133. Message From Foreign Secretary Macmillan to Secretary of State Dulles1

Thank you for your personal message about Cyprus question.2 Nutting’s statement before the General Committee will be along the following lines.

The United Nations themselves decided that it was inappropriate to discuss this question last year. It is even more so now. It seems to us clear that public debate of this most difficult problem can only make matters worse. The best hope of reconciling the conflicting views of the three Governments primarily concerned and of promoting a settlement must be through diplomacy and confidential talks. It was with this conviction that we took the unusual step of calling a conference to deal with a matter of strictly British jurisdiction. After the first days had revealed the different positions we put before the conference constructive proposals which made the most of the considerable area of common ground.

Nutting will explain these proposals. You will have seen them but I would like to draw your attention particularly to the following points which we will emphasise:

The constitution is to be a liberal one designed very sincerely to lead to the fullest measure of internal self-government compatible with the strategic requirements of the present international situation.
There would be from the outset an Assembly with an elected majority. All departments of the Cyprus Government would be progressively transferred to Cypriot Ministers responsible to the Assembly, with the sole exception of foreign affairs, defence and [Page 295]public security. These must be reserved since the Cypriots could not alone sustain these responsibilities. But otherwise it is certainly our intention to make as rapid progress as conditions allow.
A Cypriot Chief Minister would head the new Cypriot administration.
Since it is only too clear that constitutional progress in Cyprus depends upon the cooperation of [or] at least the tacit assent of the Greek and Turkish Governments, we proposed a tripartite committee with the following tasks:—
To examine the detailed proposals to be drawn up by Her Majesty’s Government for new constitutional instruments for Cyprus;
To consider a suitable system of minority guarantees;
To investigate any possibilities for closer links between Cyprus and the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. We had in mind for example ideas which have been mooted for enabling Cypriots to enjoy special status and rights in Greece or Turkey as well as their British citizenship;
To act as a standing body for consultation and cooperation between the three Governments on Cypriot problems.

Our statement will not deny that the first results of the conference were disappointing. But although formal tripartite discussions seem difficult to arrange at this moment, Her Majesty’s Government are determined to persevere with friendly and informal consultation. The conference is suspended not ended. Our proposals stand, and we are prepared to consider amendments or counter proposals at any time.

Finally we proposed that when self-government was in working order the full conference should meet again with the advantage of the presence of representative Cypriots to discuss the whole position.

All these proposals taken together seem to us a fair and generous basis for advance. We feel therefore that discussion at the United Nations can only hinder and not help. The situation is extremely delicate. The relations between friends and allies are strained; if irreparable damage is not to be done, tempers must be given time to cool.

So much for what Nutting will say. He will also have my speech at the conference on September 6 to guide him. Since events have shown that the success of self-government in Cyprus largely depends on the attitude of the Greeks and the Turks it would surely be unwise to go into any further detail especially on such questions as the protection of minorities which will require very delicate negotiation. The Turks believe that our proposals go too far and are premature. Any attempt to go further would meet the sharpest reaction in that quarter.

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I know that you do not see eye to eye with us on the principle of opposing the inscription of items of this kind on the agenda of the United Nations. But I do feel that by any standard the case against the inscription of the Cyprus item is overwhelming. We have just received the Greek reply to our London proposals. It is a tendentious document, which chooses to misinterpret our proposals by underrating the constitutional offer and alleging that the tripartite committee is designed to impede rather than promote self-government. The reply refers specifically to the Greek “success” in getting the Cyprus item inscribed on the agenda of the United Nations last year. This, I think, proves how much last year’s inscription of the item has had to do with the uncompromising attitude which the Greeks have adopted since. If the Greeks get the same encouragement this year it can only make them more intransigent and, conversely, make the Turks even more rigid. That is why I feel so strongly that it is in the interest of all of us to keep the item off the agenda.

I can assure you that I am as unhappy as you are about the effect of this Cyprus dispute on Greece’s relations with N.A.T.O. As regards the internal situation in Greece I think it suffers partly from there being no effective Prime Minister and partly from the shock caused by the tragic events in Istanbul and Smyrna. I do not think that discussion at the United Nations is going to help on either of these points. I must say frankly that I do not see what more we can do to make things better as long as the Greek Government reject our proposals for self-government unless accompanied by an immediate pledge of self-determination. This ignores the facts of life; including British strategic needs and the Turkish determination not to see the last of their off-shore islands pass into Greek hands. In any case I find it hard to believe that the Greek Government’s ultimate loyalty to N.A.T.O.—from which Greece derives such immense advantages—really depends upon their having their whole way over Cyprus.

The Greeks themselves recognised during the London Conference that we must retain sovereignty in Cyprus in the immediate future. Any resolution by the United Nations, short of an outright rejection of inscription would, however moderate its terms, make our task in Cyprus that much the more difficult. Rioting and terrorism in Cyprus, and the inevitable measures to suppress them must make Anglo-Greek relations still more difficult. The repercussions in Turkey could be equally grave.

Indeed the position in Turkey gives no less case for anxiety than the position in Greece. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just told me of a talk he has had with the Turkish Prime Minister. There is no doubt at all that at the moment Cyprus is the essential issue in [Page 297]Turkish politics. The Chancellor was deeply impressed by the Prime Minister’s concern over the internal situation in Turkey. I think we ought to give equal importance to the Turkish as to the Greek aspect of this unhappy business.

For all these reasons I must ask you to use your great influence against the inscription of this item. The present indications are that the vote will be a close one and that the attitude of the United States will probably be decisive. Acting in harmony we could, I believe, prevent further discussion of this vexed problem in an atmosphere which is full of such explosive possibilities.

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Macmillan to Dulles Correspondence 1955–1959. Secret. An attached note from Macmillan to Dulles reads:

    “Thank you for your message about Cyprus. I am sending you a long reply which gives the arguments we propose to develop. I hope you will think them, as I do, overwhelming. If the United Nations cannot debate China, nobody here will understand why they should debate Cyprus.

  2. Supra.