58. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East Situation


  • George Thomson, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Sir Patrick Dean, British Ambassador
  • Christopher Everett, First Secretary, British Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • Thomas M. Judd, EUR/BMI

The Secretary asked Mr. Thomson if he had any further news about George Brown’s talks in Moscow. Mr. Thomson replied that Mr. Brown had talked for over an hour with Kosygin. They had also had a private talk. In the main talk, Kosygin took a hard line, merely repeating the official announcement the Soviets had issued. When chided by Brown, Kosygin had heatedly denied that the Soviets were standing by doing nothing. Brown got the impression that an argument was going on in the Soviet Government as to what their policy should be. He also got the impression that the Russians were greatly worried about the situation and that they were working on the Arabs. Mr. Brown did not think this necessarily meant that the Russians would be willing to work with us constructively in the Security Council or on the Gulf of Aqaba problem.

Mr. Thomson mentioned that Prime Minister Wilson had sent a message to Kosygin endorsing the idea of a four power meeting. George Brown was not sure the Soviets would be willing to do anything about this proposal. Brown had mentioned it to Gromyko, who had not responded.

Mr. Thomson went on to say that the British Cabinet had met that morning (May 25). There had been little substantive discussion in the meeting. It had consisted mainly of a briefing by the Prime Minister on the talks which Brown had in Moscow and those he (Thomson) had in Washington. The Cabinet endorsed the idea of a four power meeting, preferably under UN auspices. It had also decided to send Fred Mulley, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, to Paris to sound out the French as to precisely what they in mind.

[Page 97]

The Secretary said we were not happy with the idea of a four power meeting outside the UN. Mr. Thomson replied that he had discussed this matter with the Prime Minister the previous night. The British Government now thought that a meeting under UN auspices would be best.

Mr. Thomson asked the Secretary what he thought of US–UK planning to date. The Secretary said he hoped we could get something together today to show to the President. The Secretary said we were worried about the time element. We didn’t know how long the situation could be held.

Mr. Thomson asked how long we thought the Israelis could be held. The Secretary replied he did not know. We were making it clear to the Israelis they shouldn’t count on our support if they moved on their own. They were probably most worried about the Straits of Tiran. They remembered that in 1956 they had been promised that their ships could go through the Suez Canal but nothing had been done to implement the promise.

Mr. Thomson said that agreement had been reached in the Anglo-American talks the preceding day on the main outlines. A draft declaration by the maritime powers had been prepared. It had been agreed which countries should be asked to sign. It also had been agreed that approaches should be made to capitals. There was a problem as to how to marry this with the UN procedures.

Mr. Thomson said there were some difficulties on the military side in regard to the plan to organize a naval force in the Red Sea. The British thought this should be a limited force. If we acted with determination, it should be sufficient. If Nasser should react, we had adequate retaliatory force available in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mr. Thomson said the Americans wished to put a strong force into the Red Sea. The British felt that a carrier in the Red Sea would be a sitting duck if Nasser got nasty.

Continuing, Mr. Thomson said that there would be many formidable obstacles to overcome in organizing the task force. The UK thought the task force should at least nominally be more than Anglo-American. The Dutch and Italians might be possibilities. It might even be possible to put one of their admirals in command of the Red Sea force. The overall commander would have to be American.

There was another problem, Mr. Thomson said. The vital traffic to Eilat was tankers carrying POL for Israel. They all flew the Liberian flag. It would be embarrassing if these Liberian ships were not willing to accept our protection and escort. A prior approach to the Liberian Government would be necessary. Mr. Thomson thought this could be best made by the American Government.

[Page 98]

The Secretary said that Mike Pearson, a number of years ago during the Suez incident, had suggested that the smaller countries might do a job like this. He doubted that there would be any volunteers this time. The Secretary asked if the British had any information as to the Norwegian attitude.

Mr. Thomson said they had heard nothing. This was disturbing inasmuch as they had several times asked the Norwegians about their attitude.

Mr. Thomson said we might wish to explore the possibility of a floating UNEF. This would have the advantage of being something new. It would not involve Nasser having to retreat from his present position. There might even be Egyptian participation in such a fleet which would probably consist of a few small patrol craft, and possibly a helicopter. Such a course might be sufficiently reassuring to the Israelis.

The Secretary said one of his colleagues had mentioned that morning that under the UNEF Resolution the Secretary General of the UN had the authority to organize a naval force for the Gulf of Aqaba. The Secretary said he doubted very much if the Secretary General would be willing to touch this one.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Thomas M. Judd (EUR/BMI). The meeting took place in the Secretary’s office.