139. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

1114. Suez—From Henderson. For the Secretary.

Since your departure we have had two meetings Suez Committee2 and I have had talks with French Ambassador,3 Selwyn Lloyd,4 Menzies,5 and various other interested persons. It might be useful give you in this telegram brief description atmosphere and developments.
I am far from impressed re competence Committee. Menzies agreeable, intelligent and articulate but has not yet provided firm leadership. He has not presented any plan his own for approaching Egyptians but has welcomed most of suggestions we have made. Iranians and Ethiopians have thus far contributed little. Their role has been to sit and listen and to express agreement or disagreement—mostly agreement—with various suggestions offered. I recognize importance maintaining their support. Swedish Ambassador who represents Unden highly intelligent and although somewhat protocolaire is being constructively helpful and offers from time to time what seems to us to be excellent suggestions and advice.
At meeting Committee on morning August 27 Menzies announced no reply yet received from Egyptians; suggested we try depart Thursday morning August 30 if answer should come during course day; and suggested we adjourn until afternoon. I suggested that we take advantage meeting to begin discussing various points of our terms of reference and that we attempt find meeting of minds with regard kind of approach we should make to Nasser from point of view both procedure and contents. Menzies agreed and we spent remainder of morning in quite useful discussion. It was decided that our basic task would to be to obtain from Nasser agreement to enter into International Convention supplementary to that of 1888 and that we should try work with him Heads of Agreement for use during negotiation such Convention. While discussing what Heads Agreement should embrace, we ventured suggest Committee make analysis of “Operations of Canal”, endeavor break down these operations into various component parts with purpose ascertaining what aspects of operations might be left to Egyptian handling without threat to non-political and efficient management of Canal. Swedish Ambassador suggested that British shipping people might be able give us useful information re various problems connected with operation and number of them were invited to afternoon session.
Our discussions re various phases operations during morning meeting were of general character. We hoped we could become more specific after we had talked with British shipping representatives. This hope did not materialize since representatives in afternoon confessed ignorance of operational activities of Canal and since we had no opportunity for discussion after having quizzed them. They devoted their remarks for most part to stressing superiority of European pilots and personnel over Egyptian and to complaining of increasing difficulties which Canal authorities and ship suppliers in Canal area had been encountering from Egyptians even before nationalization. Their assertions of superiority of Europeans clearly did not make good impression upon Iranians and Ethiopians. Nevertheless [Page 308] latter remained placid and continued try to be helpful. Our next meeting will be this afternoon and we hope then make more progress in direction working out projects for Heads of Agreement.
Early yesterday afternoon I called on French Ambassador. During course conversation he displayed rigidity which not at all in keeping, in my opinion, with realities. In brief his idea seemed to be that Committee was expected to adhere strictly to terms of reference. Although he did not go so far as to say it should not even illustratively indicate to Nasser how it would be possible for international board to control basic operations of Canal without real derogation Egyptian sovereignty, he nevertheless stressed that no details re relations international manager with Egyptian Govt had been worked out as far as he aware and thought Committee should therefore be extremely careful not to give illustrations to which France might not be able to agree during course subsequent negotiations.
I was somewhat surprised at attitude of Selwyn Lloyd. In previous encounters which I had with Lloyd he had appeared relaxed and cordial. On this occasion I found him apparently in state of tension. There was touch of asperity in his voice. Without bothering about amenities he commenced firing rather sharp questions: “What will you do if Nasser says no, but—” “Will you accept qualified reply?”; “How soon will you have answer for us? Menzies has promised answer by Friday.” “If your committee is to be of any use to us we must have answer without delay and answer must be clear-cut.” I refused to be ruffled by his abruptness and he gradually became a little more friendly. Nevertheless it seemed to us he not happy re Committee, had little hope that Committee would be able to bring kind of answer which would satisfy him, and in fact was somewhat suspicious of Committee. He like French Ambassador made clear he expected Committee would keep strictly within terms of reference and would not be too imaginative in advancing illustrations showing their flexibility.
Later in afternoon I touched on these conversations with Menzies. He took position that we should approach Egyptians in a spirit of conciliation; that while adhering firmly to position that Canal should be under international management to extent necessary for guaranteeing that it would operate effectively and not become political instrument of any power, we should try to convince Nasser (A) that this was possible without infringing on Egyptian sovereignty and (B) that if Nasser agreed to negotiations on basis of our terms of reference, he would find that they had high degree flexibility.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–2856. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 12:10 p.m.
  2. The first meeting convened in London at 11 a.m., and the second at 4:40 p.m., August 27. Summary reports of these meetings were transmitted in telegrams 1104 and 1105, August 27. (Ibid., 974.7301/8–2756)
  3. This conversation took place on August 27; reported in telegram 1102, August 27, not printed. (Ibid.)
  4. This conversation took place on August 27; reported in telegram 1103, August 27, not printed. (Ibid.)
  5. No account of a conversation between Henderson and Menzies has been found in Department of State files.