64. Message From Prime Minister Eden to President Eisenhower 1

Dear Friend: Thank you for the message which you sent me via Foster.2

In the light of our long friendship I will not conceal from you that the present situation causes me the deepest concern. I was grateful to you for sending Foster over and for his help. It has enabled us to reach firm and rapid conclusions and to display to Nasser and to the world the spectacle of a United Front between our two countries and the French. We have however gone to the very limits of the concessions which we can make.

I do not think that we disagree about our primary objective. As it seems to me, this is to undo what Nasser has done and to set up an International Regime for the Canal. The purpose of this regime will be to ensure the freedom and security of transit through the Canal, without discrimination, and the efficiency and economy of its operation.

But this is not all. Nasser has embarked on a course which is unpleasantly familiar. His seizure of the Canal was undoubtedly [Page 147] designed to impress opinion not only in Egypt but in the Arab world and in all Africa too. By this assertion of his power he seeks to further his ambitions from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. In this connection you have no doubt seen Nasser’s own speech at Aboukir on August 1, in which he said “We are very strong because we constitute a limitless strength extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arab Gulf”.

I know that Nasser is active wherever Muslims can be found, even as far as Nigeria. The Egyptians tried to get one of the Nigerian Amirs who was on his way through Cairo to sign a message endorsing Nasser’s deeds. The man tore it up, but, if Nasser keeps his loot, how long can such loyalty last? At the other end of the line, the Sheik of Kuwait3 has spoken to us stoutly of his views of Nasser. But all these men and millions of others are watching and waiting now.

I have never thought Nasser a Hitler; he has no warlike people behind him. But the parallel with Mussolini is close. Neither of us can forget the lives and treasure he cost us before he was finally dealt with.

The removal of Nasser, and the installation in Egypt of a regime less hostile to the West, must therefore also rank high among our objectives. We must hope, as you say in your message, that the forthcoming conference will bring such pressures upon Nasser that the efficient operation of the Canal can be assured for the future. If so, everyone will be relieved and there will be no need of force. Moreover, if Nasser is compelled to disgorge his spoils, it is improbable that he will be able to maintain his internal position. We should thus have achieved our secondary objective.

Nevertheless I am sure you will agree that we must prepare to meet the eventuality that Nasser will refuse to accept the outcome of the conference; or, no less dangerous, that he, supported by the Russians, will seek by strategems and wiles to divide us so that the conference produces no clear result in the sense we both seek. We and the French Government could not possibly acquiesce in such a situation. I really believe that the consequences of doing so would be catastrophic, and that the whole position in the Middle East would thereby be lost beyond recall. But by all means let us first see what the conference can do—on the assumption that Nasser commits no further folly meanwhile.

You know us better than anyone, and so I need not tell you that our people here are neither excited nor eager to use force. They are, however, grimly determined that Nasser shall not get away with [Page 148] it this time, because they are convinced that if he does their existence will be at his mercy. So am I.

I am infinitely grateful for your patience and understanding of our feelings. I cannot tell you how much they mean to us in this time of anxiety.

It is splendid news to hear of your growing strength.

We will do our best not to add to the strain.

Yours ever,

Anthony 4
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File. Secret. The British Embassy transmitted this message to the White House under cover of a note from Makins to President Eisenhower which reads: “The Prime Minister has asked me to send you the enclosed personal message about the Suez Canal problem.” Bailey signed for Makins and initialed the source text.
  2. Document 35.
  3. Sheikh Abdullah al-Salim al-Sahah.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.