437. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, October 30, 1956, 4:40 p.m.1
- Israeli-Egyptian Crisis
- The Secretary
- Mr. J. E. Coulson, Chargé d’Affaires, British Embassy
- Mr. R. W. Bailey, Counselor, British Embassy
- C. Burke Elbrick, EUR
The Secretary told Mr. Coulson that the President had despatched messages to Prime Minister Eden and to Prime Minister Mollet of France (copies of which were shown to Coulson)2 and that public announcement of this fact was being made by the White House.3 He expressed to Coulson his concern regarding latest developments and termed the ultimatum issued to Israel and Egypt a [Page 876] “brutal affair”. He said that the President had received the message from Sir Anthony expressing the hope that the ultimatum would be accepted by the two countries but the Secretary felt that this was highly visionary. On the one hand, Egypt was called upon to surrender the Canal and a very large part of its territory and, on the other hand, Israel is allowed to keep the territory which it has occupied in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Secretary said that he did not know whether the Israeli action comes as a surprise to the United Kingdom but he felt that it had not been a surprise to the French. He felt that the build-up which had occurred in Cyprus must have had some reason and that the present plan which is being carried out by the British and French is too detailed not to have been concerted before the Israeli action. He felt that this action is a great tragedy both as it concerns our relations with France and England and as it concerns the world situation. The Soviet position in Eastern Europe is crumbling and the eyes of the world are focused on the evils of Communism in that area. The intended action in Egypt may well obliterate the success we have long awaited in Eastern Europe. The Secretary said that we had always urged peaceful solution for the Suez problem and had felt that in the recent action in the United Nations that agreement was within our grasp. He felt that the British Government had recently kept us deliberately in the dark about its plans.
Coulson said that he himself knew nothing about this situation, that he had had no instructions, but that it was extremely difficult for him to believe that the United Kingdom had had any part in urging the Israeli to attack Egypt. He could not agree that the action intended by the United Kingdom and France would “obliterate” the success of our policy in Eastern Europe. He felt that the Anglo-French action was quite different from the Soviet action in Hungary and that the main purpose of the Anglo-French ultimatum was to stop the fighting in Egypt. The Prime Minister, in the debate in the House of Commons, had stressed the fact that occupation of key points along the Canal would be “temporary”. The British have no desire to keep British forces in Egypt any longer than is necessary to get an agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Secretary said this might take a “long, long time”.
Coulson expressed his regret that this “awkward situation” should have arisen between us and expressed his fear that the press would play up this question of a divergence between the United States and the United Kingdom. He wondered if the Secretary could suggest any way of preventing this. The Secretary said that the only way to take care of this situation is for the British and French to stop the action they contemplate taking in Egypt.