351. Memorandum of a Conversation, Secretary Dulles’ Office, Department of State, Washington, July 2, 1957, 3:10 p.m.1


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Becker
  • Mr. Rountree
  • Mr. Newsom
  • Mr. Cunningham
[Page 680]


  • The Aqaba Problem

Mr. Becker raised the question of the legal validity of the US position on navigation of the Gulf of Aqaba and the commitments made in connection therewith. He noted that our views on the 3-mile limit were not universally accepted, and stressed the advantage of the British argument that any littoral state has a right to have access to the open sea. L’s past view that the US can take no action not fully in accord with its public position was, in Mr. Becker’s opinion, too inflexible. It might, he felt, be desirable to seek a temporary modus operandi in the Gulf, involving certain restraints on parties concerned, without prejudicing the final determination of the Aqaba question by an international tribunal.

To the Secretary’s query as to what point he wished to make, Mr. Becker replied with the suggestion that the Secretary, with his recognized eminence in matters of international law, might make an impression on Azzam Pasha with a statement along the following lines. “Although we stand by our previously stated position on Aqaba, we recognize that difficult questions are involved, some of which have never come up in any other context, and that arguments of substance can be raised. You (Azzam Pasha) have suggested adoption of a modus operandi pending determination of the question by an international body; we are open to suggestion in this regard. We are still giving consideration to possible courses of action, and may, if you are patient with us, come up with a suggestion of our own.” The objective of such an argument would be to avoid ending the talks with Azzam Pasha with complete rejection of the Saudi argument.

The Secretary emphasized that we cannot consider any arrangement which would detract from the position taken in the February 11, 1957 Aide-Mémoire, as the Israelis withdrew from the Straits of Tiran on the strength of the assurances contained therein. The thought that we had wished to convey was that the right of commercial transit would be guaranteed. It would be unfair to nullify now what all, including we ourselves, thought at the time we had in mind.

Mr. Becker noted that “innocent passage”, as used in the February 11 Aide-Mémoire, was an ambiguous term, and wondered if it had been intended to include all types of cargo. Mr. Rountree rejoined that the question had been discussed at the time, and that we had accepted the Israeli interpretation that the term “innocent passage” relates to the conduct of a ship and not to its flag or cargo. The Secretary interjected that we had clearly had in mind freedom of passage for commercial cargoes and pilgrims, and had made no commitments regarding naval vessels.

[Page 681]

A possible compromise position suggested by the Secretary would involve asking US ships going to Elath not to use the Saudi side of the Gulf, pointing out to the Saudis that we were doing this as a courtesy to them and were not abandoning our claim to freedom of passage. Since, unlike the Saudis, the Egyptians have recognized the right to innocent passage through the Gulf, and since the natural passage is through their territorial waters, the Egyptians could not logically claim the same treatment as the Saudis.

Mr. Rountree commented that it would be useful to end the talks with Azzam Pasha on a somewhat encouraging note by indicating that we are still exploring the Aqaba problem and recognize that there can be diverse views on the subject. The Secretary called attention to the statement along these lines in his draft talking paper for the next interview with Azzam, and it was agreed that Messrs. Rountree and Becker would reconsider the draft in the light of the discussion.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/7–357. Secret. Drafted on July 3 by Joseph H. Cunningham, an international affairs officer in the Department of State.
  2. An earlier draft of the talking point paper, dated June 28, is ibid., L/NEA Files: Lot 64 D 290, Gulf of Aqaba 1951–1957. The briefing material forwarded by Rountree to Dulles on July 3 included a proposed talking paper based on suggestions made by Dulles. A marginal notation on Rountree’s covering memorandum indicates that Dulles saw the briefing material. (Ibid., Central Files, 980.74/7–357)