28. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

574. For Deputy Under Secretary Murphy from the Secretary. Re Embtel 521.2 It is our basic view Nasser should not now be presented with, in effect, an ultimatum requiring him to reverse his nationalization action under threat of force. We believe it is most unlikely he would back down and that war would accordingly become inevitable.

In this connection it must be borne in mind that, under existing circumstances, our President has no authority to commit United States to military action. This would require Congressional authorization. Congress has now recessed to enable the members to engage in political activities incident to the forthcoming campaign and to attend forthcoming political conventions. Congress, if called in special session, would probably grant requested authority only under most compelling circumstances. Unless and until there is clearer evidence that Nasser’s action will actually impede vital traffic through Canal and unless this danger is recognized more broadly than by a tripartite decision, we doubt Congress would give the authority.

We believe we should proceed on a more moderate though firm basis designed to bring about a stable and technically adequate administration of Canal and to bring this about through pressures other than an Anglo-French ultimatum which could be misinterpreted as being motivated by factors other than the Canal problem itself.

Accordingly, we believe that best procedure would be promptly for three or more subsisting signatories of the 1888 Treaty to call for a meeting of the subsisting signatories, together with selected additional states having major interests in traffic through Canal, with view to bringing about regime of administration which will be dependable.

We recognize that Soviet Union as a signatory would have to be present, but we believe the conference would be overwhelmingly in favor of a stable administration having some international elements.

If Egyptian Government defies such a conference by refusing to attend or, if having attended, it rejects reasonable proposals, then there would be a broader basis than now exists for other affirmative action, free of the imputation, however false in fact, that we were [Page 49]backing French and British for purposes not directly related to operation of Canal. Only under such circumstances would it be feasible ever to consider reconvening Congress in special session and expecting favorable action.

We greatly doubt that conference suggested could be prepared for and held by August 1 or 2, as there should be fully adequate diplomatic preparation. Perhaps it could be held within two weeks. We suggest that it might be called by Britain and France and at least one other signatory power (Spain, Netherlands, or Italy would appear most logical. Also, Geneva might be suitable meeting place. London, Paris, or Cairo would seem out of question.)

Selection of about 12 non-signatory powers might be based upon combined criteria (a) nations with greatest tonnage flag vessels transiting Canal and (b) those with largest amount trade transiting Canal, with assurance selection would provide adequate geographical representation. Formula should not be such that Egypt could plausibly abstain on ground conference artificially weighted against it. Under provisions Article VIII of Treaty, Egypt would be expected to attend. Conference would be designed assure open, secure and efficient operation of Canal as international waterway as contemplated by Treaty. With this definition Egypt’s refusal attend could be considered as breach of the Treaty or, attending in defiant mood, Egypt would place itself in extremely bad light before world opinion.

Procedure we suggest is designed to avoid reference to United Nations Security Council or General Assembly which we consider would surely bog down our efforts for indefinite time.

FYI. Also, we must consider our own position in Panama Canal which depends upon a treaty, and we would be unwilling to be party to procedure which assumed that United Nations had authority in such matters which could override treaty rights. End FYI. From U.S. standpoint, we consider it of utmost importance to conform broadly, even if not literally, to treaty procedures, particularly as Suez Treaty seems adequate to cover present contingency.

We fully agree that Suez Canal Company, its shareholders and employees should be fairly treated but this does not affect broad policy considerations involved above.

This cable is to guide your oral presentation and not for textual transmission.

[Page 50]

We are by separate cable making comments on British draft of principles (Embtel 519).4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–3056. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Drafted and approved by Dulles and signed by Rountree.
  2. Document 24.
  3. Reference should be to telegram 518; see footnote 2, Document 22. Telegram 575, July 30, transmitted the Department’s comments on the British draft. It reads:

    “Following revisions British paper quoted Embtel 518 would seem necessary to conform basic considerations contained Deptel 574: (a) In para 2, delete phrase ‘that all countries concerned should have confidence.’ (b) Revise para 3(a) to read ‘To ensure free navigation, reasonable dues and continuity of efficient administration.’ (c) Revise para 3(b) to read ‘To marshal international support for this position, to be backed, if need be, by international force.’ (d) Revise para 3(c) to read ‘To seek that, etc’” (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–2956) The telegram was drafted by Rountree and approved by Dulles.