246. Memorandum of a Conversation, U.S. Embassy, London, September 21, 1956, 10:45 a.m.1



  • The United States
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Tyler
  • Spain
    • Foreign Minister Artajo
    • Mr. Valls, First Secretary2
[Page 547]


  • Suez Canal Conference

The Spanish Foreign Minister said he thought it undesirable for the Declaration of the 18 powers to state merely that the 18 governments “do not consider that the proposal of the Egyptian Government of the 10th September to set up a negotiating body can be accepted”. He said this would be bad for world opinion, and that it would diminish the chances of bringing about negotiations with Nasser. He pointed out that in his message to the UN, Nasser had mentioned the possibility of a negotiating body of nine members. The Spanish Foreign Minister said he thought that the declaration should state that the 18 governments will discuss or consider the Egyptian proposals, when the Association has been established.

The Secretary said that he had himself had in mind a text which would be somewhat more mild than the passage in the Swedish draft, but that nevertheless the Egyptian proposals were not acceptable as they have been presented. He pointed out that it was a very difficult matter to delegate to a small group of countries the authority to negotiate in behalf of others. They could not do this without specific terms of reference, since the other countries would naturally be apprehensive lest the smaller group might give away more than what the other countries considered to be their minimum position. The Minister repeated that he thought it would be a mistake at this stage solely to reject the Nasser proposals, and that it would place the 18 countries in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis world opinion.

The Minister then developed the thesis that Egypt’s position was in fact growing stronger with the passage of time. He thought Egypt could stay put, maintain a passive attitude being in possession of the Canal, whereas the other countries had to do something and find ways of making some progress. He thought that a very poor country such as Egypt, could stand conditions of economic adversity better than richer countries, since the standard of living of Egypt is already so low that the Egyptians “would merely go on eating bread and onions and sit in the deserts”. He said half-humorously that Spain had in recent years experienced the adverse effects of “the Truman blockade” which had denied it the benefits of the Marshall Plan, and that this had caused hardship by preventing the Spanish people from improving their standard of living and obtaining necessities they would otherwise have received. The Egyptian people, however, were already near rock bottom and could not go much lower.

The Secretary said that he did not share the Minister’s theory that the Egyptian position would grow stronger as time passed. He pointed out that Egypt’s prestige and international credit were much [Page 548] lower today than when Nasser had taken over the Canal. Apart from the question of receipts from the Canal, tourist trade had dried up and Egyptian industrial requirements could no longer be obtained from former sources. United States aid, which had been considerable and included supplies of wheat, had been stopped and Nasser’s action had weakened Egypt’s position in the eyes of the governments of several of the Arab states. He thought that on the contrary there would be an increasing inducement to Nasser to negotiate as time passed. The Minister did not attempt to argue the point further.

The Spanish Foreign Minister said he had talked on September 20 with the Egyptian Ambassador who had not had very much to say. He had, however, stated that the idea of the Association forming a unit with which it might be possible to negotiate was “not too bad”. The Ambassador had referred to Nasser’s proposal for a body of nine in his note to the UN, but had not pressed it unduly.

The Secretary said he had wondered why Nasser had been unwilling to make counterproposals and had merely rejected those made by the First Suez Conference without advancing any ideas himself. If he had done so, we might now have been already negotiating with him. The Minister said he thought it was important not to do anything at this stage which might diminish the chances of establishing an atmosphere favorable to negotiations later on.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 782. Secret. Drafted by Tyler.
  2. Aurelio Valls Carreras, First Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in the United Kingdom.