46. Memorandum of a Conversation, 11 Downing Street, London, August 1, 1956, 6:30 p.m.1

SUBJECT

  • Suez Canal

PARTICIPANTS

  • Great Britain
    • Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan
  • United States:
    • Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
    • Ambassador Winthrop W. Aldrich
    • Deputy Under Secretary of State Robert Murphy

Mr. Macmillan said that the position taken by the British Cabinet, in response to the expropriation of the stock of the Suez Canal Company by Egypt was brought about by the realization of the fact that if this action were not met by the utmost firmness a chain reaction would be started which would ultimately lead to the loss of the entire British position in the Middle East and that the final result might be that even the oil reserves in Kuwait might be lost. The cumulative effect of the successive nationalization of pipe lines and concessions by one Middle Eastern country after another would be disastrous not only to the economy of Great Britain but to Europe as well. He said that if the final result was to be the destruction of Great Britain as a first-class power and its reduction to a status similar to that of Holland, the danger should be met now and that even “If we should be destroyed by Russian bombs now that would be better than to be reduced to impotence by the disintegration of its entire position abroad.” He also said that this was the feeling not only of the Cabinet, but of both parties in Parliament and of the British people. No one wanted to see another Munich. They would rather die fighting than slowly bleed to a state of impotence.

He went on to say that if the present crisis were successfully met and if Nasser were obliged to abandon his present course he (Macmillan) felt that the road would have been made more easy for a settlement between Israel and Egypt along the lines developed [Page 109]during the Alpha negotiations.2 In this connection he spoke of the two triangles which had been considered as a means of giving Egypt a corridor to Jordan and said that once Nasser had been brought under control perhaps a larger triangle could be provided for Egypt.

It was not specifically stated by Macmillan that the British had been planning to use force immediately, but that they were planning to use it if necessary. He spoke of a three-division operation. Ambassador Aldrich said that President Eisenhower had said this would take some weeks. Macmillan said that they could move more rapidly.

The Secretary briefly went over the position of the United States, namely that the expropriation of the shares, if proper compensation was given, was within the sovereign power of Egypt but that the international status and management of the Canal must be maintained under the treaty of 1888, and pointed out the necessity of having a conference of the signatories of the treaty and the other nations interested in the operations of the Canal to mobilize world opinion in case Egypt should be unwilling to agree to international control before further action could be decided upon. The Secretary said he realized the necessity of the holding of this conference as soon as possible and of its being organized in such manner as to reach a prompt conclusion.

Macmillan was obviously deeply impressed by the Secretary’s exposition of the position and Ambassador Aldrich felt very clearly would support the U.S. position in future discussion in the Cabinet.

The atmosphere of the entire discussion was most informal, intimate and cordial and Ambassador Aldrich felt that it must have had very great influence in bringing about the reversal of the attitude of the British Government which took place during the two days of the Secretary’s visit.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–156. Top Secret. Drafted by Aldrich. 11 Downing Street was Macmillan’s residence. A typewritten note at the end of the memorandum indicates: “Foregoing was drafted by Ambassador Aldrich en route from London to Washington and handed by him to Deputy Under Secretary Murphy for the record.” Murphy wrote a briefer memorandum of this meeting which contained many of the same points as Aldrich’s version. (Memorandum of conversation by Murphy, August 1; ibid., 974.7301/8–156)
  2. For documentation on the Alpha negotiations, see volume XV.