641.74/4–1852: Telegram

No. 975
The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Gifford) to the Department of State1

top secret

4707. I saw Eden and he asked that I forward the fol personal msg re Egypt to you in reply to your msg conveyed Deptel 4762 March 26 as modified by Deptel 4828 Mar 28:

“I share your anxiety over the Egypt sitn and I entirely agree on the need for speed in trying to reach an agrmt with the present Egypt Govt. It is most encouraging to receive this new evidence of your interest in promoting a solution of the present difficulties between Egypt and the Western world and I am grateful for your practical suggestions.

“Your appreciation of the present position and analysis of the various courses of action which seem to be open coincide closely with my own. The objectives which you set out at the beginning of your appraisal paper are indeed our main common objectives. I shld only like to add that HMG regard a solution of the prob of the Anglo-Egypt Sudan to be another major objective of the present negots. Because this wld involve in Sudanese eyes a change in the status of their country, I am pledged not to agree to recognize King Farouk as King of the Sudan except as the outcome of consultation with the Sudanese and I cld not modify that pledge without gravely impairing trust in the assurances of HMG among the Sudanese people and indeed among many other peoples on the African continent. There is strong feeling on this point in Parliament. I, therefore, regard the Sudan prob as something more than a complicating factor, altho I agree with you that what we need for our own purposes is an agreement on the def of the ME and the maintenance of free transit of the Suez Canal.

“On the tactics of starting negots you make the suggestion that if it is impossible to agree upon a joint statement or exchange of notes with Egypts an attempt might be made to reach agmt upon an agenda. We have had this in mind for some time, though I think that in drawing up this agenda we might encounter similar difficulties to those obstructions joint declaration. The idea of a declaration in any case was pursued only in order to help the Egypts.

“The truth is that the present Egypt Govt, for all Hilaly Pasha’s sincerity and courage, are afraid to give away more than the Wafd would give away. For instance, they are reluctant to start discussing the MEC because the MEC proposals were an integral part of the four-power proposals rejected by the Wafd. Nevertheless Hilaly Pasha at least seems to recognize the necessity for defending Egypt against outside aggression, even tho it is hard for him to undertake to do what is necessary to see that Egypt is defended.

[Page 1791]

“In regard to the withdrawal of Brit forces from the canal zone, you suggest that it might help if we wld agree, at the beginning of negots, to inform the Egypts that Brit forces over and above the treaty limit wld be withdrawn as soon as possible, starting at once. This wld involve a reduction of from over 70,000 men to 10,000. I am conscious of the psychological value of starting a withdrawal of forces now and wld be ready to do so at the appropriate moment. At the same time I am doubtful whether it wld make Egypts any more tractable if we were to reduce our forces to the treaty figure. Having abrogated the treaty and declared that they will not be satis until all fon troops are out, they are not likely to compromise on such a proposal. In any case we shld like to make sure of agreement at least on our leaving sufficient technicians to look after the mil equipment still in the canal zone and also on establishing an allied air def org, before agreeing to such substantial withdrawal of troops.

“The estab of an allied air def org, including both Egypt and Allied forces, is something to which I attach the greatest importance, not only from the point of view of the def of the canal against outside aggression, but also for the security of the ME in peace time. There are many people in the UK who wld be most reluctant to see the complete withdrawal of Brit land forces from the canal zone, since they fear that to leave the canal exclusively to the protection of the Egypt army wld put the canal itself and the canal company at the mercy of the Egypts, upon whose written promises past experience has taught us not to rely. If early elections are held and result, as they well might, in the return of the Wafd to power, this wld lend force to such arguments. I take rather less pessimistic view, but withdrawal of land forces will inevitably involve a risk unless the Western powers between them can apply sufficient internatl pressure upon the Egypt Govt to leave both the canal and the canal company alone. The presence of an Allied air def org on Egypt soil wld help to achieve this end and I wonder whether you can suggest any other steps which might usefully be taken.

“Examination of the question of redeploying troops from the canal zone led to the difficult prob of where they cld be moved to and still remain ready to defend the ME in the event of outside aggression. We have gone very carefully into the prob of constructing an alternative station in Gaza. The polit difficulties involved are possibly less formidable than the physical. No permanent accommodation cld be constructed there without very considerable expense. With such resources as we have at present available it wld be a long business, taking several years. It will also be necessary to find another home for the 200,000 Arab refugees at present in Gaza. The difficulties look almost insuperable; on the other hand, there is no other strategically suitable area at hand. All this does not make it easier for us to agree to a large and immediate withdrawal of troops for the canal zone, while continuing to prepare for the def of the ME against outside aggression.

[Page 1792]

“If I have stressed the difficulties confronting us it is not because I think that you underestimate them. On contrary, I am always sure with you of a sympathetic audience, since this is a problem which we share. I am most grateful also for the continued support and coop which Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Cairo has recd from Mr. Caffery. His assistance and his wise advice to the Egypts have played a part which it wld be difficult to overestimate. The plain truth however remains that, unless the Egypts are prepared to face facts which are admittedly uncomfortable from their point of view, all our efforts to help them may prove in vain. Although we are willing to withdraw our forces from Egypt upon certain terms, the Egypts cannot drive us out of Egypt; altho we are willing that Egypt shld play her proper part in developments in the Sudan, she cannot obstruct the progress which the Sudanese are making towards self-govt and self-determination, and she cannot expect us to help her by recognizing the King of Egypt’s claim to the title of King of the Sudan against the wishes of the Sudanese. We have made these points clear to the Egypts again and again, at the same time emphasizing that we realize the difficulties of the present Egypt Govt and that we will do all we can to help them so long as this does not conflict with these principles. But the point, in my view, is that the only hope of settling our differences now is that the Egypts shld get to work with us upon the necessary practical arrangements. It is to this end that our efforts have been increasingly bent of late”.

  1. Repeated to Cairo as telegram 264.