2. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1
481. Lima pass Secretary.2 Cairo and Paris eyes only Ambassadors. Reference my telephone call to Acting Secretary Hoover.3 Eden sent for me at eleven o’clock tonight, within a few minutes after the news from Cairo reached here, and I found myself attending a two hour emergency meeting of the Cabinet attended also by the British Chiefs of Staff and the French Ambassador to discuss Nasser’s action in nationalizing the Suez Canal.4[Page 4]
Cabinet takes an extremely grave view of situation and very strong feelings were expressed, especially by Eden, to effect that Nasser must not be allowed to get away with it.
As to legal aspect, consensus of Cabinet discussion was that although Nasser had certainly breached the Canal company’s concession it was not clear that his act of expropriation itself violated the convention of 1888. Such violation would presumably occur, however, if practical effect of expropriation impaired maintenance and operation of Canal.
Cabinet agreed that recourse to United Nations Security Council ran too great risk of matter becoming “hopelessly bogged down”. Regardless of international legal aspects, interested Western governments must consider possible economic, political, and military measures against Egypt to ensure maintenance Canal, freedom of transit through it, and reasonable tolls.
The question confronting Cabinet tonight was of course extent to which United States would go in supporting and participating in firm position vis-à-vis Nasser in terms of economic sanctions and, beyond that if necessary, military action. I said that the United States would certainly also consider the situation a most serious one and that I would try to obtain on the most urgent basis at least a preliminary indication of our position. It is arranged that I shall see Eden and Lloyd at five o’clock this (Friday) afternoon by which time they hope Department will have given me some word for them.
Tentatively I expressed that United States, France and United Kingdom should continue discussions for the moment and that other interested friendly governments, e.g., the Commonwealth members and such leading users of the Canal as Norway, should join in later and broader consultation. List of signatories of 1888 convention not considered much use in this connection. Eden said Washington, London, or Paris equally agreeable to him. He evidently has in mind that a United States–United Kingdom–French meeting at the ministerial level may be called for in the very near future.
Cabinet had before it a telegram from British Ambassador at Cairo,5 asking what to tell Canal Company which had asked his advice concerning Nasser’s decree that company personnel would not be allowed to resign and would be punished if they failed to continue work. Eden strongly of view that HMG would not advise personnel to continue work under expropriation, even though this meant they might go to prison and Canal might have to close down.
To advise them to continue work meant conceding Nasser’s position and giving in to his blackmail. Decision on this held over, however, until today.[Page 5]
Cabinet decided to have chiefs alert British Commanders in Mediterranean to situation. Chiefs were instructed to produce soonest a study of what forces would be required to seize Canal and how they would be disposed if military action became necessary.
Cabinet decided upon statement to be issued by HMG at eleven o’clock this morning, London time, along following lines:
“The unilateral decision of the Egyptian Government to expropriate the Suez Canal Company, without notice and in breach of the concessions, affects the rights and interests of many nations. HMG are consulting other governments immediately concerned with regard to the serious situation created; both in respect of the effect of the decision upon the operation of the Suez Canal and also of the wider questions raised by this arbitrary action.”
Eden expressed the strong hope that United States and French Governments would issue similar statements today. French Ambassador left meeting and returned to say he had phoned Paris which agreed issue comparable statement.
As meeting broke up Lloyd told me he himself was moving towards conclusion that only solution lay in a Western consortium taking over and operating the Canal, establishing itself if need be by military force.
Please telegraph soonest concerning possible public statement by United States as well as what I can tell Eden and Lloyd today concerning United States position.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–2756. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 3:38 a.m. Repeated to Lima, Cairo, and Paris.↩
- Dulles arrived in Lima, Peru, on July 27 to attend the inauguration of Peruvian President-elect Dr. Manuel Prado y Ugarteche on July 28.↩
- No account of this telephone conversation has been found in Department of State files.↩
- Sir Anthony Eden recalled in his memoirs that on the night of July 26 he received news of the nationalization while dining with King Faisal of Iraq, Nuri el-Said, Selwyn Lloyd, and other Iraqi and British officials. After the Iraqis had left, Eden, Lloyd, and Lord Salisbury met with British Lord Chancellor Viscount David Patrick Kilmuir and the British Chiefs of Staff and decided to invite to their meeting French Ambassador Chauvel and the American Chargé, Andrew Foster. (The Earl of Avon, The Memoirs of Anthony Eden: Full Circle, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1960), pp. 472–473) The U.S. Ambassador, Winthrop Aldrich, had left London earlier in the day for a short vacation. (Winthrop W. Aldrich, “The Suez Crisis, A Footnote to History,” Foreign Affairs, April 1967, p. 541)↩
- Sir Humphrey Trevelyan.↩