219. Report Prepared in the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State1

Summary No. 9


London Ministerial Conference on Suez

Consideration is being given to the suggestion that the 18 governments which shared in the proposals carried to Cairo by the Committee of Five should be asked to meet again in London on Wednesday, September 19. The purpose of the new conference would be to hear the report of the Committee of Five, to consider what action should be taken in the light thereof, to consider the Egyptian memorandum proposing the establishment of a negotiating group representing different views, and to consider the suggestion for a Suez Canal Users Association. The respective Foreign Ministers would be invited to attend the conference and Secretary Dulles would be present. It would be made clear that attendance would not involve any commitment to any course of action in relation to the problems to be discussed.

[Page 496]

Bulganin Note to Eden and Mollet

Embassy London has been told by the Foreign Office that the Soviet note received yesterday contained a number of passages which are offensive to the British Government and is a “monument to hypocrisy”; the British Government’s reply is expected to be curt.2

The French reply3 is being prepared in accordance with suggestions by Pineau that: 1) the falsity of the Soviet claim that the USSR has consistently urged a peaceful solution should be exposed; and 2) it make clear that France judges its friends according to the stands they take on matters which France considers vital to its own interests.

Reaction to Users Association Plan

The initial reaction of French officials4 was one of general satisfaction derived from the feeling that Western solidarity has been reestablished in support of a mutually acceptable course of action. Few, however, understand the full implications of the proposal—authorization of which is attributed to the US—and most anticipate that ships will soon be taking the Cape of Good Hope route.

The first reaction in London5 was that of incredulity on both sides of the House and in the press gallery. This has now given way to strongly partisan support by the Government side in the House and press, and violent opposition from Labour and Liberal MP’s and newspapers.

Aldrich reports6 that the timing and substance of the Secretary’s press conference yesterday was a decisive factor in determining the [Page 497]course and outcome of the debate in the House. Gaitskell was enabled to prod Eden into giving assurances that the UK would take the Suez matter to the Security Council before using force, except in an emergency. This has greatly lessened tension not only in the opposition ranks but even among many Tories. There is now far wider approval of the nature and purpose of the canal users plan than heretofore existed.

The preliminary reaction from the Scandinavian Governments7 was not encouraging; officials of all three expressed their surprise and confusion at US support for the projected association. We have asked our missions8 to emphasize urgently to the Scandinavian Foreign Ministers that the US, UK and France regard the proposed association as a serious and practical step towards a peaceful solution of the Suez problem and that the US hopes to count on their cooperation.

Italian Foreign Minister Martino expressed to Dillon in Paris yesterday9 his concern regarding the proposed users association. He did not see how such an arrangement could pass shipping through the canal and said that Italy, for geographic and financial reasons, could not route her shipping around the Cape of Good Hope. He advocated another conference of the 18 nations. Meanwhile in Rome the Foreign Office evinced sympathetic interest in the users association as explained by the British Chargé but said that Italy could not give a reply regarding possible membership until it knew more of the details.

Krishna Menon told our Chargé in New Delhi10 of Nehru’s sharp disappointment in the tenor of Eden’s proposal and his deep hope that the US will throw its great weight on the side of solution by negotiation. The Government of India did not see how Egypt could accept the unilateral action envisaged under the plan and still maintain its position as a sovereign power.

(Summary closed 12:00 noon, September 13, 1956)

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Top Secret; eyes Only for Designated Recipient. The source text is initialed by Eisenhower.
  2. Reported in telegram 1453 from London, September 13. (Ibid., 974.7301/9–1356) The Embassy in London also reported in this telegram that, according to its Foreign Office source, the Soviet note was largely a lecture on the dangers involved in the use of force and an appeal for a peaceful settlement of the Suez dispute according to the principles embodied in the U.N. Charter.

    On September 20, Prime Minister Eden forwarded to President Eisenhower copies of Bulganin’s note of September 11 and Eden’s undated response to Bulganin. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File) Eden describes this exchange of correspondence with Bulganin in Full Circle, pp. 543–544.

  3. Reported in telegram 1229 from Paris, September 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1356). In this telegram, the Embassy in Paris also reported that, according to its source in the French Foreign Ministry, the Soviet note had urged the desirability of a peaceful settlement of the Suez problem without offering any specific proposal and had counseled against the use of force. According to the source, the letter also insinuated that the United States wished to replace the French in Algeria and gain ascendancy in the Middle East.
  4. Reported in telegram 1238 from Paris, September 13, not printed. (Ibid., 974.7301/9–1356)
  5. Reported in telegram 1447 from London, September 13, not printed. (Ibid.)
  6. Reported in telegram 1472 from London, September 14, not printed. (Ibid., 973.7301/9–1456)
  7. Reported in telegrams 188 from Copenhagen, September 13; 311 from Oslo, September 13; and 299 from Stockholm, September 13, none printed. (All ibid., 974.7301/9–1356)
  8. These instructions were sent on September 13 in telegrams 342 to Oslo, 218 to Copenhagen, and 329 to Stockholm, none printed. (All ibid.)
  9. Reported in telegram 1223 from Paris, September 13, not printed. (Ibid.)
  10. Reported in telegram 688 from New Delhi, September 13, not printed. (Ibid.)