43. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

Secto 6. Secretary accompanied by Murphy and Dillon met with Pineau at latter’s hotel.2 Pineau was accompanied by Chauvel.

Secretary outlined US position on seizure of Suez Canal. Stated Nasser’s action coming after previous unfriendly actions, including attacks on French and British, creates a very serious situation. US feels that Nasser must be forced to reverse his position. The question is how to achieve this end. The US does not feel military action is appropriate at present time. This because situation is not clear to world opinion, much of which remains favorable to Nasser. This even true of large segments of public opinion in United States which are not at all conscious of Nasser’s faults.

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Therefore US feels strong and sincere effort must be made to repose question on the basis of detailed plan for international operation of the Canal. Such a plan should be agreed in detail by US, France and Britain and then taken up with friendly countries who are large users of Canal or are dependent on trade moving through Canal or are signatories of 1888 Treaty and who will be eventual members of conference to be called to consider problem.

Secretary indicated that this should be completed rapidly in order keep momentum and he mentioned ten days as goal for completion this step. Then should follow conference of signatories 1888 Treaty except for Germany and Austria-Hungary where problems of successor states arise. Conference also would include large users and those who depend on Canal traffic for their trade. Federal Republic would be included as large user.

If Nasser should accept an arrangement for international control endorsed by conference all would be settled. World opinion mobilized by conference would bring great pressure on Nasser to accept. If Nasser refused to accept their arrangement for international control recommended by conference, world opinion, and in particular US opinion, would be clarified and it would then become possible to consider stronger action if it should appear necessary. In conclusion Secretary emphasized importance of mobilizing world opinion and in particular US opinion and of taking no strong action until such opinion fully mobilized.

Pineau then stated French position as follows: Nasser, by his unilateral and unjust act, has caused great excitement and disturbance in Near East and throughout North Africa. Under no circumstances can Nasser be allowed to keep control of Canal. Our basic principle must be that Nasser gives up operation and control of Canal to an international body. If this does not occur and Nasser succeeds in maintaining his position, Bourguiba in Tunisia and Sultan in Morocco3 would be overwhelmed by extremist elements favorable to Nasser and all North Africa would be lost. French would have no reason to continue fighting in Algeria under such circumstances. Therefore, if it should be necessary France is prepared take military action against Nasser, acting alone if necessary. However, British have different reasons for identical views as French, and so military action, if it should come, will probably be joint Anglo-French action.

French perfectly willing to agree proposal for international operation provided it very clear that operation would be by international organization which would force Nasser to give up his nationalization. If Nasser should accept such an arrangement there would be no [Page 102]need for military action and French would be very pleased. However, if Nasser refuses, military action would be needed and during next 30 days France intends make necessary military preparations. Pineau said that if Nasser conscious that military preparations are under way he would be more likely to find a way to agree to international control of Suez which would make military action unnecessary.

Pineau said that if military action becomes necessary because of refusal by Nasser to accept internationalization, France would hope for US moral support and US indication to Soviets that they must leave matter alone as US would be forced to counter any Soviet action. This would be very important help to Britain and France.

The Secretary said he felt there seemed to be general agreement on principles but that it was most important to work fast to develop the formula for the international regime. He emphasized that this would be a difficult job. Secretary then pointed out great difficulty for constitutional reasons of obtaining US military action even in the event Nasser should refuse conference proposal for internationalization. Secretary emphasized the importance of having full support of US public opinion for any action which might be taken by Britain and France. He re-emphasized that this could only be obtained if a fair formula for international operation was presented to Egypt with the backing of a large number of interested countries. In conclusion he again stated US fully agreed that Nasser should be made to give up unilateral control of Canal.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–256. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Received at 8:55 p.m., August 1. Repeated to Paris.
  2. “London Tripartite Conversations” (pp. 6467) contains an account of this conversation, which began at 4 p.m. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 724)
  3. Mohammed V.