42. Memorandum of a Conversation Between Prime Minister Eden and Secretary of State Dulles, 10 Downing Street, London, August 1, 1956, 12:45 p.m.1

This conversation took place partly between the two of us, partly with the participation of Lord Salisbury and partly with the participation of Ambassador Aldrich and Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd.

Sir Anthony referred to the letter from President Eisenhower.2 I explained that the President had asked me to say that he had dictated this letter quite hastily and that it was perhaps not as polished as it would have been had he had more time, but that the President felt that there was no doubt that the letter adequately expressed his basic thinking on the subject. (I said this for the purpose of making it clear to Eden that this letter was a spontaneous one of the President’s and not something that somebody else had drafted and the President had merely signed.) Eden expressed his appreciation of the letter and the great importance he and his Government would attach to it, and said that it would be answered in due course.

He then went on to express his Government’s view that prompt forcible action was necessary. He said that if Nasser “got away with it”, it would mean disaster for British interests in the whole Middle East, and France felt the same way with respect to their interests in North Africa.

Eden said that while, of course, they would like to have the United States take part militarily in the Suez operation with them, they did not count on this. They did want our moral support and economic support in terms of petroleum products diverted from our side, and would want us to neutralize any open participation by the Soviet Union. If we could keep Russia out of open intervention, by the assurance that if Russia came in we would be in, they and the French could and would take care of the rest.

I said that I agreed that Nasser should not “get away with it”, but the question was how his course should be reversed and he could be brought to “disgorge”. I said that United States public opinion was not ready to back a military venture by Britain and France which, at this stage, could be plausibly portrayed as motivated [Page 99] by imperialist and colonialist ambitions in the general area, going beyond the Canal operation itself, which was still open. I felt that for the British and French to undertake such an operation without at least the moral support of the United States would be a great disaster because it opened the way for many future evil consequences. I also pointed out that whereas the initial Egyptian resistance to a military operation might not be considerable, the long-term opposition would be very great. I recalled the position of the British at the Suez Base in 1953 when I was there, and that 88,000 U.K. troops had difficulty in defending themselves against the infiltration and assassination tactics of the Egyptians. Now the situation would be much worse. Egypt was much stronger militarily, and was getting moral and material support from the Soviet Union and Egypt’s prestige and influence in the Arab world was much greater. I said they would have to count not merely on Egyptian reaction but on Egyptian reaction backed by assistance from the Soviet Union at least in the form of military weapons and supplies, and perhaps “volunteers”. All the Arab, and parts of the Moslem world would be arrayed against the United Kingdom and France. Also they would be in trouble in the United Nations. I could not see the end of such an operation and the consequences throughout the Middle East would be very grave and would jeopardize British interests, particularly in the production and transportation of oil even more than the present action of Nasser. I felt that it was indispensable to make a very genuine effort to settle this affair peacefully and mobilize world opinion which might be effective.

After considerable discussion, pro and con, along these lines, Eden said they would be willing to give a try to the conference method, if it could be pushed ahead quickly and not be a procedure which would involve de facto acquiescence in the existing situation.

I referred to the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference as indicating a procedure whereby quick action could be achieved if there could be early informal agreement among the principally interested powers and if then rules of procedure for the conference were adopted which would prevent a filibuster. Eden said this was an interesting precedent, to be looked into.

Eden expressed strong opposition to the presence of the Soviet Union at any conference. I said I did not like their presence anywhere, but that I did not see how we could get away from the fact that Russia was a signatory party to the 1888 Treaty. We ourselves could not accept getting away from that Treaty. Our own position in Panama was dependent upon a treaty and if we accepted the view that merely because a waterway had international use the world generally was able to deal with it and control it, we would be cut away from our moorings in Panama.

[Page 100]

At about this point, the French arrived for luncheon and our private conversation broke up.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 971.7301/8–156. Top Secret. Drafted by Dulles. The time of the meeting is from “London Tripartite Conversations”, p. 60a. “London Tripartite Conversations” contains no account of this meeting but notes: “The substantive record of this meeting is filed in the Office of the Secretary of State.” (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 724) Presumably the memorandum of conversation printed here is the “substantive record” indicated.
  2. Document 35.
  3. Present at the luncheon meeting were: Eden, Lloyd, Salisbury, Caccia, Pineau, Chauvel, Dulles, Aldrich, Dillon, and Murphy. In a memorandum of conversation, Murphy recorded the following points, among others, as being raised at this meeting. Eden “made it clear that the British hoped that if eventually the worst developed and military action happened in the Mediterranean, the U.K. and France would see it through as far as Arab forces are concerned ‘if the U.S. would take care of the Bear.’” Dulles, in turn, “repeatedly emphasized the importance of mobilizing world public opinion favorable to international control of the Canal and the need that the U.S. public understand the problem.” (Memorandum of conversation by Murphy, August 1; Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–156).

    After the meeting, Dulles sent the following message to President Eisenhower: “Have had extended talk with Eden and Lloyd and some discussion with Salisbury. Matters are not going badly.” (Dulte 1 from London, August 1; ibid., 110.11–DU/8–156) On receipt of this message, Hoover read its contents to Eisenhower over the telephone at 2:15 p.m., and commented, “one interesting thing is the leaks, particularly out of the French, on preparing to use force.” He continued, “Dulles seems to be having luck on top, but may have troubles at the bottom level.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)