126. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

975. In its reconsideration of situation in eastern Mediterranean in wake of collapse of Cyprus conference and flare-up of ancient Greek-Turkish hatred, Department may wish to take into account following factors affecting British position primarily.

Complex of Middle East problems, including failure of MEDO,2 conclusion of Suez evacuation agreement,3 and now [Page 283]Greek-Turkish imbroglio in its present incandescence, in British eyes give Cyprus under firm British control a strategic importance which it has not had since 1878. While some observers here (and not only Labor critics of government’s Cyprus policy) challenge this thesis on grounds island has many defects as base under modern conditions, Cabinet’s adherence to this view accounts for Macmillan’s emphatic repudiation of intention to apply principle of self-determination in Cyprus within foreseeable future. Embassy believes government recognizes Cyprus might be virtually useless as base in event outbreak of third world war but assesses its present vital importance in terms of United Kingdom’s peace-time strategic posture toward Middle East and operations short of major war it might be called upon to undertake to live up to its commitments there.
Hardly anyone here in or outside government has been or is happy about Cyprus policy but recriminations or cries over spilt milk seem likely to take form that British concessions (willingness to discuss situation with Greeks and liberality of self-government proposals) might have been enough to reach agreement 2 years or even year ago though no British Government could have given up both Suez and Cyprus simultaneously and successfully faced a general election. In existing situation Embassy anticipates bipartisan support for government’s contention that any weakening on self-determination issue in near future would not only vitiate usefulness of base but even more serious would invite unilateral Turkish action and communal explosion on island. In other words British flexibility now would evoke disorders rather than calm them.
Embassy recognizes of course difficulties in way of realization of British desideratum, namely, attempt to shelve self-determination theme in order to concentrate on development of self-government. Our impression is however that British are in earnest about quickly increasing prerogatives of Cypriots while assuring rights of Turkish minority and will go further than now indicated once they are assured self-government will not mean Communist coup on lines of British Guiana.4 To best of Embassy’s knowledge Turks have not until recently opposed constitutional advances in Cyprus and Greeks [Page 284]have no sound reason for refusing to increase political experience of their Cypriot blood brothers as prelude to further study of island’s future status.
If Department concludes that U.S. should intervene directly in this hornet’s nest, I suggest that effort to preach benefits of sweet reason … is too narrow an approach. More promising would be confidential and discreet approach to both Athens and Ankara on basis: (a) Put aside self-determination for time being; (b) British have belatedly but now evidenced sincere intention to improve political status of all Cypriots and their proposals deserve serious study; (c) Reply to British in noncommittal fashion which will enable Macmillan to reconvene conference after considerable interval to discuss only self-government for Cyprus; and (d) Utilize conference to explore and test British constitutional plans.
From Embassy’s viewpoint it is most undesirable to leave Greeks with any idea that U.S. believes United Nations discussion of issue could be fruitful or serve to diminish tensions. Whereas last year British were on defensive about their weak position, they now are almost sure (hotly supported by Turks) to reiterate issue is within their domestic jurisdiction and to contend that their proposals for self-government provide a fair and attractive basis for eventual reconsideration of principle of self-determination once representative institutions in Cyprus are functioning democratically and efficiently.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 747C.00/9–955. Secret. Repeated to Athens, Ankara, and Nicosia.
  2. In October 1951, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, in an effort to formulate a regional plan for Middle East defense, proposed the idea of a Middle East Defense Organization (MEDO) to Egypt. No Arab states were receptive to the initial plan. This plan, sponsored under the auspices of the United Kingdom and the United States, was realized in February 1955 with the conclusion of the Baghdad Pact between Iraq and Turkey. For documentation on the origins of the Middle East Defense Organization, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. V, pp. 1 ff.
  3. On October 19, 1954, the Governments of Egypt and the United Kingdom concluded an agreement regarding the British evacuation of the Canal Zone. Among its provisions, the agreement provided for the complete withdrawal of all British forces from Egyptian territory within 20 months. For text of the accord, see Documents (R.I.I.A.) for 1954, pp. 248–254.
  4. In 1953, the East Indian-supported People’s Progressive Party of Dr. Cheddi B. Jagan came into power in British Guiana. Later the same year he was removed because of British fears that the party had pro-Communist tendencies.