438. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, July 10, 19561


  • Response to Egyptian Proposal on Palestine; Position on Aswan High Dam


  • Mr. Ronald Bailey, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. Willie Morris, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • Mr. William C. Burdett, NE
  • Mr. Paul F. Geren, NE

Mr. Bailey explained that the Foreign Office had received an emergency telegram from the British Ambassador at Cairo indicating that he is seeing Fawzi at 11 a.m., July 11. The British were obliged to send their Ambassador instructions on a reply to Fawzi’s Palestine proposal of July 5.2 Accordingly they wished to know the Department’s position in this matter.

Mr. Burdett said that the matter had been considered by the Secretary who had approved the following position.3 At Mr. Bailey’s [Page 803] request he gave the British representatives a copy of the attached paper explaining that it was to be considered entirely informal. After Mr. Bailey had read the paper Mr. Burdett elaborated the US doubts concerning the Fawzi initiative especially because it came right after Shepilov’s visit. We should not discount the possibility that the Egyptians and the Soviets had agreed on this approach. Nevertheless we do not wish to oppose any proposal for a peaceful settlement of the Palestine question regardless of its prospects. Mr. Burdett expressed the Department’s hope that Egypt will recognize the necessity of proving its words by deeds and that the British may seek to impress the point on Fawzi. In the present case, for example, we might make it clear to the Egyptians that they could give an earnest of their intent by full cooperation with Hammarskjold’s suggestions regarding the border and abandonment of the Suez Canal blockade. We believe it is inadvisable for the US and UK to take up the sponsorship of the Fawzi proposals or to exhibit undue interest in them at this time.

Mr. Burdett continued that if the scheduled Hammarskjold visit to Egypt turns out fruitfully we will need to consult carefully on the next move especially with a view to avoiding being maneuvered into the role of supporting Israel against the Arab States supported by the Soviets. It seems more appropriate for the UK than for the US to acquaint Hammarskjold with this development and with our views since Fawzi had approached the British in the first instance. Our suspicions concerning the Egyptian initiative are naturally for the private ear of the British. It is a project which should be allowed to develop further and we will then consult on the basis of developments in the first stage. Mr. Burdett said that we planned to send Ambassador Byroade instructions along the above lines.4

Mr. Bailey said that this information, which met the immediate British needs, would be despatched to the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Cairo. He also agreed to recommend that the British inform Hammarskjold.

Mr. Burdett then turned to the Department’s present views on the Aswan Dam. We regard the existing situation as similar to that obtaining before the Shepilov visit to Egypt. We have no information that the Egyptians concluded an agreement with the Soviets on the Aswan High Dam during his visit but believe it likely such an agreement will be concluded, possibly at the time of Nasser’s visit to the USSR, unless some positive word is forthcoming from the US, UK and IBRD in the meantime. There remains a slim chance that Nasser will not make an agreement with the Soviets on the Aswan [Page 804] High Dam and it is most important not to reduce this chance. Accordingly, the Department considered the following alternatives: (1) to await developments before doing anything further in respect to the Aswan High Dam; (2) to agree to proceed on the December 1955 proposals; (3) to stimulate a conference of the riparian states; (4) to tell Nasser privately we are not able to proceed; (5) to withdraw the US–UK offer in a public statement.

Of these alternatives we believe number (1) is preferable. It is impossible to give a positive answer at present for various reasons including the attitude in this country to pro–Soviet actions by Egypt; the unavailability of funds, and the effect on pro–Western states in the area. At the same time, definite indication to Nasser that the West was not prepared to assist would likely precipitate an agreement by Egypt with the Soviets. The remaining alternative appeared the least objectionable and would hold open the slim chance that Nasser would decide it was not in his interests to make a deal with the Soviets.

Mr. Bailey said that the Department’s position was clear. The British Government’s current views had not been received from the Foreign Office, but were expected momentarily and would be presented to the Department when they arrived.5

Mr. Burdett and Mr. Bailey agreed that a working level meeting on the Suez Canal question be held on Thursday morning July 12.6

To Mr. Morris’ question concerning the position which Secretary Dulles might take with the Israeli Ambassador, Mr. Burdett replied that he had not had an opportunity to read a full account of the conversation between the Secretary and Ambassador Eban7 but understood that the Secretary declined to agree with the Israel Ambassador that the arms balance had swung sharply against Israel. The Secretary had reminded Ambassador Eban that there are other deterrents besides Israel arms to Arab aggression. He had not discussed in detail with Ambassador Eban the Israel application for an Ex–Import Bank loan and the Banat Yacoub problem.

Mr. Burdett added that we thought Israel does not need to dig at Banat Yacoub for about two years. We have not yet decided whether the Ex–Import Bank loan should be linked to Israel assurances regarding Banat Yacoub. We have also not reached a conclusion on whether to advance alternative plans to Ambassador Johnston’s proposals for the development of the Jordan Valley.

[Page 805]


As the British are aware from past discussions, we are prepared to make large contributions to secure an Arab–Israel peace and had thought that Egypt was the key to any such arrangement. Our position on the general nature of such a settlement remains as set forth by the Secretary on August 26, 1955.

However, we cannot fail to regard the present Egyptian move with considerable skepticism in view of the attitude taken by Nasser during the talks in January and March and the likelihood that this particular plan may have been worked out with the Soviet Union. It has been a favorite Egyptian maneuver to try and retain Western support by talking about peace with Israel, while building up Egypt’s own strength in the area and collaborating in acts with the Soviets.

Nevertheless, we do not think we should avoid exploring the present opening to see whether any real possibilities exist. We accordingly are in accord with the proposed British reply to Fawzi and are prepared to instruct our Ambassador in Cairo to take a similar line if he is approached by Fawzi. We would suggest in addition emphasizing to Fawzi the need for concrete steps indicative of a real intent to proceed, such as cooperation with Hammarskjold on his suggestions regarding the border and abandonment of the Suez Canal blockade. Also, we would avoid showing an undue interest in the proposal and would not imply to Fawzi support for any particular procedure in the second phase.

We believe that both of us should study carefully all the implications, but refrain from any definite determination regarding further steps pending the results of Hammarskjold’s next visit to the area.

  1. Source: Department or State, Central Files, 684A.86/7–1056. Secret. Drafted on July 11 by Geren.
  2. See Document 433.
  3. See supra.
  4. Telegram 70 to Cairo, July 11. (Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/ 7–1156)
  5. See the attachment to Document 442.
  6. Burdett, Shaw, and Geren met with Morris and Pitblado of the British Embassy on July 12. (Memorandum of conversation; Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–1256)
  7. See Document 451.
  8. Secret.