216. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Egyptian Ambassador (Hussein) and the Secretary of State1

Ambassador Hussein had telephoned the Secretary a few minutes before he came in to say that he had received an urgent message from Cairo, which he wanted to communicate before the Secretary proceeded to his press conference scheduled for 11:00 a.m. The Secretary having agreed to receive him, the Ambassador arrived at 11:05 a.m.

Ambassador Hussein repeated that he had just received a communication which he wished to convey to the Secretary before the Secretary’s press conference. He had not had time to type the message.

The substance of the message was as follows:

“The scheme which Prime Minister Eden wants to impose is an open and flagrant aggression on Egypt’s sovereignty and its implementation means war.

“If the United States desires war, it may support the scheme, but if its desire is to work for a peaceful solution, the scheme has to be abandoned.”

The Secretary said that Nasser’s reaction seemed to be based on a misconception of Mr. Eden’s proposals. He hoped that as a result of what he would have to say at his press conference, the Egyptian Government would see that the plan did not involve a violation of Egyptian sovereignty or anything else that should unduly disturb the Egyptian Government. They would see that we have made a sincere effort to work out a procedure designed in fact to avoid grave consequences. He said that if such efforts toward a peaceful solution had not been pursued on an urgent basis, the result in all probability would have been that a war would have already started.

In the course of the brief discussion, the Secretary asked whether the message meant that the Egyptians were considering war. Ambassador Hussein obviously was unprepared to interpret the meaning of the [Page 492]message but said that he had been instructed only to deliver it as soon as possible.

Upon departing, the Ambassador asked for the Secretary’s suggestion as to what he should say to the press. The Secretary said that he might wish to say that he had called under instruction to give to the Secretary the provisional reaction of the Egyptian Government to Mr. Eden’s proposal.

(Note: The Ambassador reportedly told members of the press that the message he conveyed was to the effect that imposition of the Users’ Association plan would mean war.)2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1356. Secret. Drafted by Rountree.
  2. During the subsequent press conference, Dulles affirmed U.S. support for the creation of a users’ association along the lines described by Prime Minister Eden. Under questioning, however, Dulles acknowledged that if physical force should be used to prevent passage through the Suez Canal, “then, obviously, as far as the United States is concerned, the alternative for us at least would be to send our vessels around the Cape.” When pressed further that what he was advocating was a boycott of the Canal, Secretary Dulles responded: “It is not a boycott of the Canal, as far as I know, to refrain from using force to get through the Canal. If force is interposed by Egypt, then I do not call it a boycott to avoid using force to shoot your way through. We do not intend to shoot our way through. It may be we have the right to do it, but we don’t intend to do it as far as the United States is concerned.” (The transcript is printed in Department of State Bulletin, September 24, 1956, pp. 476–483; excerpts are in The Suez Canal Problem, July 26–September 22, 1956, pp. 335–345.)