97. Message From the Secretary of State to the President1

Dear Mr. President: Harold MacMillan dined with us last night. He reaffirmed most soberly, yet strongly, the view that Britain was finished unless Nasser could be brought to accept in some form an effective international participation in the practical operation of the Suez Canal. He said, “there are only three choices: (1) Nasser voluntarily takes a proposal along lines of US paper; or (2) we compel Egypt to take it; (3) we accept Nasser’s refusal. In the last event, Britain is finished and so far as I am concerned, I will have no part in it and will resign.”

It seems as though domestic support for a strong line has dwindled to a point where if Nasser rejects, the Macmillan policy can scarcely be carried through and that some form of a governmental crisis may result. The attitude of the Labor Party2 is a hard blow for the government at this juncture when bi-partisan unity would give Britain the best chance of retrieving its position without actually having to use force. I have no doubt that Nasser is fully aware of [Page 232]the situation and may calculate that if he stands firm the result will be not solid strength against him but perhaps a Labor government which would be softer. Faithfully yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/8–1956. Secret. Transmitted to the Department of State in Dulte 12 from London, August 19, 1 p.m., which is the source text, with the instruction “Eyes only Acting Secretary for President from Secretary”. The telegram was received at 9:12 a.m. A copy is in the Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Dulles–Herter Series.
  2. On August 13, the shadow cabinet of the Labour Party issued a statement which, according to the Embassy in London, contained these main points: “1. Nasser’s nationalization of Canal was not wrong in itself except arbitrary manner in which it was done caused great anxiety. 2. Armed forces in settling dispute could not be justified except in accordance with obligations and pledges under un Charter. 3. Apart from continued stoppage of Israel ships Nasser has not done anything so far which would justify use of armed force against Egypt. 4. Government should make plain military measures taken in last ten days are purely precautionary and solely for defence against possible aggression. 5. Recall of Parliament upon conclusion of Conference.” (Telegram 870 from London, August 14, Department of State, Central Files, 974.7301/8–1456)
  3. Dulte 12 bears this typed signature.