55. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, August 3, 19561


  • The Acting Secretary
  • Ambassador Makins
  • C. Burke Elbrick, EUR
  • Mr. R. W. Bailey, Counselor, British Embassy

The Ambassador called to present a note inviting the United States Government to take part in an international conference on the Suez Canal to be held in London on August 16.2

He also gave the Acting Secretary a note regarding bilateral petroleum planning.3 The Ambassador said that the United Kingdom would like to begin on government-to-government planning on this very important matter to be followed by industry planning. He understood that planning in this field presented problems for the United States, particularly when it came to such measures as rationing. The United Kingdom hoped that this question of rationing would not arise, except as a last resort, and felt that advance planning might even obviate the necessity of invoking such drastic measures. Mr. Hoover commented that if the pie to be cut up is only so big, no amount of advance planning can make it any bigger. In any event, U.S. planning in this field would not take much time since the Foreign Advisory Committee for petroleum problems, which is now being reactivated,4 has dealt with such matters ever [Page 130] since the second World War. There is no problem with the major oil companies but there are several independent companies on this Committee and at the present time it was felt best not to invite the independents to take part since they might leak the news to the public. Mr. Hoover informed the Ambassador that on the U.S. side the whole matter of petroleum planning is in train.

On the general question of planning the Acting Secretary said that a great deal would depend on whether the oil pipelines would be closed concurrently with the closing of the Canal. In other words, the alternatives to be considered are extreme denial (in the event the pipelines are also closed) or merely taking up the slack (in the event that only the Canal is closed) by rerouting tankers.

In connection with the payment of Canal tolls the Acting Secretary emphasized the importance of refraining from any action which could provoke the closure of the Canal and which could be blamed upon the Western powers. In other words, if the Canal is to be closed it should be closed by unilateral Egyptian action and not as a result of actions by the West. Only in this way could we expect to have public opinion behind us. Sir Roger said that on the question of tolls he was still waiting for final views from London. The Acting Secretary informed the Ambassador that Secretary Dulles had recommended from London that United States Government ships transiting the Canal protest any payment of tolls to the Egyptian Government and only make payment under coercion, entering this fact in the ship’s log. Instructions to this effect had been sent to Government ships but no advice as yet has been given to merchant vessel owners.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–356. Top Secret. Drafted by Elbrick. This conversation evidently took place prior to Secretary Dulles’ return to the Department of State at 12:20 p.m., August 3. (Dulles’ Appointment Book; Princeton University Library, Dulles Papers)
  2. The British note of invitation, dated August 3, and the U.S. note accepting the invitation, dated August 4, are ibid., 396.1–LO/8–356. Their texts are printed in The Suez Canal Problem, July 26–September 22, 1956, pp. 42–43.
  3. The aide-mémoire from the British Embassy, entitled “Suez Canal and Oil Supplies”, stated that the British Government regarded it as a matter of the greatest urgency to begin effective joint petroleum planning with the United States. It predicted that a closure of the Suez Canal accompanied by an interruption of the pipeline flow would cut Western Europe’s oil imports by approximately one-half and would have a catastrophic effect on Europe’s economy. The aide-mémoire recalled previous exchanges the previous spring between the two governments on the subject, and urged that such discussions resume immediately at both government and industry levels. (Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–356)

    On August 2 in London, Caccia had handed to Dulles a note regarding petroleum planning almost identical in substance to the British aide-mémoire of August 3. The Embassy in London had transmitted a summary of the note to the Department in Secto 12 on August 3 with the comment: “Question is subject of great anxiety here.” The Embassy in London transmitted the complete text of the August 2 note to the Department in despatch 358, August 3. (Both ibid., 974.7301/8–356)

  4. See footnote 2, Document 30.