210. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the British Ambassador (Makins) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree)1

SUBJECT

  • Suez Canal

I telephoned Sir Roger Makins at 3:30 p.m. September 11 and told him, at the Secretary’s request, that we appreciate the opportunity courteously afforded us to go along (as a signatory) with the UK-French letter to the Secretary-General. However, we feel that it would be preferable for us not in this way and at this time to create an identity of interests which might prove somewhat of an embarrassing limitation on the UK and France in the future. (A copy of the UK-French letter is attached.)2

I told Ambassador Makins that the Secretary had given to French Ambassador Alphand3 a copy of the statement of the US position on the Canal users plan which he had handed to Sir Roger this morning. Ambassador Makins said he was glad the Secretary had provided a copy to the French Ambassador. He had intended discussing the matter with Mr. Alphand later today.

I told Sir Roger of the Secretary’s conversation today with Ambassador Alphand concerning ticker reports to the effect that the Suez Canal pilots had been told by the Suez Canal Company that they were at liberty to leave Egypt after September 15. I said the Secretary had asked Ambassador Alphand to communicate to the Foreign Office his view that the Canal Company should be requested not to encourage the pilots to leave at this time. It seemed to us that withdrawal of the pilots before inauguration of the users association might bring about a situation in which the Canal traffic would be stopped in circumstances where the British and French would receive the full blame. It was the object of the users association plan to create a situation in which either Canal traffic continued under satisfactory arrangements, or ships were impeded in their traffic clearly as a result of action on the part of the Egyptian Government. Premature withdrawal of the pilots would, in our [Page 484]judgment, jeopardize the plan’s chances of success. Moreover, the pilots constituted the most important single element in the plan, and they should not be withdrawn from Egypt until we had alternative arrangements clearly worked out whereby they would be employed immediately by the users association. I asked if Sir Roger would communicate our views to the Foreign Office and ask that the British Government use its influence to avoid precipitous action with respect to the pilots. Sir Roger recalled that he had mentioned to the Secretary the fact that the pilots were most unhappy and wanted to leave, and that the British felt that they, as free agents, should be permitted either to stay or leave as they wished. He said that he would, of course, communicate the Secretary’s views to the Foreign Office. I recalled that the Secretary had always pointed out the vital importance of keeping hold of the pilots.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1156. Secret. Drafted by Rountree.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 208. On September 12, the French and U.K. Representatives forwarded this letter to the President of the Security Council with the request that its contents be brought to the notice of the Security Council. (U.N. doc. S/3645)
  3. See the memorandum of conversation, supra .