201. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

1158. Eyes only Barbour and Henderson. I have just had very disturbing interview with Pineau. He is very much upset at what he considers lack of definite policy in Washington. French Government feels that it is now imperative to take some action which they hope would be in the economic field, in particular Pineau mentioned agreement regarding non-payment of tolls to Egyptian authorities. Pineau said that during course of last week Department had turned down all positive suggestions for action of this nature on one excuse or another. He said the effect of this attitude by Department was to leave only one out for France and Great Britain, namely, war. He said he realized that policy of US was to exhaust every possible means for peaceful settlement, but he said in actual effect US through its inability to agree on any positive program of economic sanctions was actually bringing about very result it sought most to avoid, namely use of military force.

Pineau said that French and British prestige were now totally committed not only with their own public opinion but throughout Middle East and Africa. Therefore, there should not be slightest doubt in our minds that if no other solution could be found France [Page 462]and Great Britain would resort to arms. Pineau said that he had felt up until the last four or five days that use of military force was most unlikely and some sort of a peaceful solution would be found. Now for the first time he was beginning to fear there might be no way out save use of military force. The one possibility would be prompt agreement by US, UK, France and other important shipping countries on a positive program of economic sanctions, including non-payment of tolls to Egyptian authorities. Pineau asked me to underline the gravity of the situation to Washington and to stress the fact that there was absolutely no time to be lost as present situation could not be allowed to continue.

During the course of his talk Pineau mentioned that he could no longer request French personnel, including French pilots to stay on in their jobs against their will. He said the French Government had made a tremendous effort in this regard up until now but there no longer was any excuse for asking the pilots to continue work and the decision would now be left up to them. He felt it probable that the majority of them would leave some time this week.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1056. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution—Suez. Received at 11:45 a.m. Repeated Niact to London.
  2. In a follow-up message, Dillon reported that he had never seen Pineau as upset as during this conversation. The French Foreign Minister had given examples of two contradictory reports on the U.S. position, which he had received from the French Embassy in Washington, and had commented that he could not help but feel that there was no United States policy on Suez and that there did not seem to be a means available in the Department of State for arriving at one in the short time required. Pineau had asked Dillon, because of the implied criticism of the workings of the Department of State, not to report this part of the conversation. Dillon commented to the Department that: “I personally feel that unless there has been a change in heart in British government of which I am unaware, or unless the United States within course of the week can agree to a definite program of economic sanctions, chances of avoiding military action will be slim.” (Telegram 1160 from Paris, September 10; ibid.)