5. Message From Prime Minister Eden to President Eisenhower1

Dear Friend: You will have had by now a report of the talk which I had last night with your Chargé d’Affaires about the Suez Canal. This morning I have reviewed the whole position with my Cabinet colleagues and Chiefs of Staff. We are all agreed that we cannot afford to allow Nasser to seize control of the Canal in this way, in defiance of international agreements. If we take a firm stand over this now, we shall have the support of all the maritime powers. If we do not, our influence and yours throughout the Middle East will, we are convinced, be irretrievably undermined.

The immediate threat is to the oil supplies to Western Europe, a great part of which flows through the Canal. We have reserves in the United Kingdom which would last us for six weeks; and the countries in Western Europe have stocks, rather smaller as we believe, on which they could draw for a time. We are, however, at once considering means of limiting current consumption so as to conserve our supplies; and if the Canal were closed we should have to ask you to help us by reducing the amount which you draw from the pipeline terminals in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly by sending us supplementary supplies for a time from your side of the world.
It is, however, the outlook for the longer term which is more threatening. The Canal is an international asset and facility, which is vital to the free world. The maritime powers cannot afford to allow Egypt to expropriate it and to exploit it by using the revenues for her own internal purposes irrespective of the interests of the Canal and of the Canal users. Apart from the Egyptians’ complete lack of technical qualifications, their past behaviour gives no confidence that they can be trusted to manage it with any sense of international obligation. Nor are they capable of providing the capital which will soon be needed to widen and deepen it so that it may be capable of handling the increased volume of traffic which it must carry in the years to come. We should, I am convinced, take this opportunity to put its management on a firm and lasting basis as an international trust.
We should not allow ourselves to become involved in legal quibbles about the rights of the Egyptian Government to nationalise what is technically an Egyptian company, or in financial arguments about their capacity to pay the compensation which they have offered. I feel sure that we should take issue with Nasser on the broader international grounds summarised in the preceding paragraph.
As we see it we are unlikely to attain our objective by economic pressures alone. I gather that Egypt is not due to receive any further aid from you. No large payments from her sterling balances here are due before January. We ought in the first instance to bring the maximum political pressure to bear on Egypt. For this, apart from our own action, we should invoke the support of all the interested powers. My colleagues and I are convinced that we must be ready, in the last resort, to use force to bring Nasser to his senses. For our part we are prepared to do so. I have this morning instructed our Chiefs of Staff to prepare a military plan accordingly.
However, the first step must be for you and us and France to exchange views, align our policies and concert together how we can best bring the maximum pressure to bear on the Egyptian Government. This we cannot easily do by correspondence. A tripartite meeting will, I am sure, be required at the earliest date. It should be at a high level. So far as we are concerned, it could be held either here or in Washington. But, as it happens, Pineau was due to come over here for talks with Selwyn and will be arriving on Sunday next, July 29. Could you possibly arrange to send someone over at once who could join in discussions, not later than Monday of next week with Selwyn and Pineau. We should, of course, be delighted to see Foster, if that were practicable.
Meanwhile we are in close touch with the French and with the Commonwealth Governments. The High Commissioners here [Page 11] have all expressed their readiness to meet me to discuss the situation this evening. Some or all of them might be glad to join in the tripartite discussions. They are deeply interested, financially and otherwise.

Yours ever,

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret. British Ambassador Makins forwarded this message to Eisenhower and sent a copy to Hoover. (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Eden to Eisenhower Correspondence 1955–1956 Vol I) The Department of State transmitted the text to Dulles in Lima in Tedul 18, July 27, and to London in telegram 546, July 27. (Both ibid., Central Files, 974.7301/7–2656)
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.