209. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State1

SUBJECT

  • Suez Canal

PARTICIPANTS

  • Herve Alphand, French Ambassador
  • Jacques Vimont, Minister, French Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • William M. Rountree, NEA
  • Stuart W. Rockwell, NEA/NE

Ambassador Alphand said he was pleased to inform the Secretary that the French and British Governments had agreed reactions to several aspects of plans in connection with the Suez Canal. Within this context he had the following messages:

1.
The French and British had agreed to the proposal for the international authority and the outline plan contained in the Secretary’s paper;
2.
The French and British assumed that the U.S. Government would give all support to the implementation of the plan. Mr. Alphand [Page 481]said that if Mr. Eden made his statement tomorrow on the plan, the French would make one simultaneously. He hoped that the US would make some sort of statement on Thursday2 and wondered if the Secretary agreed that this might be done. The Secretary said he planned to comment on the matter at his press conference Thursday. The Secretary gave Mr. Alphand a copy of a statement which he had earlier handed to the British Ambassador3 setting forth, for use by Prime Minister Eden in connection with his speech, the American position with respect to the Canal users proposal; and, 3. The French and British Governments had decided not to bring the Suez matter before the Security Council for action, but would limit themselves to a letter merely informing the President of the Council of the situation.

Mr. Alphand said that if the Secretary agreed to points 2 and 3 above, the British and French Foreign Ministers would be ready to meet him in London, Paris or Washington to study the Canal users plan in detail and to consider arrangements for associating other countries with it.

The Ambassador added that he would send to the Secretary a note containing the text of what he had just stated under instructions from his Government.

The Secretary commented that he believed we had made progress. The French Ambassador said that this was due to Mr. Dulles’ efforts. The Secretary added that he was not hopeful that Nasser would cooperate. If he did not, then we would come to the second point, the possible blocking of the Canal. We might need to send tankers around the Cape. He had talked with the Secretary of the Treasury this morning about the economic strictures which this would place upon the UK and France. Mr. Humphrey had been of the opinion that it might be possible to arrange an Export-Import Bank loan to finance exports of oil from the US to the UK and France. The Bank was going to look into this. This might take care of the situation for a time, said the Secretary, but it would not be a permanent solution. Unfortunately, we could not look ahead now more than a few weeks or a month or so at a time.

The Ambassador asked for the Secretary’s comments on the meeting he had previously mentioned. He said he thought the French and British Governments were willing to send representatives to Washington. The Secretary said this was very good of the two Governments. He would think this over and would give his reply tomorrow.

The Ambassador then raised on a personal basis a matter on which he had not been instructed by his Government. According to news reports the Suez Canal Company had announced that its pilots [Page 482]were free to do what they wished after September 15. Mr. Alphand thought this was very harmful. Of course, it was a decision of a private company, but it would be hard to demonstrate that the British and French Governments were not responsible. These Governments could press the Company to retain its employees but they might be criticized for this. The Secretary said in his view it was essential to keep the pilots on the job until they could be taken over in the new users’ pool. The supply of pilots should not be allowed to be dissipated. The USSR might fill the vacancies, and we would have no pilots for the new association. The Secretary hoped that France and the UK could exert influence on the Company so that the pilots would remain at work. Mr. Rountree commented that the object of the new proposal was to protect the users’ interests in the Canal. If Egypt blocked a ship with users’ pilots aboard, then the blame for disruption of transit would fall squarely on Egypt. If, on the other hand, it appeared meanwhile that by encouraging their nationals to leave their jobs as pilots, the UK and France were responsible for impeding passage, this would have harmful effects on the plan.

The Ambassador asked if the Secretary would be willing to say the above to the two Governments. The Secretary replied in the affirmative directing that a telegram be sent to London and Paris expressing the hope that the UK and France would exert such influence as they could to keep their nationals on the job as pilots until the users’ pool could take them over. The Secretary also said that he would appreciate it if Ambassador Alphand would similarly communicate with the French Government. The Ambassador agreed to cable at once to Paris.

Ambassador Alphand then asked how we would go about approaching the other 15 of the 18 nations we hoped might participate initially in the plan. The Secretary suggested we should start with the nucleus of the 5 members of the Menzies Committee, plus France and the UK. Mr. Alphand commented that the initial group should not get too big.

The Secretary said he had not thought much about invoking the meeting. It would be better to move on this on Thursday. If the general scheme met with British and French approval, we could divide the approach to the other nations. The US could take Iran. France perhaps together with the US could take Ethiopia. The UK could handle Sweden and Australia.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1156. Secret; Suez Distribution. Drafted by Rountree. The time of the meeting is from Dulles’ Appointment Book. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)
  2. September 13.
  3. See the memorandum of conversation, supra .