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

654. Paris eyes only Ambassador. Following account plenary tripartite meeting afternoon August 22 submitted after departure Secretary.3


Meeting agreed to statement transmitted separately4 for distribution to press at 9 pm London time with 10 pm release time.

Proposed Basis for the International Conference.

Tripartite working group tabled draft telegraphed separately.5 Sec commented text appeared excellent but wanted day or so to study. Lloyd said it should not be referred to in statement but might be used in initial explanation of conference purposes to participating govts. Sec thought it should be used where would do most good and not automatically transmitted to everyone. Meeting agreed draft would be studied and comments submitted through diplomatic channels by August 5. Pineau said he would wish give substance to [Page 120] French Parliament. Lloyd suggested and meeting agreed substance could be conveyed August 6 to certain countries as indication tripartite thinking.

Participants at Conference

Tripartite working group presented tables6 re foreign trade passing through Canal of following countries: Australia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Ceylon, Sudan, Philippines, Burma, Thailand. Figures showed both value of exports and imports transitting Canal and percentage of total trade using Canal. Sec asked working party to include statistics on Philippines, Burma and Thailand and to examine map carefully to be certain no country was inadvertently omitted. Conference in general agreement that eight signatories 1888 Convention plus eight largest users of Canal on basis of ownership tonnage should be invited. Considerable discussion ensured regarding final eight users to be selected on basis of pattern of trade.

Sec stated US base negotiations in Saudi Arabia in critical stage and exclusion Saudi Arabia could cost US its base rights. Lloyd informed conference Prime Minister Nuri then in FonOff and instructed member delegation to ascertain Nuri’s views regarding invitation to Iraq. Subsequently Lloyd reported he hopes Iraq will not be invited.7 Sec expressed doubts regarding issuing list of participants as annex to statement since time needed to prepare countries omitted through diplomatic channels. He mentioned Greece in particular. Caccia suggested issuing list and explaining basis for selections. Pineau thought list should accompany statement, otherwise competition would occur for place at conference.

List agreed upon transmitted Embtel 644.8 Sec thought it would result in heavy majority for proposed action. He anticipated three negative votes—USSR, Egypt, Indonesia; and four doubtful—Iran, India, Spain, Ceylon. Meeting agreed that appropriate press guidance [Page 121] guidance9 would be issued to make clear reasoning behind selection and fact that list had tripartite approval. At Sec’s suggestion signatories of 1888 Convention listed separately so that reason for inclusion of USSR would be obvious.

Procedure Regarding Invitations

Meeting agreed UK should dispatch invitations immediately.10Sec stressed necessity flexibility in informing countries of purpose of conference and that matter might be discussed with friendlier nations in more detail first. For example, UK might talk with Commonwealth members. Pineau thought Egypt should not be left in position of being able to claim it kept less well informed than others. Lloyd questioned whether any response would be received in less than one week. Sec commented Italy appeared quite disturbed over not having been more fully consulted and said would be necessary watch situation there carefully.

Caccia thought Indonesia, Egypt and USSR should be consulted before conference and that US should assume responsibility in Indonesia. Pineau questioned whether USSR should be consulted. Lloyd thought Soviets should be approached shortly after friendly countries to avoid their taking offense. Lloyd agreed that UK would inform Belgium, Canada and South Africa who not on list of participants. Sec said he would speak to Menzies if still in US.11

Sec stressed need for steps shortly with respect to NATO; problem might be handled in NATO Council.

US, UK and France each agreed assume primary responsibility for approaches to countries specified below. Each would say acting with support of other two. France—Western Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Ethiopia. UK—Commonwealth (Australia, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan), Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden), and Portugal. US—Iran, Japan, Greece, Spain, Turkey. At suggestion of Sec meeting agreed defer until initial reaction received decision re approach to USSR, Egypt and Indonesia.

Meeting subsequently agreed to establishment of small committee in London consisting of US and French Ambs plus representative of FonOff poll information on reactions [sic]. It would make recommendations [Page 122] regarding which of three powers should approach USSR, Egypt, Indonesia and also on timing.

Statements of Position

Pineau tabled suggested protocol Embtel 65212 and sought agreement from US and UK. Lloyd explained that protocol would be kept strictly secret and was equivalent to “heads of agreement” between three govts. Commenting on protocol Sec said that he viewed proposed conference as being for purpose of ascertaining views of participants upon whether they accepted or not seizure by Nasser of Suez Canal. He did not wish to place himself in position of being bound by unexpected result. He might wish to put proposal to Egypt in any case. Lloyd agreed three powers did not wish to bind themselves not to put proposition to Egypt in event adverse vote at conference. Sec said he was in accord with proposal to expedite conference and he thought first phase should not last more than one week. If Egypt agreed technical matters could then be discussed. Pineau maintained language in last para of French protocol based upon statement by Sec previous day. Sec commented he did not wish his statement to be interpreted as meaning that if one of three powers was prepared to take action another thought ill-advised others would be barred from expressing their views. Lloyd concurred in necessity retaining liberty of action. Sec declared that business of being “free” is illusory concept. If US decided to take no action in face of Egyptian reaction, UK and France would endeavor to persuade it otherwise. If US thought action contemplated by UK or France would precipitate world war it would try to dissuade them. While he agreed with spirit of last para French protocol he did not think three powers should be barred from talking matters over together. Lloyd said that if Egypt refused there was no commitment either with respect to taking any particular action or refraining from action.

Sec read to meeting text of US statement transmitted Embtel 649.12 He observed that he could not agree to a protocol which would constitute a secret agreement. US would incorporate statement in minutes. Other countries could make similar statements. Pineau urged that UK and US both join in French protocol arguing that otherwise there would be no real tripartite agreement. Lloyd stated that he recognized weight of “secret agreement” problem. He thought UK could note US statement and express appreciation, Pineau said France could note US statement, but French Govt could not say that it was in accord with exact terms. Pineau then advanced various objections to US draft. Sec reiterated he did not consider it [Page 123] wise to try to obtain paper to which all three could agree. He said in statement he had tried to express US view of rationale behind Conference. If Egyptians were morally isolated, measures required would involve much less danger. Statement set forth US philosophy. He hoped France and UK would concur in its spirit if not express wording. He realized that there were nuances of meaning and was not seeking agreed paper. Lloyd and Pineau then read Brit and French Govts’ statements transmitted Embtel 649.13

Foreign nationals employed by Suez Canal Company

Lloyd referred to discussion in morning meeting regarding Canal Company employees and said UK Government could not agree to anything tonight. Cabinet would consider problem August 3. Steps taken this matter could alter entire position. Question especially difficult for UK since it Company stockholder. Secretary thought three powers should try to keep traffic moving. Lloyd said nothing would be more unfortunate than for Suez Canal Company to publish its proposed message and for UK to have to say it not in agreement. He asked only for 24 hour delay. Pineau described first message sent by Company and said he did not know whether second message of instructions (reported Secto 814) had been despatched. He said he could do nothing further until after meeting of French Government August 3. Lloyd replied he would communicate with French after cabinet meeting through usual channels.

Payment of Transit Tolls

Pineau said only argument he could see for changing French position (reported Secto 8) would be in order to take same stand as UK. Lloyd asserted he understood US vessels were paying new unlawful owners. Phleger pointed out that private US shippers had not asked for government advice and were only continuing past practice. Secretary said only navy ships had asked and we instructed them to pay under protest. If they were refused transit on this basis [Page 124] they would pay under coercion and enter details in ship’s log. Lloyd said UK would continue consultations with France and expected to adhere to practice now adopted at least until British ship actually refused passage.

Miscellaneous Agreements Reached

UK to prepare first draft of rules of procedure for conference using Japanese Treaty Conference as model. London accepted as site of conference. Secretary remarked he overruled by 2/3 majority. Conference should be held at Foreign Minister level.

Concluding Statements

Lloyd—We have done lot of good work on short notice.

Secretary—Yes, we have launched something here and we must make it a success. We have done good work but we have much more hard work if we are to make it successful. We have done good work at this conference and it is a good omen for the future.

Pineau—If we had acted this way in 1936 there might not have been World War II.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–356. Top Secret; Niact. Received at 11:16 p.m. Repeated to Paris.
  2. Other accounts of this, the eighth tripartite meeting, which began at 4:15 p.m. (London time), August 2, are in British Foreign Office, “Record of the Eighth Meeting in the Council Chamber, Foreign Office, at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, August 2, 1956,” and “London Tripartite Conversations,” pp. 101128. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 62 D 181, CF 728 and 724 respectively) The latter document indicates that the following attended the meeting: Dulles, Murphy, Phleger, Aldrich, Dillon, McCardle, Barbour, Connors, and Burdett for the United States; Lloyd, Caccia, Fitzmaurice, Vallat, Ross, Rowan, and Proctor for the United Kingdom; and Pineau, Chauvel, and Daridan for France.
  3. Dulles, Murphy, McCardle, Aldrich, Phleger, and their staff departed by air at 10 p.m. for Washington. Before boarding the plane, Dulles cabled Eisenhower: “Dear Mr. President: I appreciate your message of August 2. We have just now concluded and I am on my way to the airplane and will be seeing you tomorrow morning. I think we have introduced a valuable stopgap into a dangerous situation and while the danger is still there we have perhaps made it more remote and more manageable. I hope so. Faithfully, Foster.” (Dulte 4 from London, August 2; ibid., Central Files, 110.11–DU/8–256) For the August 2 message, see footnote 2, Document 48.
  4. Document 53.
  5. The tripartite working group draft, entitled “Proposed Basis for the International Conference,” was transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 647 from London, August 2. (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–256) Subsequent revisions to the draft paper are in telegram 719 to London, August 3, and telegram 696 from London, August 4; ibid., 974.7301/8–356 and 974.7301/8–456 respectively. The final text, entitled “Proposal for the Establishment of an International Authority for the Suez Canal,” is printed as part of circular telegram 90, Document 63, and in The Suez Canal Problem, July 26–September 22, 1956, p. 44.
  6. Not attached to either British Foreign Office, “Record” or “London Tripartite Conversations”.
  7. At this point the British Foreign Office “Record” indicates that further consideration was then given to the “Proposed Basis for the International Conference.” During this discussion, Foreign Secretary Lloyd “suggested it should be agreed to send this document to certain friendly countries as a proposition, to give them an idea of how our minds were working. This would be initially sent for information and then a firm proposition should be sent on August 6. It was not the intention to show the document in advance to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He suggested it might be sent in advance to all Commonwealth and NATO countries and possibly Sweden. Mr. Dulles suggested sending it through the Permanent Council of NATO. The Foreign Secretary pointed out that it would be necessary to take diplomatic action quickly with those friendly countries which it was not intended to invite. He was thinking particularly of Belgium and Portugal.”
  8. See footnote 1, Document 53.
  9. Following the eighth tripartite meeting, at 8:30 p.m., Dulles held a background press briefing for American correspondents. Telegram 651 from London, August 3, contains a transcript of the briefing. (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–356)
  10. The text of the invitation was transmitted in telegram 650 from London, August 2. (Ibid., 974.7301/8–256) It is printed in The Suez Canal Problem, July 26–September 22, 1956, p. 42.
  11. Subsequently, Dulles spoke with Menzies on August 4 at 4 p.m. A memorandum of their conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–456.
  12. See the editorial note, infra
  13. See the editorial note, infra
  14. The U.K. statement, as contained in telegram 649 from London, reads as follows:

    “H.M.G. welcome Mr. Dulles’ statement. They share his view that the Conference should reach a speedy decision. They would not, however, consider themselves hound by any decision of the Conference adverse to the idea of the internationalization of the Suez Canal. They understand that this is also the position of the U.S. and French Governments.”

    The French statement, as contained in telegram 649, reads as follows: “The French Government take note of the statement of Mr. Dulles. They will participate in the Conference with a sincere desire to bring it to a speedy conclusion and to obtain Egyptian acceptance of the internationalization of the Canal. But they reserve the right, in the event of an Egyptian refusal, to take any measures which they judge appropriate.” (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–LO/8–356)

  15. Document 44.