156. Memorandum of Discussion at a Department of State–Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, Pentagon, Washington, August 31, 1956, 11:30 a.m.1

[Here follows a list of 25 persons present, including Admiral Radford, General Taylor, Admiral Burke, and General White, and Murphy, Robertson, Stelle, Bennett, Wilkins, and Compton for the Department of State. The first item discussed was “French Military Effort in Viet Nam”; see volume I, page 736.]

2. The Suez Situation

At Mr. Murphy’s request Mr. Wilkins presented the latest information on the Suez situation. He mentioned that the Five Nation Committee appointed from the London Conference was scheduled to present the majority plan2 resulting from the London Conference to President Nasser on September 3. He stressed that the committee’s action would be for information rather than negotiation and remarked that it seemed clear from the Secretary’s recent talks in London that the British are presently determined to move militarily unless Nasser accepts the London majority’s suggestions by September 10. He reviewed several steps which were involved in the current situation:

The NATO Advisory Council is scheduled to meet on September 5 in Paris. The British have tried to make it seem that this is a special meeting although it is actually a regular NAC session.
British diplomatic missions throughout the Middle East area have been instructed to persuade British subjects to leave the area.
The British are making plans to submit the issue to the Security Council of the United Nations, but at the same time plans for military action go on uninterruptedly.
The Suez Canal Company has instructed its pilots to stay on only until September 15.
There are defense preparations everywhere in Egypt, with considerable apprehension evident, and tension has increased generally in the area.

Mr. Murphy pointed out with respect to the third item that it is a highly sensitive matter and expressed the personal view that the British talk of submitting the problem to the Security Council is primarily a smoke screen, designed to cover them against charges of neglecting the United Nations.

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General White inquired relative to Israel and its position. Mr. Wilkins responded that Israel is very quiet at the moment and is expected to remain so. Admiral Radford said there had been some discussion as to whether the United Kingdom might at an appropriate time from her standpoint urge Israel to attack Egypt but that he personally thinks Israel will not do so, at least for the present. Mr. Murphy added he received the impression during his recent London talks that the United Kingdom had the Israelis very much in mind in various moves it is making.

Admiral Radford said that the JCS is, of course, interested in what they may be called upon to do in the event of hostilities. He pointed out that action to evacuate Americans, particularly if it occurred simultaneously with a landing by the UK-French forces, would cause grave problems and might well give the appearance that the United States was intervening militarily along with the UK and France. He said he realized the difficulty for the Department in the situation and the desire of our government not to cause undue alarm in the area or complications in the situation by premature announcements regarding evacuation. However, he warned that if no instructions are made public before military action should start, he very much fears that it would not be possible to get all Americans out. Mr. Murphy mentioned a discussion he had with Secretary Dulles regarding the timing of an evacuation announcement. He pointed out that the Five Nation Committee would be arriving in Cairo on Monday, September 3, and that this would give us some days in which to get a more definitive estimate of the situation. He thought that decisions regarding evacuation might be required early during the week beginning September 3. Admiral Radford again stressed the danger of waiting until too late to make our decision and give it adequate publicity.

Admiral Radford then mentioned that in the event of hostilities the JCS had certain plans for air-lifting some ground forces non-stop from Wiesbaden to Dhahran for the purpose of assisting in the defense of oil installations. He pointed out that the oil for our Far East activities comes largely from the Persian Gulf area. Mr. Murphy inquired regarding the magnitude of the forces in mind. Admiral Radford was not particularly forthcoming as to numbers, but discussion brought out the fact that the force would be approximately the size of a regimental combat team… . Admiral Radford said that the above information should be held very closely but declared that the JCS are ready to put their plans into motion if so directed. He said he had informed both the President and the Secretary of State of the state of readiness. He went on to say that it would be helpful to have as much advance notice as possible of UK-French future intentions.

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General White mentioned the NATO exercise planned for mid-September in Turkey, with particular reference to the fact that there would be a sizeable air movement from this country to Turkey at that time. He wondered whether such movements in the present situation might not give the wrong impression. It was pointed out that this exercise had been planned for a long time and was well known, but Mr. Murphy said that we might give it another look in view of the Suez situation and consider it again early in the week of September 3.

[Here follows discussion of item 3, “MAAG Advisers on the Chinese Off-Shore Islands”; item 4, “Japanese Labor Relationships of U.S. Armed Forces”; item 5, “Austrian Force Levels”; and item 6, “Plane Incident off the China Coast”. For text of items 3 and 6, see Volume III, pages 425426.]

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417. Top Secret. Drafted by W. Tapley Bennett. An note on the title page reads: “State Draft. Not cleared by any of the participants.”
  2. Reference is to the Eighteen-Power Proposal.