38. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1
549. Dept for Acting Secretary. London for Secretary and Murphy. Mollet asked me to come to see him on an urgent basis this afternoon and I remained with him for some 45 minutes. I found him quiet but obviously in a highly emotional state. He said that he was very disturbed at the apparent lack of unity between Britain and France on the one hand, and the US on the other in regard to Nasser. He said he felt that the present moment was equally as critical as the beginning of the Berlin blockade and invasion of Korea. He was convinced that if Nasser is successful all Western positions in the Middle East and North Africa will be lost within the next 12 months. He said that French intelligence was positive in its view that Nasser was acting in close accord with the Soviet Union, and he noted that Nasser had advanced the date of his trip to Moscow so as to be there before Aug 12. He said he was convinced that US did not realize full gravity of the situation. Therefore, he had sent a letter this morning to the President.2 He gave me formal text of the letter which he said had been telegraphed to the French Embassy for delivery today in Washington.
After reading the letter I told Mollet that I had seen all of Murphy’s reports to the Dept from London and that I had not received any impression of disunity comparable to what he was describing. Mollet said that on the contrary there had been real disunity and both the French and the British had been very much disappointed at Murphy’s attitude which had been to say continually (1) he had no instructions, (2) must refer all questions back to Washington, (3) US not convinced of Soviet influence behind affair, (4) US is in period of elections and therefore cannot take any important action, and (5) continued effort water down the communiqué so that it will in effect be triumph for Nasser. Mollet then [Page 75]observed that it would be catastrophe for the Free World if US, because of the approach of elections, allowed the whole of the Middle East to fall under Soviet control.
Mollet affirmed several times that the question was not a local one and that France agreed entirely with the US that they should not be put in position of defending the shareholders of Suez Canal Co. or of any outdated colonial rights. The real question was that Nasser’s unilateral action could not be accepted as Suez was an international problem and secondly Nasser should not be allowed to impose conditions of slave labor on the foreign employees of the Suez Canal Co. in Egypt who now had the choice of working on Nasser’s terms or going to jail. Mollet repeated again that the importance of the matter lay in its influence on the other countries in the Middle East and North Africa and not just on its effects in Egypt.
Mollet said that French opinion was particularly disturbed because they had the feeling that they were being abandoned by the US after the US had started the whole affair by their withdrawal of aid for Aswan Dam. Mollet said the French fully approved of this action by the US but felt that the US should also accept the consequences.
Mollet then said that the French had been somewhat shocked by their military study of the situation when they realized that Egypt had a modern bomber force piloted by Polish and Czech pilots, which was far and away superior to any bomber force possessed by France. This situation had developed according to Mollet, because of France’s loyalty to NATO, and the fact that France had accepted the division of effort in NATO where France was asked to concentrate on a fighter airforce and leave the bombing job to the US and to Britain.
Finally, Mollet said that there had been frequent comparisons between Nasser and Hitler and he hesitated to make the comparison because it might seem banal. However, he had to admit that the parallel was extremely close. Nasser’s deal with the Soviets for arms is the parallel to the Hitler Stalin Pact of 1939. While Nasser is head of a country far weaker than Hitler’s Germany, the Soviet Union is now far stronger than in 1939. He then picked up a copy of Nasser’s book “The Philosophy of Revolution” which he had on his desk and said that he felt that all leading officials in the Dept of State should read this book promptly if they had not done so already. He considered it a perfect parallel to “Mein Kampf”. He predicted that Nasser would now attempt to digest the seizure of the Suez Canal and would fill this period of digestion with all sorts of appeasing and innocent sounding noises, thus closely paralleling the Hitler technique of always talking peace after each aggression.[Page 76]
At this point I again said to Mollet that I was not aware of any concrete proposition which had been made by the British and French at London to which the US had taken strong objection. Mollet promptly interrupted me and said that the US had objected strongly to any sort of military action. I said that I had not realized that military action was being contemplated at the moment but rather that a proposal was being prepared for the international control of the Canal. Mollet agreed that this was correct and said that if Nasser should accept such a proposal there would be no need whatsoever for military action. However, if he should refuse to accept it as Mollet considered inevitable then Mollet felt it was imperative that the West be united in taking whatever military action was necessary to make Nasser back down.
I then inquired as to whether France wished the US to join with her and Britain in such military action as they might consider necessary and whether they had made any such request to Murphy in London. Mollet replied that he did desire US agreement participate in military action should it be decided that such action was necessary. I then pointed out to Mollet the great constitutional difficulties involved for the US and the fact that we could not initiate military action without Congressional approval, and I expressed some surprise as to why the French and British felt that US military participation would be necessary. Mollet then said that actual participation might not be necessary and that it would be satisfactory if the US would make a declaration showing that they were in full agreement with British and French. With such a US statement he felt that the British and French could carry out any military action required by themselves.
Mollet then said that what he feared was that the US was leaning towards the strategy of continental defense and was losing interest in the defense of Europe and the Middle East. He felt that the US was embarking on the same course of error by appeasement that had been followed toward Hitler in the 1930’s. He said he considered the situation so serious that he was prepared to take an airplane to Washington and see the President if that would be acceptable to US Govt. He said he had never been so disturbed and worried for the future and was certain that if we did not take action to stop Nasser now we would be faced with the same problem 3, 6 or 9 months hence, only the Western position by that time would have greatly deteriorated.
As I got up to leave Mollet said he wished to tell me one more thing in greatest confidence which he had not mentioned previously. He said that it was made clear to him by the Soviet leaders when he was in Moscow that they were prepared, in concert with Nasser, to agree to bring about peace in Algeria on a basis acceptable to his [Page 77]government provided he would agree to come part way to meet their views on European matters. They did not ask that France make any dramatic moves, such as the abandonment of NATO, but only that she be less faithful to the West and become in effect semi-neutralist. Mollet said I must realize the temptation that such an offer regarding Algeria offered to any French statesman. He hoped that I would understand when he said that he felt that his firm rejection of this Soviet offer gave him the right now to speak frankly of his fears for the Western position and to request a sympathetic hearing by the US Govt.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/7–3156. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 10:23 p.m. Repeated Niact to London.↩
- Mollet’s letter to Eisenhower, written “in view of the attitude of the United States delegation at the London discussions”, conveyed the French Government’s fears and concerns on the situation in the Middle East. Mollet warned that the position of the Free World in that area was endangered and he proposed “a rapid and energetic riposte” which would provide a powerful and effective demonstration of Western solidarity. “Only such a positive action,” he noted, “can forestall the rapid deterioration of the situation and prevent the Soviet Union from exercising shortly a determining influence in the region concerned.” (A copy of the official translation is ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 62 D 204, DeGaulle, Mollet, Gaillard exchange of corres. with pres/sec, 2/53 thru 1/61; a copy of an unofficial translation is in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File.)↩