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

Secto 11. Paris eyes only Ambassador. Account follows of formal tripartite meeting held 10 a.m. London time August 2 at [Page 112]Foreign Office with Lloyd presiding.2 We are meeting again at 4:15 p.m. after participation by Lloyd in House of Commons foreign affairs debates.

Conference:3 I said that because of importance of advance diplomatic preparations I did not see how conference could be held in less than three weeks. Our entire purpose was to hold conference of such character that rejection of results would isolate Egypt in world public opinion. This would not happen if other free countries judged that we had not made genuine effort but had only gone through the motions so we could later use force. First, tripartite powers would have to agree among themselves on nature of international organization they had in mind and then explain matter to others. It was necessary to get 2/3 of participants committed before conference. I said I was highly skeptical that this could be done in two weeks.

Pineau pressed for earliest possible date. He thought three weeks too long. If August 13 not possible he would accept August 16 or 17. Lloyd commented that August 16 or 17 was about maximum which British could take. He wished to consult Eden and suggested that in communiqué we might use phrase “as soon as practicable” instead of specifying date.

With respect to place, I said we should not select capital of one of parties most directly concerned. US would prefer Geneva or Rome. Pineau favored London. He mentioned possibility of Brussels, but Selwyn Lloyd pointed out Belgium not on list of participants.

Lloyd asked who would issue invitations, saying US draft of communiqué indicated France and UK would do so. I said we had no special views on whether one or both issued invitations. If London is site of conference UK should probably be inviting power. Pineau supported UK as inviting power and London as site with statement [Page 113]in communiqué that France and US would participate. I replied this appeared satisfactory if London selected as site.

Lloyd said UK had great difficulty in swallowing USSR as participant. He urged that to avoid any misunderstanding we agree clearly that (1) conference would last only few days; (2) every sort of pressure would be applied to obtain positive results. If not, the West would suffer major diplomatic defeat. At same time, UK anxious that conference not appear to be bogus exercise. If it fails, UK would use force. Force is only alternative open if Egypt does not accept results. He added if conference not held force would still be used, but under less favorable circumstances.4

Conference adjourned while Lloyd consulted Prime Minister. Upon his return he said Eden agreed tripartite powers should reach complete agreement before issuing communiqué and therefore would not read it during debate in Commons today. Eden accepted August 16 as starting date for conference and for practical reasons preferred London as site. He would be glad for UK to serve as invitor.

I suggested adding Saudi Arabia and Iran to list of participants transmitted Secto 85 pointing out that economies of both dependent upon Canal and their omission would appear to be arbitrary act. Pineau commented that their addition would not make achievement 2/3 majority any easier. Lloyd said omission Iraq would then be difficult. I suggested including Iraq. Pineau mentioned adding Ethiopia. After considerable discussion, both Pineau and Lloyd said they preferred list submitted Secto 8. Lloyd stated UK as inviting power would like to say both US and France had approved list. It could add UK could not conceive of conference excluding Commonwealth countries whose lifeline under discussion. I said I was concerned principally over creating general impression that we have arbitrarily and artificially isolated Egypt from its friends by not including other countries largely dependent on Canal. I doubted Egypt would come if conference held in London and therefore did not want to give Egyptians excuse for saying conference packed. No definite conclusion [Page 114]reached and working group established to provide additional statistics on use of Canal for consideration at afternoon meeting.

Nature of international organization: British tabled draft prepared by legal advisor.6 Pineau said it went too much into detail and French Delegation submitted short paper.7 Pineau suggested number of questions submitted to proposed conference should be kept to minimum. Details should be considered later to avoid embarrassing discussions over small points with consequent increased risks of abstentions. It was important to speak only of compensating Suez Canal Company and not about any possible future role for it in order to avoid appearance that object of conference is to reestablish Company.

Rough summary translation French paper follows:

Purposes of international authority shall be: Take charge of Canal; assure its functioning; compensate Suez Canal Company; provide Egypt equitable return. International organization shall be headed by administrative council designated by powers most interested in navigation and maritime commerce and by necessary technical and administrative organs. Powers of authority should include: approval and modification of tolls, carrying out necessary works, financing, control of technical organs.

Pineau said he would propose asking conference: Are you for Nasser system or for international system? If for latter what should be powers of controlling body?

I expressed general sympathy for Pineau’s idea. Nasser has decreed national control of Canal. We want international regime to prevail. If issues kept simple any rejection by Nasser will be attacked by world opinion. We should seek agreement on principles with details to be worked out later. It inadvisable to raise details that could divide conference. I suggested adding to French draft provision for arbitration. Egypt would be asked whether it accepts principles embodied in conference resolution. If it does, we have won our victory and details may then be worked out. If Egypt refuses, there is no need to go into detail.

Selwyn Lloyd asserted that if Egypt rejected conference resolution and then stopped ships from transiting which paid to old Company [sic] we would be free to take whatever action appeared appropriate. I replied that I supposed if Egypt rejected proposals all would feel free to do what they considered appropriate.

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Memorandum of agreement: Pineau suggested tripartite powers agree to memorandum setting forth their understanding of results of present meetings and course to be followed. Selwyn Lloyd said he thought suggestion important. I did not comment.

Lloyd left meeting at this point to attend foreign affairs debate in Commons.

Foreign nationals employed by Suez Canal Company: British delegation reported upon intention of Suez Canal Company to order its employees to leave Egypt, as described in Secto 8. British said they had sent two messages to British Director of Company ordering him to insure instructions not sent out as currently drafted, since present conference considering matter.

FYI: British Director of Suez Canal Company informed US delegation privately that Company wished act quickly because it understood Egyptians planning request employees to sign undertaking to go on serving and Company thought many would gladly sign in absence firm instructions and inducements to leave. He also said prior Company message already sent instructing French personnel to apply for repatriation personally approved by Pineau. End FYI.

Pineau argued that Company had perfect right to send any instructions of this nature to its employees which it wished. Employees had perfect right to follow such instructions and France, and he understood UK, was prepared absolutely to protect rights of their nationals in this respect. Caccia replied HMG had not reached decision. He pointed out that whether or not governments actually approved message, public would assume it had their approval. He thought message exposed Western powers to charge that they were interrupting operations of Canal. UK confronted with special difficulty since it only govt with large shareholding. Public would suppose that action of Company would not have been taken against wishes largest shareholder. British thoroughly agreed with Pineau on right of employees to do as individuals what they considered right in conformity with their contracts but question became political matter if Suez Canal Company took measures leading to interruption of transit. Caccia specifically reserved position of UK Govt.

I said proposed message was grave matter. If operation of Canal discontinued as result instructions appearing to have approval of French Govt and if, as consequence, flow of oil disrupted, US would have difficulty in taking measures to compensate for disruption. Instruction to Suez Company employees to quit and offer of financial inducements to do so would make it appear that Canal’s operations disrupted by UK and France. US, of course, agreed [Page 116]employees should not be forced to work against their will. Discussion this subject continued at afternoon meeting.8

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–256. Top Secret; Niact; Limited Distribution. Received at 6:05 p.m. Repeated to Paris.
  2. Other accounts of this, the seventh tripartite meeting, are in British Foreign Office, “Record of the 7th Meeting Held at 10 a.m. on Thursday August 2, 1956, in the Council Chamber, Foreign Office” and “London Tripartite Conversations”, pp. 82100. (Both ibid., Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 728 and 724, respectively) According to the latter document, the following attended the meeting: Dulles, Murphy, Phleger, McCardle, Aldrich, and Burdett for the United States; Lloyd, Caccia, Fitzmaurice, Ross, Watkinson, and Proctor for the United Kingdom; and Pineau, Chauvel, and Daridan for France.
  3. The meeting began with a discussion of the U.S. draft communiqué during which several textual changes were made subject to final agreement. These were reported to the Department in Secto 10, August 2. (Ibid., Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–256) The changes included several stylistic revisions and the substitution of new texts for paragraphs 4 and 5. The original paragraphs 4 and 5 contained in the U.S. draft (Secto 5, August 2; ibid.) had provided for the possibility of associating the proposed conference with the United Nations. For text of the final communiqué, see Document 53.
  4. On this point, the British Foreign Office “Record” reads: “The Foreign Secretary said that Her Majesty’s Government were equally anxious that the conference should not appear to be a bogus exercise. If the conference failed the United Kingdom would use force. He would much prefer to settle the problem without the use of force by bringing, through the conference, such pressure to bear on the Egyptians that they would accept the conference’s resolution. M. Pineau said he had understood Mr. Dulles’ view to be that if the Egyptians did not accept the result of the conference they would be placed in an impossible situation vis-à-vis world opinion. He thought himself that we must be careful that the resolution of the conference was not too easy for the Egyptians to accept. It might even be that Egypt could accept the resolution of the conference and win a victory.”
  5. Document 44.
  6. Not printed. The document is entitled “International Operation and Control of the Suez Canal,” and is attached as Annex A to British Foreign Office, “Record of the 7th Meeting”.
  7. Not printed. The document is entitled “Projet d’invitation: questions posées,” and is attached as Annex B to British Foreign Office, “Record of the 7th Meeting”.
  8. Also at the seventh tripartite meeting, the tripartite working party presented a summary of the Canal tolls situation. An account of that presentation is in telegram 631 from London, August 2, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–256)