59. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State 1

240. Am aware that Department would wish me to take no initiative with Nasser at present time in absence instructions and without background of London talks. However Nasser asked me to come see him evening August 3 and there seemed no alternative but to comply.

Nasser was relaxed and friendly. As a sidelight on the nature of this man he had spent the day in Alexandria with his children on the beach and went to a movie to “clear his mind”.

Nasser seemed reluctant turn conversation to business but when he finally did he made following points (which he stressed were his preliminary and tentative views): [Page 134]

He could not accept international control. This would mean that by formal agreement he was accepting not merely return of the form of colonialism exemplified by “a French company” but a permanent subordination to “nearly everybody”. Everything he stood for and for which he had pledged himself to the people of Egypt was against this.
He did not see how he could accept participation in the proposed conference. He had been placed in the position of attending under threat of invasion and starvation (in case of latter he referring to freezing of assets). Surely we could understand his feelings at least re former and he could not help wondering whether British were not deliberately making it impossible for him to be represented. Not only was the agenda already fixed but final decision as well. Egypt would stand alone or perhaps with only Russia by her side. This latter point worried both him and Fawzi as great propaganda against Egypt would be made if this turned out to be the case.
He thought the choice of nations was very strange and composed for the large part of “satellites” of the Big Three. How for instance he wondered was Ethiopia chosen. The combination of Commonwealth and close friends and allies of the United States left little doubt that conference would be pro forma. British would put in “paper” and great majority of the others would quickly agree with very little discussion or consideration of Egypt’s case.
He was still groping as to what to do but felt his best recourse was to go to the United Nations without delay. In UN Egypt would not be “so alone” as regards friends and choice of participating nations. He has therefore instructed Fawzi and others give fullest study tactics this end. Pending their report he uncertain grounds and forum but implied he was not at moment giving much consideration to claiming “threat to peace” or reference to Security Council. He implied however Egypt would probably refer matter to UN prior August 16. For the present he plans not reply invitation.
He was ready to sign new international agreement “with anyone” guaranteeing freedom of passage and uninterrupted use of Suez Canal facilities. This could be a bringing up to date of 1888 convention and agreement with a new group of signatories if this appeared wise or some other measure.
He was obviously pleased there had been no incident as regards Canal traffic and stated that there would be none. He said he did not intend that Egypt should “indulge itself with minor troubles” in this connection.
He did not know Russian position except on question of internationalization itself. He had asked Soviet Ambassador2 this morning but Ambassador said he did not know. He informed Soviet Ambassador that he felt he should postpone his Moscow trip. No new date was set.

I had opened session by informing Nasser that since tripartite meeting in London had been chaired by British who had also issued invitations, British Ambassador here would no doubt be representative [Page 135] with whom he should discuss any aspect of meeting. I informed him categorically US Government fully supported principle international control of operation of Suez Canal. He said he understood that this was our position. Obviously he was seeking advice. I refrained however from giving any as am without specific guidance and believe Department would probably not wish me offer advice at this stage. However I did counsel him in one respect. He stated that if case was taken to UN he felt that Egypt should take the position that all waterways of international importance should be discussed. He could then take the position he would accept any form of international control that was accepted by others. He mentioned most of principal canal arteries in world including Panama Canal. I told him I thought he was treading on dangerous ground indeed in any reference to Panama Canal. If as he predicted Egypt and Russia might end up side by side in an effort to place international control over all restricted waterways, including the Panama Canal, he would have the wrath of all America against him. Believe I dissuaded him from this course but cannot be sure. I had hoped this meeting would be private as am aware British and others will wonder what we talked about. Nasser has however chosen to let press know of meeting. In any event will brief Trevelyan as soon as possible.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–456. Secret; Niact. Received at 5:43 a.m. Repeated Niact to London and Priority to Paris. In a later telegram, Byroade cautioned the Department: “Hope extraordinary precautions will be taken to see that contents niact 240 do not get in hands of press. This would tend to make more cautious our best source of political intelligence, i.e. Nasser, in delicate period and perhaps freeze him into unfavorable position when we are still not entirely without influence to guide him if this later desired.” (Telegram 241 from Cairo, August 4; ibid.)
  2. Yevgeniy Kiselev.