171. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Anderson) to the Under Secretary of State (Hoover)1


  • Centurion Tanks for Iraq

Reference is made to the attached copy of a communication on the above subject from the British Prime Minister to the President, dated July 23, 1955.2 The President received the communication at Geneva on the same date, handed it to me, and directed that I bring it to your attention promptly upon my return to the United States; also, that I pass on to each of you promptly the substance of the conversations on this subject at Geneva.

According to my notes and recollection, the following exchanges of views in Geneva constitute material background:


On Sunday afternoon, July 17, Sir Anthony Eden called on the President at his villa in Geneva, and brought up with the President the matter of U.S. adherence to the Iraqi-Turkish Pact. The President advised him that he understood no such action was deemed practicable until the Arab-Israeli problem could be clarified. Sir Anthony then brought up the subject of U.S. aid to Iraq, and made particular reference to Centurion Tanks. He proposed to the President that between 50 and 100 tanks be purchased by the U.S. from British Manufacturers under the offshore procurement program, and that such tanks be made available to Iraq. The President asked Sir Anthony what the English proposed to do by way of aid to Iraq, and indicated that he felt the Iraqis should bear at least a token part of the cost. (The foregoing is based upon the President’s statement to me shortly after the conference, as to the substance of the conversations on this subject.)

At the President’s direction, I called Deputy Secretary Anderson Tuesday evening (July 19), in Paris,3 and asked him to discuss with [Page 321] Governor Stassen the matter of the availability of funds for further Iraq aid this year, and be prepared to advise the President on the subject when he reached Geneva the next day.

On Wednesday, July 20, 1955, Sir AnthonyEden and Foreign Minister Harold Macmillan had breakfast with the President at his villa, and I joined them at the President’s request, in order that I might record the substance of the conversation.4 Both Eden and Macmillan suggested that before the “Alpha Plan” was announced, the U.S. should furnish some concrete evidence of an intention to provide further assistance in the form of defense aid to the Iraqis; that such a step would strengthen the present Government; that it would be a major tragedy in the area if the present Government should fall; and that there were many powerful elements within Iraq working for its down-fall. Sir Anthony stated that the British would be prepared to participate in such assistance. The President pointed out that while it was of course desirable to have munitions manufacturing facilities spread about somewhat in the free world, there was a definite limit on funds available for mutual aid. He went ahead to explain his concept of mutuality of aid, which includes participation by countries mutually interested in common defense, and suggested again that Iraq should bear some of the cost. He said that his experience had been that when people put some of their own money into a venture, they become more interested in it.Eden agreed that there should be some Iraq participation, but the amount of U.S. aid and the degree of British participation were left open.

The President said that he would try to get from Deputy Secretary Anderson and Governor Stassen some further information as to what we were in a position to do generally in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, in the light of available funds under Congressional appropriations for the current year. He stressed the fact that no commitment could be made until we could ascertain how near we were to the limit of Congressional appropriations in this connection.

Mr.Dulles then described one of the problems we had to consider back home,—namely, that our military people preferred in dealing with such countries as Iraq to pass on to them older equipment, which in turn gave our Defense Department FOA credit, which could be used to replace old equipment with new equipment.Macmillan urged that the Northern Tier concept of countries bordering Russia on the south, but not actually bordering Israel, had been a U.S. proposal; that the U.S. therefore had a special responsibility to support the countries adhering to treaties within the framework of this concept.Macmillan, while recognizing that the British were [Page 322] committed to support the arrangement, stressed the U.S. interests and obligations in this particular, and mentioned the fact that at the present time, all tanks in the hands of the Iraqis were of British manufacture.

Macmillan said that the announcement of the Alpha plan could cause a “blow-up” in the Middle East; that neither the Arabs nor the Israelis would like it at first,—the former because of the recognition of boundaries enlarged by “Israeli aggression”; the latter because it would seem to be “pro-Arab”. Sir Anthony appeared to accept this possibility with equanimity, and regarded it as an immediate but not lasting result of the treaty settlement. Mr.Dulles said he felt any “blow-up” from the “Alpha” would be in the nature of a “little fire”, of a kind we sometimes have to set to prevent a “big fire”,—the analogy of forestry fire-fighting.

. . . Mr.Dulles said he had held up any further steps on Alpha at the earnest insistence of Eric Johnston, who believed he could get agreement on the Jordan water projects. Mr.Dulles said he felt sure Johnston would not succeed, but he had acquiesced in Johnston’s request.Eden concurred in this appraisal, and incidentally compared the Israelis and Arabs to the Hatfields and the McCoys in Tennessee.

It appeared to me to be agreed that the matter of Iraq aid was an urgent one, and must be dealt with promptly, although I did not take it that any specific commitment was made by the President or Mr.Dulles. The effect of it seemed to be an agreement in principle that the British and the U.S. should both participate in ways and to the extent to be determined later, after Messrs.Anderson and Stassen arrived in Geneva.

On Wednesday evening, July 20, after the discussions at the President’s villa about the disarmament proposal, the President described briefly to Deputy Secretary Anderson the nature of the problem raised by the British that morning at breakfast. It was agreed, as I understood it, that they would discuss it further the next day.5

I understand that the next day the President and Deputy Secretary Anderson had some further discussions about it.5 Whether there were any further talks by the President or Mr.Dulles and the British thereafter in Geneva, I do not know, but it was my impression that the President did not engage in any further talks.

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The President indicated to me that he wanted very prompt action in this matter. As you know, I shall be glad to work with you in any way when I can be of help.

Dillon Anderson
  1. Source: Department of State,S/SNEA Files: Lot 61 D 417, Alpha Volume 5. Top Secret. Addressed also to Deputy Secretary of Defense Anderson, JCS Chairman Radford, and ICA Director Hollister.
  2. Eden informed Eisenhower in this communication that the United Kingdom was prepared to expend £500,000 on the purchase of 10 Centurion tanks for Iraq. As Iraq required 80 Centurions, the British gift of 10 would, according to Eden, complement the remaining 70 which the United States would furnish under the offshore procurement program.Eden stated that he intended to issue instructions on this as soon as the United States had reached a favorable decision. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204,Eden to Eisenhower Correspondence, 1955–1956, Vol. I, as well as in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File)
  3. No account of this telephone conversation has been found.
  4. See Document 164.
  5. No account of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.
  6. No account of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.