24. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1
521. Dept eyes only Secretary and Under Secretary from Murphy. Paris eyes only Ambassador. British and French positions as presented by Selwyn Lloyd and Pineau during first part tonight’s meeting2 summarized below. Both requested urgently USG views on matters set forth at end this message.
UK. Whole Western position in Middle East will be jeopardized if Nasser gets away with his action. NATO, Western Europe and other parts of world will be at mercy of man who has shown himself irresponsible and faithless. We should be careful to place matter in correct perspective. (British tabled paper submitted Dept Embtel 5183 and subsequently amended point 3(C) to read “To [Page 40]insure that the Suez Canal Company and its employees are fairly treated”.)4
Political and economic pressures unlikely have desired effect unless Nasser knows military sanctions are in background. (Pineau later agreed this position.) Preparations for military action should start immediately. At any moment Nasser might deny passage to ships or take unacceptable action regarding foreign nationals. HMG has taken decision to arrange to have it within its power to use force. We may come rather quickly to point where decision must be made to act. We are not suggesting today decision to use force but to prepare for use of force if necessary.5
Arab-Israel conflict entirely separate problem.
Next step should be conference of affected nations preferably in London to convene August 1 or 2. Tripartite powers could send Egypt note or issue communiqué making points given British paper. Alternatively could wait and ask conference to endorse this position. Conferees could be selected on basis of: tonnage transiting Canal; combined shipping and trade interests; geographical representation; or membership in international chamber of shipping. Foreign Office inclined favor latter. British hoped to have indication of US position within 24 hours. UK would be gravely disappointed if US would not participate in conference although of course invitation could be issued by France and UK.
French position. We are not confronted with juridical question but political one. Decision taken by Nasser was direct consequence of US withdrawal Aswan Dam offer. If Nasser succeeds supported [Page 41]by USSR will affect entire Western position Middle East. We have precedence Hitler’s actions before World War II.
France attaches greatest importance to effect on North Africa. If Nasser succeeds completely useless to continue fight there. This is one more reason why France prepared to give its full support for whatever is decided upon to bring Nasser to order.
France agrees with British paper.
French Government has taken decision to prepare now for military action if necessary. 400,000 troops deployed in North Africa which could be used. We should have joint force under common command ready to strike if Nasser interrupts traffic through Canal or threatens foreign nationals. If US will not participate military plans should be worked out between France and UK. French thinking of occupation of Suez Canal zone.
After present conference tripartite powers should send common note to Nasser. Next step would be conference of users of Canal. Conference should not be allowed delay other measures.
US position. I presented statement quoted Embtel 5176 and then through series questions endeavored ascertain exactly what British and French had in mind. Made clear USG had not yet taken decision with respect to military preparations, tripartite note to Egypt or conference. Emphasized necessity for mobilizing public opinion and that talk of military action without adequate public preparation highly dangerous.
Department’s views needed on:
- General objective as set forth British paper (Embtel 5187).
- Participation by U.S. in tripartite planning for possible military action.
- Note to Nasser by tripartite powers at this stage, perhaps setting forth objectives as given British paper.
- Larger conference and criteria for selecting participants. (Regarding proposed larger conference there would arise questions whether USSR and Egypt should be invited. Also if it takes place it would perhaps be best for invitations to be issued by UK and not tripartite.)8
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–2956. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 7:14 p.m. Repeated to Paris.↩
- Reference is to the first tripartite meeting, which began at 6 p.m. Other accounts of the meeting are in British Foreign Office, “Record of Meeting Held at 1, Carlton Gardens at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 29, 1956,” and “London Tripartite Conversations,” pp. 3–12. (Both ibid., Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 724) According to the latter document, the following attended the meeting: Murphy, Foster, Connors, and Burdett for the United States; Lloyd, Caccia, and Ross for the United Kingdom; and Pineau, Chauvel, and Daridan for France.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 22.↩
- The British Foreign Office “Record” indicates that this addition was made at French initiative.↩
On military preparations, the British Foreign Office “Record” contains the following account:
“In reply to a question from Mr. Murphy, the Secretary of State [Foreign Secretary], explained that we were only proposing military preparations in order to enable us to ensure by force, as a last resort, the free transit of vessels through the Canal. We had to ensure that the Canal remained an international waterway. It was not intended to make any military ultimatum to Nasser at the present stage. We must however be ready in case he were to occupy the base or take action against our ships.
“M. Pineau agreed with the Foreign Secretary. Mr. Murphy pointed out that United States public opinion was not yet prepared for the idea of using force.
“The Foreign Secretary said that a situation might arise where it would be impossible to go on paying dues to Egypt, if Nasser did not accept an international convention. He stressed the point that Nasser had already threatened employees of the Company with imprisonment. M. Pineau also emphasized that we were talking only about preparations at this stage.
“The Foreign Secretary stated that Her Majesty’s Government had decided to be ready to use force if necessary. Mr. Murphy said that the United States Government had not taken such a decision. M. Pineau said that the French Government had taken this decision. They were prepared to do whatever was necessary and considered that it was more important than anything else to check Nasser.”↩
- Document 21.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 22.↩
- At 12:21 a.m., July 30, the Department of State sent the following preliminary comments to Murphy: “1. We could make no commitments re use of force without Congressional action, which extremely problematical under existing conditions; 2. Believe action to be taken might best be in form conference called by three or more signatory powers under provisions Article 8 of 1888 Convention. In addition signatory nations, limited number powers, including U.S., which are beneficiaries of treaty would be invited.” (Telegram 571 to London, July 30; Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/7–2956) The telegram was drafted by Rountree and cleared in substance by Dulles, Hoover, and Phleger.↩