35. Letter From President Eisenhower to Prime Minister Eden1

Dear Anthony: From the moment that Nasser announced nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, my thoughts have been constantly with you. Grave problems are placed before both our governments, although for each of us they naturally differ in type and character. Until this morning, I was happy to feel that we were approaching decisions as to applicable procedures somewhat along parallel lines, even though there were, as would be expected, important differences as to detail. But early this morning I received the messages, communicated to me through Murphy from you and Harold Macmillan, telling me on a most secret basis of your decision to employ force without delay or attempting any intermediate and less drastic steps.2

We recognize the transcendent worth of the Canal to the free world and the possibility that eventually the use of force might become necessary in order to protect international rights. But we have been hopeful that through a Conference in which would be represented the signatories to the Convention of 1888, as well as [Page 70] other maritime nations, there would be brought about such pressures on the Egyptian government that the efficient operation of the Canal could be assured for the future.

For my part, I cannot over-emphasize the strength of my conviction that some such method must be attempted before action such as you contemplate should be undertaken. If unfortunately the situation can finally be resolved only by drastic means, there should be no grounds for belief anywhere that corrective measures were undertaken merely to protect national or individual investors, or the legal rights of a sovereign nation were ruthlessly flouted. A conference, at the very least, should have a great educational effect throughout the world. Public opinion here and, I am convinced, in most of the world, would be outraged should there be a failure to make such efforts. Moreover, initial military successes might be easy, but the eventual price might become far too heavy.

I have given you my personal conviction, as well as that of my associates, as to the unwisdom even of contemplating the use of military force at this moment. Assuming, however, that the whole situation continued to deteriorate to the point where such action would seem the only recourse, there are certain political facts to remember. As you realize employment of United States forces is possible only through positive action on the part of the Congress, which is now adjourned but can be reconvened on my call for special reasons. If those reasons should involve the issue of employing United States military strength abroad, there would have to be a showing that every peaceful means of resolving the difficulty had previously been exhausted. Without such a showing, there would be a reaction that could very seriously affect our peoples’ feeling toward our Western Allies. I do not want to exaggerate, but I assure you that this could grow to such an intensity as to have the most far-reaching consequences.

I realize that the messages from both you and Harold stressed that the decision taken was already approved by the government and was firm and irrevocable. But I personally feel sure that the American reaction would be severe and that the great areas of the world would share that reaction. On the other hand, I believe we can marshal that opinion in support of a reasonable and conciliatory, but absolutely firm, position. So I hope that you will consent to reviewing this matter once more in its broadest aspects. It is for this reason that I have asked Foster to leave this afternoon to meet with your people tomorrow in London.

I have given you here only a few highlights in the chain of reasoning that compels us to conclude that the step you contemplate should not be undertaken until every peaceful means of protecting the rights and the livelihood of great portions of the world had been [Page 71] thoroughly explored and exhausted. Should these means fail, and I think it is erroneous to assume in advance that they needs must fail, then world opinion would understand how earnestly all of us had attempted to be just, fair and considerate, but that we simply could not accept a situation that would in the long run prove disastrous to the prosperity and living standards of every nation whose economy depends directly or indirectly upon East-West shipping.

With warm personal regard—and with earnest assurances of my continuing respect and friendship,

As ever

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Top Secret. The source text bears the following typewritten notation: “1 copy only retained. This.” A series of telephone conversations between Eisenhower and Dulles on July 31 preceded the dispatch of this letter. At 12:55 p.m. Eisenhower telephoned Dulles to convey the substance of the letter and to ask whether it should be cabled to London or hand delivered by Dulles. The Secretary responded that it would be more effective for him to carry it. Eisenhower said that the note was to be seen only by the Secretary and the Under Secretary and that at the White House only Colonel Goodpaster had seen it and only one copy would be retained in the files. (Memoranda of telephone conversations, July 31; ibid., Eisenhower Diaries and ibid., Dulles Papers, White House Telephone Conversations)

    At 1 p.m. Dulles telephoned Eisenhower and suggested that the President not comment on the Suez situation at his press conference the next day. Eisenhower said that he would refer to the situation as serious and say that negotiations were going on and that he had sent Dulles there. (Ibid.) At 1:05 p.m. the President telephoned Dulles and said that “he feared his first version of page two intimated too strongly possibility of calling special session of Congress. He dictated revised page two to me [Ann Whitman], which was sent over barely in time for Secretary to make his scheduled departure.” (Notes by Ann Whitman; ibid., Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries) No copy of the original version of p. 2 has been found in either the Eisenhower Library or Department of State files. Dulles’ Appointment Book indicates that the Secretary was airborne for London at 2 p.m., July 31. (Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)

  2. Dulles wrote a covering note to this letter which he handed to Eden along with Eisenhower’s letter on August 1. It reads in part: “I think that the sentence at the end of the first paragraph refers not to the going through the motions of having an intermediate conference but to the use of intermediate steps as a genuine and sincere effort to settle the problem and avoid the use of force.” (Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Miscellaneous Papers—U.K. (Suez Crisis)).
  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.