of the British Occupation in 1882.
  3. Prime Minister Churchill made extensive remarks about Egypt in a speech at the House of Commons on May 11. For documentation regarding the Prime Minister’s statements, see Department of State files. 641.74 and 774.56.