232. Memorandum of a Conversation, Secretary Dulles’ Residence, Washington, April 1, 1956, 4–5:40 p.m.1


  • Middle East


  • The Secretary
  • The Under Secretary
  • Mr. MacArthur
  • Sir Roger Makins, British Ambassador
  • Mr. R. W. Bailey, Counselor of Embassy

The Secretary opened the conversation by saying that we had been concentrating for some days on the Middle East problem, and we had now come up with some thoughts which he would like to outline to Sir Roger. Our views might not coincide entirely with those of the UK, but the Secretary felt that any differences of emphasis were reconcilable.

The Secretary then said there were several points he wished to make. In the first place, we wished to cooperate most closely with the UK, but on a secret basis. We did not believe it would be productive for us to cooperate publicly on a joint basis, as it would perhaps carry the implication of ganging up. The Baghdad Pact was an exception, and we planned publicly to support it, although we could not join it at this time. The Secretary recalled that when we had been privately discussing the Suez Base problem with Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Eden, both Sir Winston and Sir [Page 436] Anthony had pressed us to take a joint, open, and public position vis-à-vis Egypt. We had not been able to agree to take such a joint position, and we believed in the present circumstances that while there could be extensive secret cooperation between the US and the UK, it could not be proclaimed publicly.

He said that the second point he wished to make was that Bulganin and Khrushchev would be visiting London in about two weeks,2 and he assumed the Middle Eastern situation might be discussed. The US would not wish to be committed to a course of action with the UK if, as a result of the UK-Soviet discussions, the UK position might be materially altered. Sir Roger interrupted to say he did not think there was much chance of that.

The third point the Secretary said he wished to stress was our belief that the key to any constructive program in the area involved the winning away of the Saudi Arabians from their present alignment with Egypt. We believed that it might be possible to win King Saud away from Nasser, and Saud could give important anti-Communist leadership in the Arab world, which was important. However, we believed the winning away of the Saudis from Egypt depended on the UK reaching an accommodation with the Saudis on Buraimi. A settlement of the Buraimi issue was of vital importance, and if an immediate settlement could not be achieved, it might be possible for the UK and the Saudis to agree to some form of indefinite postponement of final decision on the Buraimi matter. The Secretary said he had stressed the importance of a UK-Saudi settlement on Buraimi since if this could be achieved, we believed we could win the Saudis, with whom we had considerable influence, away from Egypt. The Secretary said we had reason to believe that King Saud had some concern over the general philosophy of Nasser and his revolutionary group. Also, King Saud was in a position to exercise religious influence in the area. All these elements might be marshalled and used to separate King Saud from Nasser …. We believed it would be extremely difficult to counter the combined NasserSaud alignment, and therefore in our view Saudi Arabia represented the key.

The Secretary then said there were certain positive aspects of the program we had in mind for the Middle Eastern area. In the first place, we did not wish to proceed at this juncture on the basis that [Page 437] Nasser is irrevocably committed to the Soviets. We felt that in the first instance we should proceed on the idea that Nasser might be swung away from his present course of action. This chance might, admittedly, be slight, but as things now stood, regardless of what we ultimately decided to do, we thought the first phase should not involve any open break with Nasser. With respect to Egypt, the program we had in mind involved slowing up and delaying any action on a number of requests which the Egyptians had made. For example, it would involve delaying any decision by the International Bank on the High Aswan Dam. The Secretary said he assumed the UK would cooperate on this. Also, we were not inclined to proceed any further in allocating surplus wheat to Egypt, although we were committed to sending them 200,000 tons. However, the Egyptians wanted an additional 400,000 tons, and we would delay any action on this. The Egyptians also wanted substantially to increase the CARE operation through which they received about forty million dollars’ worth of supplies last year. We intended to slow down action on CARE, although possibly we might license modest CARE supplies for Egypt for the first quarter of this year. However, such allocation would be smaller than for the corresponding period last year. Returning to the question of the High Aswan Dam, the Secretary said we planned to reallocate the FY 56 funds which we had set aside for the Aswan Dam. If later the Egyptians cooperated with us, we could allocate funds from FY 57 to cover the operation. To summarize, the Secretary said that without an open break we would see to it that Egypt did not get satisfaction on many of her requests. We would not, however, take an open, public stand denying them the items which they sought. We would simply not take affirmative action.

With respect to the Sudan, the Secretary said …. The UK had more assets in the Sudan than the US, but if there were ways in which we could assist, we would be glad to do so. He said it was important both with respect to Egypt and Abyssinia that the Head Waters of the Nile be kept out of Egyptian or Soviet control.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, we were renegotiating our base agreement, and in the course of this renegotiation we would probably have to make further arms allocations to Saudi Arabia. We hoped that by such time the Buraimi problem would be settled… .

The Secretary next mentioned Jordan, saying that this was a country where the UK had more influence and assets than we did. It was important to keep Jordan from being absorbed by Egypt or by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He said he had the impression that the immediate situation looked just a little bit better there.

With respect to the Baghdad Pact, the Secretary said we had studied very carefully the possibility of joining it, and this was just [Page 438] not possible. He said he had discussed with Senator George and several other Senators this question, and they had said that any proposal on our part to join the Baghdad Pact would stir up a hornet’s nest in the Senate. This was true even if it were coupled with a security guarantee for Israel. Another consideration was that the Secretary believed that if we joined the Baghdad Pact and at the same time guaranteed Israel it would have a very bad effect on Iraq, since Iraq would be portrayed by the other Arab states as having sold out with respect to the Arab position on Israel in order to get a few immediate advantages for Iraq. The result of this could undermine seriously the present Iraqi Government. While not being prepared to join the Baghdad Pact, we were willing to send high level observers to the April meeting. Also, we would study the proposal we had received from Mr. Lloyd regarding the establishment of a Baghdad Pact Technical Assistance Board with a working fund. If, as a result of our study, it seemed feasible, we would be disposed to cooperate, but we would wish to examine the effect on SEATO of our contributing funds to such a Board.

Sir Roger interrupted to say that since all the members of SEATO belonged to the Colombo Plan, he thought the line could be held there. Mr. MacArthur said that if it seemed necessary for the US to contribute to such a fund, we could probably hold the line in preventing any undesirable developments in SEATO since, as Sir Roger pointed out, all members of SEATO did belong to the Colombo Plan. Mr. Hoover said we ourselves had had some thoughts about economic cooperation under the Baghdad Pact and this was now being studied by ICA.

The Secretary then said that with respect to Iraq, we were prepared to cooperate through OSP to supply further Centurion tanks. He mentioned that in supplying equipment we would have to be sure it was not supplied so rapidly that it could not be absorbed, and in this connection mentioned that when he had been in Pakistan our people there had said that existing plans for stepping up certain categories of military aid for Pakistan had led them to believe that Pakistan could not absorb the equipment as rapidly as we were prepared to supply it.

With regard to Israel, the Secretary said we did not wish the Israelis to start on the Banat Ya’cub operation since this would in all probability lead to hostilities. As a result of a talk he had had with Ambassador Eban last Thursday,3 he felt better about this, and believed that if we could give some satisfaction to an Israeli request for an Exim Bank loan4 for other water development projects, the [Page 439] Israelis might defer any action on the Banat Ya’cub project. We would not necessarily be able to satisfy the full amount of the Israeli request for other water development projects, but we could probably give them something. Sir Roger asked if the other Israeli water development projects were geared into the Johnston Plan. The Secretary said they were in the sense that the Israelis must get water under the Johnston Plan or some comparable plan.

Regarding arms for Israel, the Secretary said we were still reluctant to send any substantial amount of arms to Israel, as we believed this would cause the Arab states to unite in open hostility to us, thus diminishing our influence in the area. The Secretary said he believed that if we could go through the present US political campaign without giving in to Zionist pressures for substantial arms to Israel, this would encourage the Arabs and have a very good effect on them. In terms of domestic politics, it was a political liability for the Administration not to send arms to Israel, but the Administration was willing to accept this liability because of the broader and very important issues involved.

While the US did not plan to ship any substantial amount of arms to Israel, the Secretary said he did not think the same considerations applied to other countries which have historically supplied Israel with arms. We believed that Israel had possibilities of getting defensive armaments from other countries, and we had already told the French we had no objection to their supplying the twelve Mystere aircraft which were being produced in France for NATO through OSP. The Secretary also mentioned that when he had dined with Canadian Foreign Minister Pearson several days ago,5 he had informed him that we would have no objection to Canada supplying some defensive arms and equipment to Israel if the Canadians so desired. As a practical matter, the Secretary believed it would be salutory to have some increase in Israel’s defensive strength, but it was preferable for the equipment to be supplied by countries other than the US for the reasons which he had outlined.

The Secretary then turned to Libya, and said it was of the utmost importance that Libya not fall under Egyptian or Soviet domination, and in this connection the situation looked somewhat better. Mr. Hoover added that we were extending some additional aid to Libya, but in order to avoid the impression that the way to get additional US aid was to flirt with the Soviets, we would also be [Page 440] asking Libya for some additional undefined base rights as a quid pro quo for our additional aid.

The Secretary said this about concluded his outline of our views on the Middle East situation and what we had in mind as a program there. …

The Secretary said he had forgotten to mention that we were thinking about giving Iraq some radio equipment and facilities so that it could expand its broadcasts to the Arab world and thus deny Egypt and the Soviet Union a sole monopoly of the Arab air waves. The Secretary reiterated that he believed the program he had outlined might possibly bring Nasser around. He recalled that when he had discussed this matter with Macmillan last autumn he had suggested that without coming out publicly against Nasser, we should play our cards in a way which conveyed the impression that it was just not lucky to flirt and cooperate with the Russians… .

Sir Roger said he would like to make some comments and observations on what the Secretary had said. He did not know, in the first place, whether the Middle East would be discussed with Bulganin and Khrushchev when they visited London, but he did not think there was much chance of the British position veering.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, he said the UK agreed it was very desirable to split the Saudis from the Egyptians. He mentioned that in their exchanges with the Saudis regarding Buraimi, the UK had asked that the talks take place without conditions precedent being established, and the Saudis had agreed. They had asked for high level talks at the Foreign Minister level to take place in New York. The British did not like the idea of talks taking place in New York since they might get mixed up with UN matters, and therefore they were proposing that the talks take place in Saudi Arabia. As to level, the UK did not believe in the first phase it was necessary for the talks to be at the Foreign Minister level, but they would send a high-level Foreign Office group to Saudi Arabia. Sir Roger said that if the Saudis acquainted us with this British proposal regarding talks, he hoped we would support their proposal for talks in Saudi Arabia at the level he had indicated. Sir Roger said he would report to London the views the Secretary had expressed regarding Saudi Arabia.

The Secretary said he strongly believed the situation was so serious that the UK might have to pay a price to split the Saudis [Page 441] from the Egyptians. He said that when he had discussed with President Eisenhower last week the program he had just outlined to Sir Roger, the President’s only criticism had been that our program did not emphasize enough building up of King Saud as a counterbalance to Nasser.6 Mr. Hoover mentioned that a settlement of the Buraimi dispute would have a direct and good effect on the situation in Yemen, which in turn threatened the British position in Aden, and that therefore it seemed worthwhile to pay a substantial price for it.

Sir Roger said with respect to Egypt that while the British took a somewhat dimmer view of the possibility of bringing Nasser around, he thought that they saw the situation generally in much the same light as we. The Secretary said he did not think it was necessary to reconcile differences as to emphasis at this juncture, since regardless of what we felt we might ultimately have to do, in the first phase the operation would be the same. Sir Roger said he agreed and that in the first phase we ought to keep Nasser guessing.

Sir Roger then said he had received some instructions regarding the High Aswan Dam, and said he would not take the time now, but would like to meet with Mr. Hoover in the next few days to go over them.7 He felt it was important not to give publicity to the delays which would occur with respect to the International Bank’s consideration of the Egyptian request.

Turning to the Sudan, Sir Roger said the Sudanese Government wanted the International Bank to send a mission to the Sudan. The Bank had an understandable rule not to send missions to non-members. The UK had therefore proposed to the Sudan Government that it send a mission to the US to talk with the International Bank people, and on this mission could be included one or two technical people. Sir Roger expressed the hope that we would support this idea. The Secretary commented that the Sudan was a key spot, because control of the Head Waters of the Nile enabled influence to be brought to bear on both Egypt and Abyssinia.

Sir Roger then discussed the Baghdad Pact, and handed to the Secretary a summary of a memorandum (Annex A)8 which the Turkish Government had handed to the UK Ambassador in Ankara [Page 442] on March 29, together with a copy of the telegram (Annex B)9 the British Embassy in Ankara had sent to the Foreign Office commenting on the Turkish memorandum. The Secretary glanced at both these documents and said he assumed that the word “Egypt” which occurred nine lines from the end of paragraph 5 should read “Israel”. Sir Roger agreed. He added that the Turkish memorandum was “very tough” …. Sir Roger particularly mentioned the fact that the Turkish Government considered that the Baghdad Pact had “reached a critical point in its existence when urgent and concerted decisions must be taken by its members and by the US if it is to be preserved”.

The Secretary asked who the British were sending to the April 12 meeting of the Baghdad Pact. Sir Roger replied that despite the urging of the Turkish Foreign Minister (see Annex B [A?]), it was not possible for Mr. Lloyd to go since he would be tied up with the BulganinKhrushchev visit. Accordingly, the British were sending the Minister of Defense10 and the Chairman of the British JCS.11 Sir Roger inquired who the US would send as observers, and Mr. Hoover replied that we did not have definite names yet, but Admiral Radford felt the military observer should be of four-star rank, and we were thinking about sending Deputy Under Secretary Murphy on the political side.

Sir Roger asked whether the US observer would be able to say something at the Baghdad Pact meeting regarding the Centurion tanks for Iraq, and the Secretary replied that he understood the British had already let the Iraqis know about our plans in general terms, although not specifying the number of tanks. The Secretary undertook to look into this matter to see what our observers might say regarding tanks for Iraq.

Sir Roger then said the UK was releasing for shipment to Israel six Meteor jet aircraft on which they had been holding action. In addition, there would be some Bofors guns to arm Israeli motor torpedo boats, and in the next few months they might send six more Meteors and a few Mosquito aircraft and some vehicles. Sir Roger said he assumed the US Government would not object to this, and the Secretary said his assumption was correct.

Sir Roger mentioned that London was particularly anxious for US–UK military talks to take place regarding possible courses of action in the Middle East, and this seemed well in hand as Air [Page 443] Marshal Dickson was now en route to the US to talk with Admiral Radford.

The Secretary inquired whether the British had made a study as to what they would do in terms of oil if the pipelines across the Arab states were blown up and the Suez Canal were blocked. He asked what contingency plans or thoughts they had developed with respect to bringing oil around the Cape or from Venezuela. Sir Roger replied that he did not know whether they had any such studies, and the Secretary said that if they did have them, it might be useful to exchange them with us.

Sir Roger next turned to Jordan, and said he had prepared a memorandum for the Secretary (Annex C)12 setting forth the situation there. The situation was not good and could develop very badly. The Arab Legion was in a disturbed state and much jockeying and maneuvering was going on within it. The British were trying to conclude an arrangement with the Government of Jordan whereby twenty or thirty British officers would remain with the Legion, although not under as favorable conditions as the British would have liked. The British were also trying to arrange a meeting of the UK–Jordan Defense Board to activate this organism. He said Air Marshal Dickson would be in a position to discuss certain military aspects with Admiral Radford… . The British had pointed out to the King the bad situation in the Legion, with officers working against him, but the King had clammed up and simply said he knew all about this.

He then made a brief reference to the situation in Iraq and said it was still manageable, but we should do what we could to strengthen and support the Iraq Government.

He then turned to action in the UN and said that while it looked as if a resolution would be favorably approved this coming week,13 it would be very limited in scope, and would not permit the UN Secretary General to do very much. London wondered whether the US had any ideas as to other things which could be done in the political field. Was there any way a political deterrent could be further emphasized? The Secretary agreed that the UN resolution was restrictive, but felt that quite a bit could be done if it were not for Hammarskjold’s temperament. He wondered whether he shouldn’t get Hammarskjold down to Washington before he went out to the Middle East. Mr. Hoover said he thought it would be an [Page 444] excellent idea, and we could give him some appropriate intelligence on the disposition of the opposing forces and also alert him to the critical nature of the situation there. The Secretary said he might also consider opening up Hammarskjold’s mind to the dangers in terms of war breaking out if a situation developed in the Middle East were Western Europe denied oil. The Secretary commented that he was not certain what our rights were under the Suez Canal Convention, since we were not signatories, but he was inclined to feel that since the Suez Canal was an international waterway, we could make a case as to having certain rights. He indicated that he would speak to Mr. Phleger about this, since we ought at least to know what our position internationally was in the event the dispatch of military forces to the Canal might seem desirable.

Sir Roger said he was grateful for the Secretary’s having given him so much of his time. The most urgent matter in his view was the meeting of the Baghdad Pact about ten days hence. He made reference to the Turkish memorandum and said it might be that if something could be done on the economic side such as the Development Board proposed by the UK, and if the US could say something about the Centurion tanks for Iraq and perhaps something about Iran, and if the US had high level representation, the meeting might go off reasonably well. Sir Roger said it was particularly important to have the earliest possible reaction to the UK proposal regarding the economic board under the Baghdad Pact.

Summing up, Sir Roger said he had the following things to do:

Give the utmost possible assistance to the Baghdad Pact.
Do everything we could to prevent the situation in Jordan from deteriorating. It was in a delicate state of balance ….
Do everything we could to bolster and support the Government of Iraq.
The situation in Saudi Arabia was less immediate, but over a period of time we should try to work that out.

The Secretary said we could not afford to dally regarding Saudi Arabia since in our view it was the key to the Middle East situation. If the UK could reach a settlement with the Saudis on Buraimi, the Secretary felt the odds would shift heavily in our favor.

The Secretary then inquired about the situation in Kuwait, and Mr. Hoover mentioned that Kuwait was very important, since one-quarter of the oil of the area came from there. Sir Roger said there were not close relations between Kuwait and Iraq. In general, the situation in Kuwait seemed satisfactory. The Secretary said Kuwait was assuming greater importance, and we should also be thinking about its role and position in any over-all program for the area.

In conclusion, the Secretary said this entire matter was being held in the strictest secrecy within the US Government, and it was [Page 445] imperative that similar secrecy be observed by the UK since leaks involving public knowledge would be disastrous.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNEA Files: Lot 61 D 417, Omega #1. Top Secret; Omega. Drafted by MacArthur. The source text bears a notation indicating that Dulles saw it.

    Omega was the code name approved by Dulles and adopted within the Department of State for the handling of all materials pertaining to the implementation of the special Middle East policy that President Eisenhower approved on March 28 (see Document 223). The Director of the Executive Secretariat, Fisher Howe, assumed responsibility for the distribution of all Omega category materials and worked closely with the Counselor of the Department of State, Douglas MacArthur II, who was designated Coordinator of the Omega program by the Secretary of State. In addition to Dulles, Hoover, Howe, and MacArthur, the following Department of State officers were authorized to see Omega materials: Murphy, Henderson, Merchant, Allen, Rountree, Phleger, Bowie, Russell, Armstrong, and Randolph Higgs of the Operations Coordinator’s staff. (Memorandum of April 4 transmitting attachments from Howe to Murphy, Henderson, MacArthur, Merchant, Allen, Rountree, Phleger, Bowie, Russell, Armstrong, and Higgs; Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Omega. Mr. Rountree (for NATO Meeting May ’56))

    Those within other agencies who were personally informed of Omega by Secretary Dulles were Allen Dulles, CIA; Admiral Radford, Joint Chiefs of Staff; William H. Jackson, Special Assistant to the President; Theodore Streibert, USIA; and Gordon Gray for the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. (Memorandum of conversation by McAuliffe, April 2; ibid., S/SNEA Files: Lot 61 D 417, Omega #1)

  2. Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, were in the United Kingdom on a State visit April 18–27.
  3. See Document 221.
  4. See Document 194.
  5. See Document 227.
  6. See Documents 224 and 225.
  7. See Document 236.
  8. Not printed. The Turks, in the memorandum, expressed concern about the spread of communism in the Middle East and were critical of the U.S. and British policy of trying to be friends with Egypt and other Middle Eastern states which were opposed to the Baghdad Pact. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also furnished the Embassy in Ankara with a copy of this memorandum. The Embassy transmitted an unofficial translation of it to the Department on March 31 in telegram 1638. (Department of State, Central Files, 780.513–3156)
  9. Not printed. The Embassy in Ankara sent a similar message to the Department of State. (Telegram 1641, March 31; Ibid.)
  10. Sir Walter Monckton.
  11. Air Chief Marshal Sir William F. Dickson.
  12. Not printed.
  13. See Document 206.