83. Telegram From the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State1
379. London for USDel. For Secretary State. Fawzi asked that I call this morning (he seeing all chiefs of mission participating London conference, as reported Embtel 371 repeated London 912) [Page 201] His discussion with me much like that described above reference telegram and previous discussions already reported.
He said Egypt willing to consider any even half-way reasonable proposal that did not violate Egypt’s sovereignty, emphasizing not only Egypt’s willingness but desire formalize some sort of consultative body representing users of canal. In such forum there could be full consultation on questions of interest to users such as tolls, services, etc. Assurances through such framework could be problem to users on such technical questions for reasonable lengths of time. Egypt would be willing to volunteer complete information to such group and group could take initiative with Egypt to make suggestions for improved service. Egypt appreciated seriousness of concern of shipping countries and had no intention trying ignore now or in future weight of opinion of so many nations as long as Egypt treated as equal sovereign state. He felt that such machinery, together with existing arbitration mechanisms applicable disagreements on commercial items, and the United Nations forum for possible broader issues arising in future, should be sufficient.
Fawzi then launched into serious discussion re possibility of hostilities, admitting there some emotion in this feeling. He said Egypt not unconscious of huge responsibility which Egypt, and all others in this dispute, bear towards future of world peace. We would all be doing something unpardonable if we allowed spark of war to set off chain of events [end of which] could not be foreseen. If Egypt attacked there would be fighting not only in Egypt but elsewhere. He said that everyone including the West would say that they were only taking steps to defend themselves, recalling how Japan said she defending Japan through whole process of taking Manchuria. What Soviets would do he did not know but felt there would be some action (perhaps in Iran) also on basis they defending their own position. This process of self-defense could go on until whole thing blew up. He was thinking not only in terms of the millions of lives involved but moral values without which world would not be worth much anyway. Also he wondered if world could allow a new precedent in this day and age of people being subjected to force and whether Egypt really had right to give in.
Fawzi said we would now be subjected to efforts create misunderstanding between us all, as nations tried by every means to protect their own self interests, but Egypt would do its best to try to base its decision on solid facts. He said Egypt doesn’t necessarily want London conference to fail but does not consider that conference has right to make final decisions affecting Egypt. He felt [Page 202] however there is something in between which could be achieved and hoped effort would be made to face problem in this light.3
Fawzi concerned at efforts British and French, and perhaps others to create trouble at Canal, etc. He said 10 out of 11 of French, British pilots yesterday were reported out sick. He wondered what kind of excuse for use of force British and French might be trying to set up, and hoped world opinion would not condone such tactics.
Fawzi said he available at any time for any suggestions we might have. Told Fawzi I not in position to make suggestions but would be in touch with him promptly if my government thought discussion of any particular aspect useful. In closing asked about strike scheduled for tonight4 and was assured that things would not get out of control. Told him I more concerned as regards certain other Arab States. He said he could not of course assure me in that regard but that Egypt had asked all Arab States to do their best to avoid incidents in connection with strike.
Embassy concerned about efforts re walk-out of pilots and other personnel as mentioned above by Fawzi. Our assessment leads us conclude that as Egypt willing to make attractive offers to Canal employees, things would probably go along all right except for outside interference. Furthermore it seems to us that this type of effort on part British or French is too transparent and carries with it real danger Egypt might be forced rely upon Iron Curtain pilots and technicians in order keep Canal in operation. We believe this would be short-sighted indeed.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–1556. Secret; Limited Distribution—Suez Canal. Received at 4:14 p.m. Repeated to London and Paris.↩
- Dated August 14, not printed. (Ibid., 974.7301/8–1456)↩
- A marginal handwritten notation on the source text by Fraser Wilkins reads: “I wonder if Fawzi thought of some of these things when the Canal Co. was taken over and even when they bought arms for [from] Russia. FW”↩
- Beginning at midnight, August 15/16 (Cairo time), a general strike to protest the London Conference took place in Egypt and other parts of the Arab world.↩