225. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State1

SUBJECT

  • Suez Canal

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Herve Alphand, French Ambassador
  • Mr. Charles Lucet, Minister
  • Mr. Jacques Vimont, Minister
  • The Secretary
  • NEAWilliam M. Rountree
  • WEWilliam R. Tyler

The French Ambassador had asked urgently for an appointment with the Secretary and was received at 2:00 p.m. just prior to the Secretary’s departure for the airport. The Ambassador said he had seen news reports of the Secretary’s comments on Suez made at the White House2 and he wished clarification of certain points. The Secretary had been quoted as saying that the United States did not intend to boycott the Suez Canal. He wondered how this might affect his understanding that, after the users’ associations was set up, if Nasser should then refuse to permit transit of the Canal by vessels under association arrangements, we would reroute around the Cape. The Secretary responded by reading the text of what he had said at the White House.

The Ambassador inquired whether, if Nasser refused to let the vessels pass, in consequence of which they were rerouted around the Cape, the British, French and United States should not then bring the matter jointly before the Security Council. The Secretary responded that he could not say whether we would join in such action until he knew what Security Council action would be sought. He would not, however, exclude the possibility of the United States joining. The Secretary said that he was concerned by newspaper stories which had come out over the weekend to the effect that the United States had changed its views regarding the Suez matter and particularly the users’ association. He stated there was no basis for these stories. The Ambassador was gratified to hear this. He observed that it would be extremely difficult to operate the proposed users’ association without having personnel stationed on land. He [Page 508]had discussed this with Mr. Hoover3 and the latter had expressed his belief that the operation envisaged might be carried out from ships stationed at either end of the Canal.

The Secretary inquired whether the French thought they could obtain the pilots that would be necessary for the operation, to which the Ambassador replied he felt certain this would present no problem. He said one question which had concerned him was whether we should go forward with the users’ association plan even though Nasser might demonstrate that the Canal operation could be carried out by pilots provided by Egypt. The Secretary said he thought this would not change the situation since it would not be enough for the Egyptians to prove that they could operate the Canal for a few days or a few weeks. What was necessary was a dependable system which could be counted upon. We could not place reliance upon any system run entirely by Egypt.

(The Secretary told Mr. Rountree during the meeting that he thought we should get out instructions to American ships not to accept Soviet pilots should they be provided by Egypt for transit through the Canal. He asked that this matter be looked into immediately to determine: a) what United States agency would have responsibility in this matter, b) whether there were existing laws or regulations which would permit an order to this effect, or whether it would have to be in the form of a request and c) how we should proceed. Later, while driving to the airport,4 the Secretary reviewed the matter with Mr. Hoover and Mr. Rountree. He said he would discuss it with the British and French soon after his arrival in London, and would telegraph his views after such discussion. It was mentioned in this discussion that any instructions to our ships would undoubtedly become public knowledge and perhaps should therefore be preceded by a public announcement. One difficulty which was then not resolved was whether the public announcement should specify Soviet and satellite pilots or whether it should be couched in other terms which would provide a criterion excluding Soviet and satellite pilots, such as stating that no pilots would be accepted who had not a specified minimum number of years experience in the Suez.)

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1756. Secret. Drafted by Rountree.
  2. See footnote 2, supra .
  3. Alphand and Hoover discussed the Suez situation on September 14. The memorandum of that conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/9–1456.
  4. According to the Secretary’s Appointment Book, Dulles and his party, which included Henderson, Phleger, McCardle, Tyler, Berding, and several others, were airborne for London at 2:50 p.m., September 17. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)