396. Memorandum From the British Embassy1


The following is the substance of a telegram sent by the Foreign Office to Her Majesty’s Embassy, Washington, on June 14, 1956:

[Page 728]

We have now reconsidered the whole problem in the light of the latest information. In so doing we were impressed by Sir H. Trevelyan’s view that in order to prevent Nasser from being able to say that the West has refused to go further in the matter we should have to make a definite proposal for tripartite negotiations on the “Aides–Mémoire.” Moreover, in view of Shepilov’s visit we should have to do this immediately.

We also agree with Sir H. Trevelyan that the proposal for a conference of Riparian States would not by itself be sufficient to provide a stalling formula.

In these circumstances we think that we should take a line:—

which would be sufficient to keep the Egyptians in play if they are not going to commit themselves to the Russians; and
which would give us a reasonable public position if the Egyptians now turn to Moscow.

This would amount to a combination of (A) and (B) of para. 2 of your telegram under reference.2 That is, we should propose early tripartite discussion on the “Aides–Mémoire”; we should make it plain that we shall require cast–iron assurances that there will be no Russian participation; we should suggest that before final decisions are reached, the Egyptian Government should call a conference at which, in addition to the three powers, Riparian States would be represented to discuss the whole problem of the Nile water use.

On the latter point a conference of Nile Valley states would, in our view, be desirable in itself for the following reasons:
It is more rational to plan the use of Nile waters as a unit than piece–meal by countries.
The Aswan High Dam scheme as now proposed calls for a dam on the Atbara to resettle the Sudanese population of Wadi Haifa and has other implications upstream.
The Sudanese feel somewhat neglected by the International Bank and the West and consider that their own Nile Valley schemes such as the Roseires Dam would have equal priority with the Egyptian project.
Her Majesty’s Government have a direct responsibility on behalf of our East African territories.
The Ethiopians have expressed a desire to discuss Nile waters problems in a general context.
Mr. Black of the International Bank warmly welcomed the idea when I asked him about it.
There is strong feeling in Parliament on both sides of the House in favour of calling such a conference.
If the United States agree with our analysis and our proposals, we should be glad if they would take the lead in approaching the Egyptian Government at once. Her Majesty’s Ambassador would, of course, be instructed to give immediate support. Our reasons for this are that Nasser is already more hostile to and suspicious of this country3 than of the United States and that the United States contribution to any scheme would in fact be a larger share.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 874.2614/6–1456. Top Secret.
  2. No copy of this British Embassy message has been found in Department of State files.
  3. At this point, an unidentified person wrote the following: “(the United Kingdom)”.