45. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

39. London for Secretary. Department for Hoover. This message may miss its mark as I do not know agenda or trend of discussions in London. Implications of news tickers are such however that I want to feel certain you have all possible views and facts before you. In what follows please do not assume I underestimate gravity of situation, nor of ill effect Nasser’s action may have on other holdings in area.

[Page 106]

First of all I hope you will accept Nasser’s statement to me contained in Embtel 362 to London that he will do anything he has to do to justify this act before world opinion and will resist to fullest extent of Egypt’s capability any moves against her sovereignty or designed to undermine action he has taken. I cannot overemphasize popularity of Canal Company nationalization within Egypt, even among Nasser’s enemies (if challenged at present time on this issue he would be supported in almost anything he does and this support I fear would range far beyond Egypt.) In my opinion Nasser will now never accept a superimposed form of international authority and reported discussion as to composition of such group seems academic here, even if sponsored by other than Western powers.

If lawyers here, including oil company, are correct, we do not have case against the act of nationalization itself. This leaves the question of international use and it seems to us Nasser’s statement of yesterday,3 with copy to United Nations, pledging Egypt to live up to its international commitments must be borne in mind.

Would it not be wise to let things calm down while preparing the way for action if and when Egypt violates these international commitments? This is a time of high emotion and if a move is made now involving force in face of two points above it would merely be moving against sovereign right and pledged word of Egypt rather than proven act (such as stoppage of shipping) detrimental to our vital interests. Under these circumstances, I fear Nasser would have masses behind him and certainly would further consolidate his emotional hold over Middle East (which I would guess would include Iraq). While there are no forces here which it is not in our power to over-throw, we would I fear in this day and age, live with the after effects for many years to come.

While hoping present conference in London may be able to think4 of safe ways that had not occurred to us here, [to] meet this danger to Western interests and which would be more quickly effective, it seems to us that possibly we should only plan for future moves if and when Egypt violates its international commitments and put Nasser on notice that we would not tolerate such violations. [Page 107] Realize this may be meager results for public opinion and present domestic political difficulties of varying degrees in the three capitals, but it might be wisest course from a foreign policy point of view.

In drafting this message, Mossadeq case5 is clearly in my mind. Nasser may by this act have finished himself in the end—but this is not necessarily so as the use of a vital facility has not been discontinued and believe implications clear enough to him that if left alone he will most carefully avoid violation international agreements. Point is however we could not with success move against Mossadeq at height of his prestige and I believe same applies here, with added factor that support for Nasser and Egypt will spread across much larger area than the relatively politically isolated state of Iran could muster. In considering countermoves hope it will be borne in mind that we believe that potentialities exist in this issue which could cause type of situation existing in Algeria to spread across to the Persian Gulf, with ill side effects down through South Asia.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–156. Secret; Niact. Received in the Department of State at 11:38 a.m. The source text is the copy sent to Washington.
  2. Printed as telegram 176 from Cairo, Document 31.
  3. On August 1, the Embassy in Cairo transmitted to the Department of State the text of a statement released on behalf of Nasser. The statement affirmed that the Egyptian Government was determined to honor all of its international obligations, including the Convention of 1888 and the assurance concerning it given in the Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1954. (Telegram 190 from Cairo, Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–156).
  4. A garble at this point in the source text has been corrected on the basis of a copy of this telegram ibid., NEA Files: Lot 59 D 518, Omega—Memos, etc. for July 1 to August 31, 1956.
  5. Reference is to the circumstances surrounding the fall from power of former Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosadeq. For documentation concerning Mosadeq’s downfall, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, volume X.