Memorandum of Conversation, by the
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South
Asian, and African Affairs (Berry)
- Visit of the British Minister and First Secretary
- Sir Christopher Steel, K.C.M.G., M.V.O., British Minister
- Mr. Greenhill, O.B.E., First Secretary of British Embassy
- NEA—Mr. Jones
Problem: British military action in the Suez Canal Zone.
Action required: To inform the Secretary.1
Action assigned to: NE
I told the British Minister that I was particularly happy to see him as important events were occurring in the Canal Zone, and we hoped that he might be able to give us information of them. I said that we had received a telegram last night at about 10:30 P.M. which informed us that a British action was about to take place, and then I read the substance of the telegram No. 3226, January 24 from London which we had received one half hour before the British action was scheduled to commence.2
Sir Christopher commented that our London telegram very accurately reported the plan. He then read a recently received report of the military action. This stated that the Egyptian police had surrendered after approximately half a day of intense resistance. The preliminary report had put the casualties at some 23 Egyptians and 3 Britons killed. He commented that the disarmament of the Egyptian auxiliary police had been “a very tidy operation”.
The British Minister then read slowly from a telegram from London. He stated:
“Please inform Mr. Acheson (you should impress on him) that the measures taken by General Erskine are essential for maintaining the security of our troops in the Canal Zone and that I look confidently to him for full support in this respect and in any measures that may as a result be forced upon us to meet disorders in the Delta in which the lives of United States nationals will be threatened as much as the lives of British subjects.”
Reading from a separate telegram, Sir Christopher reported that further study had been made of the possibility of a new approach to the Egyptian Government with respect to area defense and the Sudan. In this connection he said the United States must appreciate that any approach on these subjects to the present Egyptian Government would be impossible.
Mr. Jones inquired as to the significance of the British naval moves reported in today’s press. Sir Christopher replied that he had no knowledge of this but that it was a possibility that these moves were connected with the change from a 72 to a 48 hour notice of the putting into effect of operation “Rodeo”. Sir Christopher stressed the “stickiness” of the Alexandria operation and said that naval support was imperative.
Mr. Jones asked if it were not the United Kingdom’s plan to occupy sections of Alexandria rather than to evacuate British subjects by sea. Mr. Greenhill replied that this was true; that sections of Alexandria including the two airfields were to be occupied in this operation with evacuation later. This was to be the evacuation perimeter. Cairo was to be enveloped in a separate move from the Canal Zone.
I told the United Kingdom representatives that the position of the United States with respect to the evacuation of its citizens was set out in a telegram sent to London today.3 I read portions of this telegram. I explained to the United Kingdom representatives that a decision on their suggestion for a United States warship to visit Tripoli was a separate but related subject which we would work out in the light of developments. The British reaction to the United States’ views on evacuation was to the effect that it was up to the respective naval commanders in the Mediterranean to work out their own problems, but that a certain amount of confusion was likely.
In response to a question by Mr. Kopper, Mr. Greenhill said he believed all foreigners in Egypt were not safe from mob action if uncontrolled rioting should occur. Mr. Greenhill said it was possible that the reported naval movements did not necessarily mean that plan “Rodeo” was in progress. It is likely that the British ships are simply on their way from Malta to Suda Bay.
Mr. Jones asked if it was the British view that since the operation had terminated that we were back now to where we were before the inception of the operation. Mr. Greenhill said that he presumed so, and that the captured police were to be returned to Egyptian authorities.[Page 1755]
Sir Christopher said that since Sir Oliver Franks had seen the Secretary only the day before yesterday, there would be no need to ask to see the Secretary tomorrow. However, perhaps the Secretary would want to discuss the matter and might wish to ask Sir Oliver to come to see him.
- Berry sent a copy of this memorandum of conversation to Secretary of State Acheson on Jan. 26 as an attachment to a separate memorandum, not printed. (641.74/1–2452)↩
- Not printed. The Minister of Embassy in London, Julius C. Holmes, had reported that Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, had informed him that British forces at Ismailia would begin disarming the Egyptian auxiliary police the following day. Eden thought that the Egyptian Government would feel compelled to react in such a way that foreigners’ lives might be endangered. Therefore, the British were making preliminary moves of naval units into positions to enable them to evacuate foreigners if necessary. Moreover, Eden was instructing the British Ambassador in Egypt, Sir Ralph Skrine Stevenson, to warn King Farouk that he had to prevent his government from taking actions which would endanger foreigners. (641.74/1–2452)↩
- Not printed.↩