78. Memorandum of a Conversation, White House, Washington, August 12, 1956, 10:15 a.m.1


  • Suez Canal Situation—Presidential Meeting 10:30–11:00 a.m. (Preliminary to Noon Meeting with Congressional Bipartisan Leaders) Sunday, August 12, 1956


  • The President
  • Secretary John Foster Dulles
  • Admiral Arthur W. Radford
  • Honorable Arthur S. Flemming
  • Honorable Wilton B. Persons
  • Part-Time:
  • General Alfred M. Gruenther
  • Honorable Allen Dulles
  • Honorable Gordon Gray
  • Honorable Dillon Anderson

[Here follows discussion concerning the attendance of Senatorial leaders at the forthcoming Suez Conference.]


In opening the discussion on the Suez Canal the President stated that he was troubled by the position in which the Western world would find itself if Nasser continued to insist on the fact that he was going to keep the canal open and if he made very firm promises relative to the way in which he was going to operate the [Page 186] canal from the standpoint of protecting the interests of other nations. Nasser could then point up the reasonableness of his position by stating that in 12 years, under the provisions of the treaty, he would have complete title to the canal anyhow and at that time it would not be necessary for him to make the kind of payments to the stockholders that he was offering to make at the present time.

Secretary Dulles in his comments pointed out that although Egypt would have complete title to the canal in 12 years, those portions of the treaty guaranteeing the international status of the canal remained in effect indefinitely. He pointed out that Nasser in both his writings and in his speeches had indicated a very clear intention of using the canal in a manner that would run contrary to the guarantees of its international status that are contained in the treaty. He stated that it was this threat to impair the international status of the canal that provided the British and the French with a solid foundation for possible action.

Admiral Radford pointed out that under the provisions of the treaty the Egyptian Government would be required at the end of the 12-year period to compensate the present owners.

The President stated that the discussion that had taken place put the question of the treaty in a different light. He said that he felt it was very important that a careful analysis be made of the provisions of the treaty so that there would be a thorough understanding of the basis for our dealings with the Egyptian Government.


General Persons suggested that at the Conference with the legislative leaders the question might very well be raised as to what policy we intended to follow if the London Conference should fail to accomplish the purposes that we have in mind for it.

Secretary Dulles stated that this was a question that had to be handled very carefully. He pointed out that it is necessary for us to convey to Egypt and the other Arab nations our own convictions relative to the impossibility of the Western World tolerating the kind of a situation that confronts us as a result of Nasser’s action. At the same time he feels that we must not lead the British and the French to believe that we are willing to support any kind of precipitous action they may take. As a result, he believes that we must indicate that our next step will be governed to a considerable degree by the attitudes taken by the various nations at the London Conference. If the London Conference does present a reasonable proposal to Nasser and he rejects it and the British and French then feel that it is necessary to act in order to protect their interests, it would seem to be clear that the United States should give them moral and economic support. On the other hand, if the British and French adopt an unreasonable position at the London Conference, [Page 187] the desirability of our giving them support in their dealings with Nasser would not be as clear.

Secretary Dulles said that he would point out to the legislative leaders that the British and French have said that they can handle the type of military operation they contemplate and that they would not expect the United States to commit any of its armed forces. The British and French would, however, expect us to provide them with economic assistance and with assistance in dealing with a basic problem such as the petroleum problem. Also, they would hope that we would neutralize Soviet Russia by indicating very clearly to Russia that if it should enter the conflict openly, the United States would enter it on the side of Britain and France.

Secretary Gray indicated that the British had requested certain types of arms with the understanding we were to be reimbursed. The President felt that we should respond affirmatively to requests of this kind. General Gruenther also underlined the desirability of our following a policy of this kind. (This is covered in more detail in Gordon Gray’s memorandum for the record.2)
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries. Secret. Prepared in the White House, but no drafting information is given on the source text. The time of the meeting is from the record of the President’s Daily Appointments, which indicates that Allen Dulles joined the meeting at 10:30 a.m., Gray at 10:55 a.m., and Dillon Anderson at 11:15 a.m. (Ibid.) Anderson drafted a separate memorandum of the conversation, which primarily covered items discussed after the conversation recorded here on Suez. (Ibid., Whitman File, Eisenhower Diaries)
  2. Attached as Annex A to the memorandum of conversation by Anderson.