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

517. For the Secretary and Under Secretary from Murphy. Paris eyes only Ambassador. At the first tripartite meeting starting at six o’clock tonight, I shall begin with the following statement:

“We are most happy to participate in this exploratory discussion with our British and French colleagues. Secretary Dulles would have been personally most happy to be here and was unfortunately prevented from coming because of his absence on a South American tour. I want to assure you that the gravity of the Suez Canal question is fully appreciated by President Eisenhower and Secretary Dulles and both are giving it their urgent attention.

“We are of course eager to have the benefit of your thinking and to listen to whatever proposals you may have formulated. I would like to take this opportunity to outline briefly one or two thoughts that have occurred to us. We deplore the violent and even reckless language employed by President Nasser in announcing unilaterally and without any consultation an arbitrary action which has far-reaching consequences affecting all nations whose products move through the Canal and all maritime powers, including the United States. We believe that there is in some respects a distinction to be made, perhaps, between British and French interests and American interests, as respects the equities of the Suez Canal Company. We understand that you likewise do not place major emphasis on this factor.

“We frankly do not wish to be put in the public posture of merely defending the legitimate interests of the shareholders of this Company as important as that may be. We do not believe that our action should relate principally to the question of the legal right of Egypt to effect a nationalization of this Company. The American interest relates rather to the right freely to use an essential international waterway, the free access to which is guaranteed by the Constantinople Convention of 1888. I refer particularly to the language in Article 1 of that Convention. Thus the essential question would seem to relate, in our view, to the maintenance and the operation of the Canal as it affects our shipping. We hope these talks will clarify the issues involved and enable all of us to arrive at a more satisfactory evaluation of the essential facts and whatever action should follow.

“We believe that whatever action is decided should be taken only after a sober estimate of the facts and that the decision should take fully into account the effect of such action on world public opinion. We desire to have the closest affiliation possible with the United Kingdom and France but we believe that whatever action is taken should, if possible, have a broader basis than the interests, [Page 36]however important, of those three powers. The interest of other nations, especially maritime and trading nations, is important and their association and support, it seems to us, is essential. We should have a clear notion of where we are going, in order to encourage such association. We should not overlook, it seems to us, the possibility that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could be useful. The support of friendly Mediterranean countries as well as those lying to the east of Suez should be ensured. We should carefully consider, it seems to us, the eventual utility of the International Court of Justice and examine carefully what action, if any, might be undertaken by the United Nations.

“The question of eventual military intervention does not seem to arise. It would depend on developments. For the present we believe it should be relegated to the background. We feel equally strongly that the Arab-Israel question should be segregated from the present issue.

“As you undoubtedly know, yesterday the Acting Secretary of State, Mr. Hoover, called in the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington and told him that entirely apart from the question of the seizure by Egypt of the installation of the Suez Canal concerning which the Department of State had made a public statement on July 27, the United States Government was shocked by the many intemperate, inaccurate, and misleading statements regarding the United States made by the President of Egypt during the past few days and particularly in his Alexandria speech delivered on July 26. The Egyptian Ambassador was told that such statements are entirely inconsistent with the friendly relations between the two nations. Under the circumstances, the United States had no alternative but to protest vigorously the tone and content of these statements.

“We are also fully conscious of the factor of Western prestige in the Middle East. We believe that if our handling of the present situation is not adequate, there could be a sequence of other events which would be further damaging both to our prestige and interests. We believe that whatever posture is taken and whatever statements are made should have the broadest possible base and carry with them the benefit of an affirmative world opinion. Any announcement made should set the requirement for action in the Middle East to prevent other countries from challenging the West and show that the countries having maritime interests are trying to put the matter before an impartial tribunal. We agree the Western world should not sit still and do nothing, waiting to see whether the operation of the Canal deteriorates. The provisions of the Convention of 1888 should be studied carefully and invoked wherever possible in the furtherance of our interests.

“We are also alert to the question of the protection of American nationals in the area, and no doubt you are also concerned over the problem of your nationals.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/7–2956. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 3:15 p.m. Repeated to Paris.