130. Memorandum of a Conversation, Riyadh, August 24, 19561


  • His Royal Highness, Prince Faisal, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister
  • Yusuf Yasin, Deputy Foreign Minister
  • Jemal Bey Houseini, Royal Counselor
  • Mr. Robert B. Anderson, Presidential Envoy
  • Ambassador George Wadsworth
  • David D. Newsom, Department of State
  • William Eveland, OCB
  • Alfred le S. Jenkins, Counselor of Embassy
  • Interpreter: Abdul Aziz

[Here follows discussion of unrelated subjects.]

And: Has Your Highness had the opportunity to hear the latest news from the London Conference?

Fai: Yes, last night the broadcast said the Conference had terminated.

And: The Ambassador might give you a bit more.

Amb: The Conference terminated with the decision on the part of the 17 powers that five of their members would form a committee which, on behalf of all 17, would discuss with Nasser. The Chairman is the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia. The other four are Iran, Ethiopia, Sweden and the United States.

Loy Henderson is on the way from Washington to London to get instructions to be the American representative on the committee. We were old crusaders together in the battle for Palestine.

Fai: Sometimes a crusade is not always successful.

Amb: Loy and I fought at the time for what we considered to be the best interests of the United States. We were both promoted to be Ambassadors, in order to get us as far away as possible from Palestine!

It would be nice to see Loy—to go to Cairo in this connection.

We have been wondering, Your Highness, how far you could go in lubricating the way in connection with the Suez problem. The committee is going to Egypt with every desire to find agreement on a convention. There is a systematic presentation in this proposal. If parts are encouraging to Your Highness, or if there are parts which Your Highness believes would be offensive to Arab sensibilities—just how can we lubricate the way?

[Page 288]

Fai: According to what I have heard from the radio, those measures and tendencies revealed will contribute to an amelioration, since it is not a definite resolution on the part of the Conference itself but is left to individual countries or groups of countries to work out by themselves the approach.

Only yesterday I expressed the view that submitting the proposal as coming from the Conference proper as a resolution might involve difficulty. At any rate, this is a good step, showing wisdom on the part of the Conference.

And: We have heard by radio that India is not objecting to the submission of the proposal, for the reason we have been discussing: it is not in the form of a resolution.

Fai: Yes, India did not object specifically, but rather agreed to submit the entire records of the Conference to Nasser. This has been agreed.

And: His Majesty and His Highness have emphasized the common aim of the United States and Saudi Arabia: settlement of the crisis without the use of force. I am very encouraged this morning that Your Highness feels a step forward has been made by the submission of the proposal as from individual nations.

It seems to me that the most important thing is that these suggestions be calmly and judiciously studied by Egypt; and the essence of the next step is that Egypt agree to sit down and negotiate in an atmosphere of friendliness. The purpose of this group of nations is not to intimidate, but to inform Egypt of their thinking. We hope Your Highness might exercise the good offices of your Government, which is so influential—perhaps the most influential agent in this part of the world, to urge this kind of acceptance, in order to achieve an atmosphere and spirit of friendship which His Majesty and Your Highness have emphasized in these discussions.

Fai: I agree with you. The next step should be the abolition of all military and economic measures which have been taken. An atmosphere of friendliness and quietness is imperative.

And: I want to be quite clear on this point. Your Highness feels you can and will exercise good offices to the end that Nasser and the Egyptian Government may agree to negotiate, but you feel that there should be a mutual reduction of forces on both sides, in order to create an atmosphere for final settlement of the issue.

Fai: I think it quite necessary and imperative that all military and economic measures be abolished once and for all, in order that those concerned may think quietly.

And: The reason I make the point is because the information we have by radio indicates that the committee will shortly call on Nasser. Hence it is very important that Egypt not take a hasty [Page 289] judgment in declining to meet, but a considered judgment in agreeing to negotiate.

All of us recognize, too, that this is an important matter; but it might not be accomplished as quickly as Egypt might wish.

Fai: In fact, I am thinking of sending an emissary to Egypt to explain the viewpoint after our present discussions. He would explain to the Egyptian Government the attempts and tendencies of the United States Government in this connection—if you have no objection, of course.

And: Of course the viewpoint of the United States is the viewpoint expressed by the Secretary of State. Any efforts we may make are in furtherance of the efforts of the Secretary of State—on which we will keep Your Highness informed.

Fai: This is undoubtedly so, but we must express to the Egyptian Government the different stages which have been passed, and explain the dangers which have been avoided through the efforts of the United States. This is necessary so that the Egyptian Government might know fully the position of the United States Government as it is.

Yus: Some of the measures taken by the United States Government itself seem to be a hindrance to progress. For instance, the stoppage of the sale of railroad equipment. Also, French and British actions in hindering navigation in the Canal, in exhorting pilots to quit. This is bound to affect the operation of the Canal. Afterwards they will ascribe this to negligence and incompetence of the Egyptian Government. These acts are bound to affect the general atmosphere.

Amb: Prince Faisal often says if we agree in principle, we can clear up the details afterwards. There are so many details in this, let us get at the principle—get people to talking in the right spirit and atmosphere—without trying to repaint the whole picture.

Fai: We do not want to repaint the picture, but we do not want others to scrape it off, through jeopardizing the situation you want to create. These examples are slight, and should be so viewed by the other party, who should desist in them. Again I should like to look at the main issue.

Amb: The main issue being peaceful settlement.

Fai: Yes. To make this situation possible we should create the necessary atmosphere, and not try to spoil it by small things. As I said yesterday, how do you expect to say to the two parties they should have an understanding, while each party is carrying a gun in his hand.

[Page 290]

Amb: You have done it all through history in your wars in the desert, if Philby’s accounts2 are right. Rarely has peace been made without guns in the hands of both sides.

Fai: If this is the idea of Philby, he is still ignorant of the Desert.

Amb: I read him because he writes good English.

And: I should like to make two or three points, for clarity. We talked about the creation of the right atmosphere in which we could arrive at a peaceful conclusion. I am sure Your Highness realizes the cancellation of recent military and economic measures taken on both sides would be extremely complicated, because they are related not only to this matter, but to the Baghdad Pact, to Palestine, to Cyprus, etc. I should not like to leave the impression that any of these could be accomplished simply and easily.

Fai: These measure[s] of which I speak have not been taken with respect to other issues—they were in the picture long ago. These are actions taken subsequent to Suez. Economic sanctions against Egypt have nothing to do with the Baghdad Pact.

And: I only wanted to point out the complications.

I want to be clear that Your Highness knows the circumstances under which our Secretary of State joined and participated in the London Conference, and the efforts directed to avoid the use of force. I do not want to leave the impression with His Majesty or Your Highness, or in your subsequent discussions with Egypt, that we are participating in two separate negotiations. We support the efforts of the Secretary of State to achieve a settlement on the basis of facts and of the viewpoints of all nations involved. In other words we are not negotiating through Saudi Arabia with the Egyptian Government. We respect His Majesty’s desire to discuss the matter fully.

Fai: I have not said we are carrying on separate negotiations, but that we are exchanging ideas as to the best way to follow in treating the question.

And: Another thing I wish to emphasize. It is very important we not regard a willingness to negotiate on either side as accomplishing the final result we want to achieve. Each side must enter in a spirit which will make it possible seriously and honestly to strive to reach a lasting convention. Only thus will we achieve what we seek here. Unless there is this spirit, there is no point in entering into negotiations.

[Page 291]

Fai: For more than one year we have been carrying on negotiations with Britain, but without results.3

Amb: May I see your reply to the British? Have you written a good one? I should like to talk with Yusuf about it. I see an opportunity just now to get down to negotiating about Buraimi.

And: Has Your Highness given further study to the language of the proposals?4

Fai: Of course we have not contacted Egypt, so we do not know its ideas, but we have some comments about points which may not be acceptable to Egypt.

For example, Paragraph B on insulation from political influence. In appearance it is not offensive, but we do not know what is behind this. Exactly what is intended?

In Paragraph C, concerning returns to Egypt from the revenue. This is alright, but—connected with item D about fees being as low as possible—this seems to me it will not be acceptable to Egypt because it is unmasked intervention in the sovereignty of Egypt, in trying to define or restrict the tolls Egypt could prescribe.

And: On this point I do not find myself in entire agreement. I point out there is provision in paragraph C that there should be a fair return to Egypt. If there should be disagreement, there is provided on the next page, paragraph B, that an arbitral committee should settle it. This would be a committee jointly established by Egypt.

If, in addition to a fair return, any exorbitant amount could be charged, it might be possible that the oil of His Majesty’s Kingdom could not be sold in Western Europe. The market would turn to others.

Fai: I do not mean that Egypt would prescribe exorbitant tolls; it would not be in the interest of Egypt itself to do so. My meaning is that so to restrict Egypt is a restriction on its own sovereignty. The airfield here has the right to fix the fees for landing. If someone should say we could not do this, I should reject it—it would be interference with sovereign rights. We might, however, come to an agreement to fix a ceiling price—a maximum, for so many years.

And: Your Highness has anticipated what I was going to say. Correct. This is not an ultimatum to Egypt. It is not a dictated statement. This is merely a basis for our thinking.

I wish to emphasize more strongly than anything else, when these points are being negotiated, that act in itself is the highest act of sovereignty which can be performed.

[Page 292]

Fai: Yes. I am only pointing out what I think Egypt may object to in the proposals.

And: Your Highness is doing us a great service. Our exchange of thought is not argumentative. It is simply an exchange of ideas between friends trying to get other friends to agree.

Fai: The word “operation” bothers me. This could be considered as intervention. Egypt might not accept it.

And: We are talking here of the kinds of things laborers do— skilled labor, yes. For example, Your Highness does not feel that sovereignty is impaired if, in the operation of a petroleum company, the company with whom you have made an agreement hires and fires its personnel. You are interested in the barrels of oil going through the plant, and in its efficiency. You do not feel that the day to day operation is the sort of thing Your Majesty’s Government wants to participate in. Likewise, we want to get all the ships possible through the Canal. These things which skilled people have to do are apart from political decisions, in order to make it work.

Fai: There is need of technical and skilled labor, of course. But Egypt has constituted a Board for the operation of the Canal. And Egypt is protesting that others want to take away some of these people whom Egypt wants to work.

And: The comparison is probably not a good one, except as applied to technical skills, because even Egypt admits the Suez Canal is possessed of international characteristics. It must be a question of all ships. If all ships are to use it, it must be a question of confidence.

Fai: Before nationalization, were other countries represented?

Amb: Yes, shareholders.

Fai: Most Directors of the Board were French.

And: I want to make this point. This does not mean that we simply substitute one political group for another group; but in day to day operation, it would be free from all political groups. It must be used for the trade of the world, and developed as far as it can be developed, so it can carry more ships. Again, this is the work of technical experts. Above all else there must be the confidence of the users.

This is an attempt to achieve all these objectives.

Fai: Is this lack of confidence restricted to certain nations?

And: I should not say it is circumscribed by any particular nations.

Fai: In our opinion, nothing has changed. The staff and operation remains as it was. As for freedom of navigation, all are agreed the Canal should be used as in the past.

And: Confidence involves the matter of intention. Not everyone arrives at an area of confidence by the same process. Whether [Page 293] rightly or wrongly, the facts are that the users do not have long-term confidence. This being the case, to avoid some of the bad consequences I described yesterday, it is not enough to say one should believe—should have confidence. The question is, is this the way, or does someone have a better way?

The United States is trying to view objectively. There are two questions: 1) what are the facts? and 2) what is the solution?

Fai: Everyone has his own idea about the question of confidence. Our own is that there has not been anything which would warrant lack of confidence. We admit we in the East lack technical skills. But we do not consider Egypt inferior to the West in the assumption of responsibility.

And: Let me make this very clear. We not only have the highest respect and regard for His Majesty’s Government, but we also regard other nations of the world without reference to race, creed, etc. There is no difference. If Suez were under the political influence of any Western country, there would be fear that decisions would be made on the basis of political aspirations of that given country. We are trying to say that this is not the place for political decisions. It is a place for work—to get the maximum number of ships through the Canal.

Fai: It seems our discussions have two aspects: 1) operation and 2) authority and politics. They must be treated separately.

And: Operation is separate from political aspects. That is the purpose of the declaration—that day to day work be isolated. But both points are still subject to negotiation with Egypt.

Fai: So now we put aside the question of sovereignty. It is recognized.

And: Your Highness has put his finger exactly on the point. I am glad you recognize the difference between operation of the Canal and …5

Fai: According to the proposal you are insulating operation from the question of sovereignty. But this proposal as it is, at the same time jeopardizes sovereignty.

And: The important thing, if Your Highness agrees with us that the important thing is the question of operation is separate from sovereignty, I am not so concerned with the words as with the principle. You negotiate on principle, then settle on words.

Fai: From the beginning the Canal has been separated from the question of sovereignty and politics. We do not want the question of operation to interfere with the question of sovereignty.

And: That is the very reason it is stated in paragraph 2 “with due regard for the sovereign rights of Egypt”.

[Page 294]

Fai: We want this to coincide with the foregoing.

And: They must all coincide.

Fai: Even if operation of the Canal is separate and independent, the mere fact of putting foreign states on this Board I believe would be considered intervention in the affairs of Egypt.

So my thinking—I do not speak for Egypt—is that perhaps for example a consultative committee might achieve results without infringing on sovereignty. The Board would be technical, and would advise in the proper carrying on of the Canal.

And: A consultative group idea is the basis of proposals made by India at the Conference. Most nations at the Conference elected to make the proposal the basis—a Board with multilateral composition.

I come back to the point Your Highness does not consider a [our] proposal a breach of sovereignty. I do hope the Egyptian Government and His Majesty’s Government can be brought to feel the view of most of the nations, agreement in negotiations with Egypt.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Report of Special Mission to Saudi Arabia August 20–27, 1956. Top Secret. The source text does not indicate a drafting officer.
  2. Reference is to Harry St. John Bridger Philby, author of Sa’udi Arabia, and other books on Arabia.
  3. Reference is to negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom on the Buraimi question. For documentation on this subject, see volume XIII.
  4. Reference is to the Five-Nation Proposal; see Document 110.
  5. Ellipsis in the source text.