271. Diary Entry by the President, March 21, 19571

The principals attending the meetings today were the President, Prime Minister Macmillan, Secretary of State Dulles and Foreign Minister Selwyn Lloyd.2

Each side was represented at the table by three other individuals and a few staff officers were behind this delegation.

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The meeting was by far the most successful international meeting that I have attended since the close of World War II. This had three causes:
The pressing importance of the problems discussed and the need for reaching some kind of definite answer rather than merely referring the problems to a study group, as is so often done in international conferences;
The atmosphere of frankness and confidence that was noticeable throughout the day; this possibly resulted, in part, from the fact that Harold Macmillan and I are old wartime comrades and friends of longstanding;
The obvious fact that each side was well informed on the several subjects taken up. Consequently conversations were far more definite and to the point than is normally the case when generalizations and protestations of good will take the place of informative exchanges.
We discussed all phases of the Mid East problem and it was apparent that there was a very large measure of agreement on most of the matters that have filled the pages of the public press for the past many weeks. Some of the items that came in for very special and searching investigation were:

The question of our future relationships with Nasser and a satisfactory arrangement for the future use of the Suez Canal.

Here, very early in the conversation, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Lloyd, delivered a tirade against Nasser, saying that he was not only an evil, unpredictable and untrustworthy man, but was ambitious to become a second Mussolini. He thought also that in pursuing his ambitions he would probably, just as Mussolini became the stooge of Hitler, become the stooge of the Kremlin.

This was followed up by a presentation by the British of the need for obtaining promptly a satisfactory arrangement of the use of the Canal. They felt the matter of tolls was probably the most important single consideration in such an agreement. They were quite clear that if we should fail to get a satisfactory arrangement, we should not later dodge the issue and pretend that it was at least a half-victory and one with which we could live. Rather, they believe we should under these conditions denounce the whole affair, including the intransigence of the British government. But they re-emphasized their need both economically and politically for obtaining a truly satisfactory agreement and this very quickly.

I immediately pointed out to them the inconsistencies in their approach to these two problems. If we were at this moment to begin an attack on Nasser (and we admit that he is far from an admirable character) and do everything in our power overtly and covertly to get rid of him, then the hope of getting an early and satisfactory settlement on the Canal would be completely futile.

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They quickly saw the point of this and while earnestly retaining the hope that Nasser would come to some bad end, quickly agreed that we should first stick with the task of getting a satisfactory agreement on the Canal operation.

Gaza and Aqaba. We found ourselves largely in agreement on these two subjects and the consensus was that we must do our best to prevent extreme action by either side in the region. We believe that if we can have a period of tranquillity during which time these two regions will be largely under the control of the United Nations, that we can probably work out satisfactory answers.

The question came up of maintaining oil production in the Mid East and satisfactory access to it through pipe lines and otherwise. This subject again brought out some very plain talk and I think much was done to clarify our thinking.

Harold Macmillan pointed out that Kuwait was really the key to a satisfactory answer. This is for the reason that even in a region where many areas are great producers of oil, Kuwait is by far the greatest of these and in itself can produce oil enough for all Western Europe for years to come.

Along with this fact was brought up the British difficulties in Burami involving the Arabs, and difficulties in Aden, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

To each of these difficulties the British had certain proposals to make.

On our side we pointed out that so many different considerations apply in each of these problems that the only logical approach was to take our principal purpose or objective and subordinate all other purposes to a successful solution of this principal one.

This principal purpose is, of course, that of retaining access to Kuwait and an adequate flow of oil therefrom, for one of the requirements for success in this is to achieve better relationships with the surrounding areas, the principal one of which would be Arabia. Yet the second important purpose mentioned by the British involves Burami, an object of bitter dispute between the British and the Arabians. I pointed out that the pursuit of both of these objectives simultaneously could very well endanger attainment of the important one. They had a number of reasons—all of which they felt were unselfish—for retaining their hold upon Burami, but I am sure that as a result of the conversation they are going to take a second look at their activities in the region and try to establish priorities that will keep first things first.

We agreed to put off discussion of the Baghdad Pact for a day or so. This was because of our own commitment to keep confidential our plans in this connection for a few days.

The British mentioned the existence of a secret Egyptian plot for executing a coup to dispose of Nasser. They apparently thought we knew a great deal about it and wanted us to make some public statement against Nasser in the hope that this would encourage the dissident Egyptians. Manifestly anything the British said against Nasser would only make him stronger in the area.

This was a matter on which neither the Secretary nor I had any worthwhile information, but during the day we secured an evaluation from Washington. Our appraisal was that the dissidents didn’t stand much chance. Again we brought out that if the United States had to carry the burden for the Western world of negotiations with Nasser for a Canal settlement, we had better keep our mouths shut so far as criticism of him was concerned, at least for the moment.

The Prime Minister outlined the major factors in the whole Cyprus problem. They are quite complicated and he asserts that Britain wants nothing more to do with the island except to keep its base there, but any action that the British can suggest up to this moment antagonizes either the Greeks or the Turks. The British believe that the antagonisms that would be created by dropping the British responsibility in the island might even lead to war between the Turks and the Greeks.

I told them that I had certain important messages, particularly from the Greeks, asking me to urge upon Macmillan the importance of freeing Archbishop Makarios. I told them that in my opinion I didn’t believe they were gaining much by keeping him prisoner, so I would just turn him loose on the world. At the very least this would prove to the world that the British were trying to reach a solution to this problem. My impression is that they are probably going to turn him loose, but subject only to his agreement not to to go back to Cyprus and to abjure violence.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Secret.
  2. See Document 268 and supra.