“Candour is vital, it is the only way we can work.. we need unvarnished analysis”
- Sir Simon McDonald, Head of the Diplomatic Service, 10 July 2019
On 7 July, the Mail on Sunday published an explosive set of articles based on private cables sent by the British ambassador in Washington DC, Sir Kim Darroch, a very experienced senior diplomat, to ministers at the Foreign Office, the UK Government’s National Security Advisor (Sir Mark Sedwell, also now the Cabinet Secretary) - a post Sir Kim himself held from January 2012 to September 2015 before going to Washington - and to the Prime Minister May over the past two years.
Amongst other things, in his limited circulation letters and diplomatic telegrams, called DipTels in the jargon, Sir Kim described Trump’s White House operations as “uniquely dysfunctional” plagued by “vicious infighting and chaos”, suggested in his embassy team’s judgment “we don’t believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” and opined of President Trump himself “for a man who has risen to the highest office on the planet, President Trump radiates insecurity.”
Another note questioned whether the White House “will ever look competent”. And following President Trump's state visit to the UK in June, Sir Kim noted Trump had been “dazzled by the pomp.”
A tetchy Trump, proving Sir Kim’s analysis to be spot-on, tweeted intemperately tweeted that the ambassador 'has not served Britain well' as being “wacky” and “pompous” and “a very stupid guy.”
Sir Kim was subsequently spitefully un-invited to a diplomatic dinner on Monday evening at the White House with the Emir of Qatar. This began to make untenable his ability to conduct his crucial diplomatic role in the capital city of the UK’s closest diplomatic ally
Justice Secretary David Gauke called the leak “disgraceful' and said it was important for ambassadors to 'tell the truth'. A leak inquiry was immediately established. In a treacherous move, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage - an ally and confident of President Trump - sided with the foreign leader, and called for the British ambassador Darroch to be sacked. [Darroch is known to have opposed Brexit.]
In a live televised debate between the two candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party on 9 July in Salford, the current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt backed Sir Kim fully, but his challenger, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson very evidently declined to do so. (“Kim Darroch quits as UK ambassador to US 'after Johnson remarks': Envoy understood to have seen his position as untenable after Boris Johnson did not back him,” Guardian on line, 10 July 2019; https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jul/10/kim-darroch-resigns-as-uk-ambassador-to-us-after-leaked-trump-comment)
Sir Kim resigned his post in the early morning in Washington on 10 July, just before midday British time, barely half an hour before Prime Minister’s questions.
In a letter to Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Kim wrote:
Since the leak of official documents from this Embassy there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador. I want to put an end to that speculation. The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.
Although my posting is not due to end until the end of this year, I believe in the current circumstances the responsible course is to allow the appointment of a new ambassador.
I am grateful to all those in the UK and the US, who have offered their support during this difficult few days. This has brought home to me the depth of friendship and close ties between our two countries. I have been deeply touched.
I am also grateful to all those with whom I have worked over the last four decades, particularly my team here in the US. The professionalism and integrity of the British civil service is the envy of the world. I will leave it full of confidence that its values remain in safe hands.
The last time a British Ambassador to Washington DC had trouble with the United States was in 1856, when the US Government under President Franklin Pierce ( the 14th US President) objected to the British army recruiting American citizens to fight for Great Britain in the Crimean war, according to Sir Simon McDonald, Head of the Diplomatic Service in evidence lunchtime on 10 July before the House of Commons foreign Affairs Committee.
But the UK has had earlier diplomatic difficulties with the United States, including obviously before and during the great Revolutionary war in the 1770s, and during the Suez crisis in autumn of 1956.Below are some intriguing accounts.
Washington’s break with King George III (1738-1820)
George III was the King of Great Britain and Ireland during the American Revolution. The death of his father, Frederick Lewis, the Prince of Wales, in 1751 meant that the 22-year-old prince succeeded his grandfather, George II, to the throne in 1760. The first royal heir born in Britain in 130 years, George III's reign as a patriot king was intended to mark a new chapter for a British monarchy that had been criticized as more interested in matters in Europe than at home. He emphasized the break from his predecessors in his first meeting of the Privy Council, when he called Britain "this my native country." Hoping to mend a fractured political nation, George III ended the decades-long ban of Tories from national and local office and broke the hold of latitudinarian moderates on the Church of England, both of which had long-term impacts on political and religious life in the British Atlantic.
Although many Americans, such as Thomas Jefferson, placed the blame for the Revolution squarely on George III's shoulders, no British monarch in more than a century was in a constitutional position to exercise any real responsibility. The policies that created disaffection and fomented rebellion in the colonies-such as the Stamp Act (which George III thought "abundant in absurdities") and the Townshend duties-were generated by successive British ministries. Horace Walpole, a severe critic of George III, explained that the King "seemed to resign himself entirely to their conduct" before 1774. The King understood that Parliament was the true sovereign in Great Britain.
That is not to say that George III did not contribute to the causes of the American Revolution. His inexperience and overreliance on his childhood tutor-John Stuart, Earl of Bute-for advice on political matters helped trigger the instability of British ministries in the 1760s. The Duke of Devonshire, a senior member of the Privy Council, was shocked to learn that the two knew "so little" about the affairs of the world and it was widely feared on both sides of the Atlantic that Bute, whom one senior British official called "the greatest political coward" he ever met, was the real power behind the throne. He appointed Bute first minister at his earliest opportunity in 1762, but Bute's government failed to command a majority in the House of Commons and lasted less than a year. George III then went through a string of ministries before settling on Frederick, Lord North, in 1770 and then refusing for the next 12 years North's annual requests to resign.
George III also personally influenced the character of the transatlantic conflict after news of the Boston Tea Party reached London in early 1774. Convinced that the troubles with America derived from the lenience of British policies (and not shifting British ministries), the King argued for strong, coercive measures against the recalcitrant colonials. He declared it his duty to stand fast against the Americans in "the battle of the legislature" and "withstand every attempt to weaken or impair" its sovereign authority throughout the empire. Consequently, he was thrilled that the Coercive Acts passed almost unanimously and celebrated the returns of the parliamentary election of late 1774 that elected an even wider majority of members who opposed conciliation. The Coercive Acts finally drove the colonies into unified opposition, and the King proclaimed to Lord North in November 1774 that "We must either master them or totally leave them to themselves."
Lord North, however, quickly developed doubts that any victory would be worth the cost. He and Lord Dartmouth, his step-brother and Secretary of State for the Colonies, hoped for something like a negotiated settlement that would return calm to the British Atlantic. North's Conciliatory Proposals, which failed to move the Americans, were considered by Parliament in February 1775 and clearly showed the growing divide between supporters of the King's position and outright opponents of military action such as Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox, the Earl of Chatham, and the Earl of Camden. The King was convinced that "the Deluded Americans" must be brought to "feel the necessity of returning to their Duty" and quickly grew tired of continued debates on the matter. By early 1775 he refused to receive petitions-including John Dickinson's "Olive Branch Petition," adopted by the First Continental Congress-asking for his help in resolving the dispute between Parliament and the colonies, despite North's earnest requests that he at least hear them. The outbreak of war in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord gave the King precisely what he wanted: the opportunity to expressly proclaim the colonies in "open and avowed rebellion," which he did on August 19, 1775. The proclamation also did something that had not previously been a dimension of America's polemical attacks on Britain — it brought George III into the debate as a legitimate target of blame and abuse. As New Jersey's John Witherspoon would later recall, prior to 1775 "greater insults were offered to the sovereign, within the city of London then ever were thought of . . . in any part of America." The publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense in 1776 lambasted the King as "the royal brute," and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was the last straw in the collapse of George III's American legacy when it fictively ascribed to the King a long list of acts as evidence of a personal campaign of tyranny against the colonies and the constitution.
And then there was Suez in October 1956...
Much more telling than Soviet condemnation was the disapproval of the Eisenhower administration in the USA. Washington was appalled by the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of the canal zone and the Sinai. The action threatened to destabilise the strategically vital region, and strengthen Soviet links with liberation movements around the world. It raised global tensions in an age dominated by the nuclear arms race and recurring superpower crises. More viscerally, it was viewed with distaste as a nakedly imperial exercise in a post-imperial age.
Eden, a master of self-delusion, thought he had received a nod and wink of approval for the invasion from John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state. He should have checked with Dwight D Eisenhower, who was enraged by the action. He forced through the UN resolution imposing a ceasefire, and made it clear that in this matter at any rate, Britain would have no 'special relationship' with the USA.
The final straw for Eden came when the Treasury told the government that sterling, under sustained attack over the crisis, needed urgent US support to the tune of a billion dollars. 'Ike' had a crisp reply: no ceasefire, no loan. The invaders were ordered to halt, and await the arrival of a UN intervention force.
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Suez Crisis, July 26–December 31, 1956, Volume XVI
455. Memorandum of Discussion at the 302d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, November 1, 1956, 9 a.m.1
Washington, November 1, 1956, 9 a.m.
[Here follows a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting.]
Upon entering the Cabinet Room from his office, the President informed the members of the Council that, except in so far as it was the subject of the DQ’s intelligence briefing, he did not wish the Council to take up the situation in the Soviet satellites. Instead, he wished to concentrate on the Middle East.
1. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security
[Here follows a briefing by Allen Dulles on the situation in Hungary.]
With respect to the hostilities in the Middle East, Mr. [Allen] Dulles stated that approval for the attacks on Egypt by the British and the French had so far come only from Australia and New Zealand. It was probable, moreover, that there was a wide split of opinion in Australia between Mr. Menzies and Mr. Casey.
Mr. Dulles indicated that he would not, as planned, cover military developments in the Near East, inasmuch as these would be covered by Admiral Radford. The President interrupted to say that he did not wish to go into the military situation at the present time. Instead, he wished to concentrate on the policy problem. Accordingly, Mr. Dulles concluded his briefing by stating that from reports received to date, the Israelis appeared to have gained a substantial victory over the Egyptians.
The National Security Council:2
Noted an oral briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence on the subject, with specific reference to the recent developments regarding Hungary and Poland, and the situation in the Near East.
2. U.S. Policy With Respect to the Hostilities in the Near East (NSC 5428,3 as amended by NSC Action No. 14624)
The President announced that he would start the discussion of this subject by asking the Secretary of State to bring the National Security Council up to date on diplomatic developments as the Secretary saw them.
Secretary Dulles observed that, following the meeting of the UN Security Council in New York some two weeks ago, it had been expected that negotiations among the British, French and Egyptians would be renewed in Geneva beginning October 29. This expectation had been based on an unofficial understanding reached at that meeting. Indeed, Selwyn Lloyd and Pineau had come very close to agreement with Egyptian Foreign Minister Fawzi on an acceptable settlement of the Suez problem. In fact, according to Selwyn Lloyd, an actual agreement on such a settlement would have been reached at that time had it not been for the stubbornness of Pineau, who dragged his feet in the early meetings of these three men.
In any event, after Selwyn Lloyd and Pineau returned home, they found sentiments in favor of resorting to force very strong in their governments. We had known all along that the French had been pushing strongly for a forceful solution of the Suez crisis. There had been no doubt of their attitude from the beginning. There were likewise elements in the British Government who wished to invoke force. These elements thought it best not to have Secretary Dulles around as they moved toward their objective. Accordingly, there was a blackout of communications between Washington on the one hand and London and Paris on the other, after Secretary Dulles’ return to Washington. Secretary Dulles said he gradually became very concerned about this news blackout, and sent a cable to our Ambassadors in London and Paris last week expressing his concern. Subsequently, our Ambassadors had conversations in London and in Paris which were superficially reassuring. On the other hand, our fears became aggravated when it became clear that the French were working very close with the Israelis, as was shown, for example, in [Page 904]the heavy diplomatic traffic between Paris and Israel. This was followed by the Israeli mobilization and then by the Israeli strike.
Secretary Dulles indicated that we had thought that the Israeli attack might go against Jordan, since the Israelis are anxious to secure the territory up to the west bank of the Jordan River. Apparently, however, the British persuaded the Israelis not to strike at Jordan because to do so would involve the British in the invocation of the Anglo-Jordanian treaty. The result of British persuasion was, accordingly, an agreement that the Israelis would strike south at Egypt. This was a move which the British and French could use as a pretext to intervene to protect the Suez Canal.
When the Israelis commenced their attack, we promptly called in the British and French Ambassadors to see what their governments were going to do under the terms of the Tripartite Declaration of 1950. The British and French were evasive in their response. We said that we would honor our commitments under the Tripartite Declaration.
Coincidentally with the Israeli strike came the so-called ultimatum by Britain and France to Israel and Egypt. Evidently, said Secretary Dulles, this was not much of an ultimatum as far as Israel was concerned. They were only asked to keep ten miles back from the Canal itself. According to the terms of the ultimatum, even if the Canal were freed from the risk involved in the fighting, the British and French proposed to occupy the Canal Zone. All this Secretary Dulles described as a series of concerted moves among the British, French and Israelis, the French actually conducting the concerted planning and the British acquiescing. Moreover, the French had for some time been supplying the Israelis with far more military equipment than we knew anything about. They were thus violating an agreement among the three powers that each was to let the others know the extent of the assistance they were giving to Israel.
The whole matter is now before the United Nations in terms of a resolution introduced by the United States prior to the Anglo-French ultimatum. Among other things, this resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the armistice line, with no support to be given to Israel by the other nations, etc., etc. We have thought that the terms of this resolution continued to be appropriate even after the Anglo-French ultimatum had been served. The resolution, of course, was defeated by the British and French vetoes. The vote was seven to four, with two abstentions—Australia and Belgium.5 These abstentions were significant.
Under the Uniting for Peace Resolution, continued Secretary Dulles, a meeting of the General Assembly can be called in 24 hours if the UN Security Council is inhibited from action because of a veto. Such a meeting of the General Assembly has been called for five o’clock this afternoon in New York. We must be concerned with the U.S. position. Broadly speaking, this position, for at least the last three months, has been the position of avoiding resort to a solution by force. This has been a policy which has evoked greater international support for the United States than we have secured at any time in our history. Indeed, the whole world is looking to the United States for firm leadership in this critical situation.
Yesterday, at the meeting of the NATO Council, the United States duly made its report on the implication of these recent events so far as we were concerned.6 On this occasion the British and the French said nothing. As far as can be ascertained from developments at this NATO Council meeting, the British have probably secured the support of the Netherlands for their action against Egypt. Apparently all the other members of the NATO Council are opposed to the Anglo-French action, though Portugal may yet line up on the British and French side thanks to its colonial preoccupations in India. They have not yet done so, and all of the other members expressed themselves as opposed to the use of force to reach a settlement. Moreover, the verdict of the rest of the world is altogether unanimous in the same sense. At this point, Mr. Allen Dulles interrupted to note the exception in the case of Australia and of New Zealand. Secretary Dulles replied that these were in a sense exceptions, but there was much unhappiness in Australia; and as for New Zealand, it was virtually a colony and almost invariably followed the lead of the United Kingdom.
Here Secretary Dulles paused to state that we were now squarely facing the problem of what the United States should do. He said that he had prepared yesterday and had with him at present a statement of what we proposed to do (presumably in carrying out our obligations under the Tripartite Declaration).7 This statement proposed certain mild sanctions against Israel—namely, suspending some of our military and economic assistance programs. The sanctions would not touch such vital matters as the freezing of Israeli [Page 906]balances in the United States or suspending remittances from the United States to Israel. Pointing out that we still have a freeze on Egyptian balances in the United States, Secretary Dulles added that we must presently decide whether to keep these Egyptian balances frozen in the circumstances now existing.
Besides our action in implementation of the Tripartite Declaration, we also faced the question of what our position is to be in the United Nations. The great question is, do we reassert our leadership in the struggle against the use of force in this situation, admitting grave provocations on both sides? Certainly we must try to find ways and means to shorten the duration and limit the scope of the hostilities.
Secretary Dulles warned with emphasis that if we were not now prepared to assert our leadership in this cause, leadership would certainly be seized by the Soviet Union. But asserting our leadership would involve us in some very basic problems. For many years now the United States has been walking a tightrope between the effort to maintain our old and valued relations with our British and French allies on the one hand, and on the other trying to assure ourselves of the friendship and understanding of the newly independent countries who have escaped from colonialism. It seemed to Secretary Dulles that in view of the overwhelming Asian and African pressure upon us, we could not walk this tightrope much longer. Unless we now assert and maintain this leadership, all of these newly independent countries will turn from us to the USSR. We will be looked upon as forever tied to British and French colonialist policies. In short, the United States would survive or go down on the basis of the fate of colonialism if the United States supports the French and the British on the colonial issue. Win or lose, we will share the fate of Britain and France.
On this point, Secretary Dulles expressed his view that the British and French would not win. Indeed, recent events are close to marking the death knell for Great Britain and France. These countries have acted deliberately contrary to the clearest advice we could possibly give them. They have acted contrary both to principle and to what was expedient from the point of view of their own interests. Of course, we should not let ourselves be swayed by resentment at the treatment the British and French have given us, or do anything except what we decide is the right thing to do.
Summing up, Secretary Dulles stated that basically we had almost reached the point of deciding today whether we think the future lies with a policy of reasserting by force colonial control over the less developed nations, or whether we will oppose such a course of action by every appropriate means. Great Britain and France are, of course, our oldest and most trusted allies. If we became engaged [Page 907]in a war, these are the allies we would most surely depend upon for assistance. It is nothing less than tragic that at this very time, when we are on the point of winning an immense and long-hoped-for victory over Soviet colonialism in Eastern Europe, we should be forced to choose between following in the footsteps of Anglo-French colonialism in Asia and Africa, or splitting our course away from their course. Yet this decision must be made in a mere matter of hours—before five o’clock this afternoon.
The President broke the tension which followed Secretary Dulles’ statement by saying that if anybody wanted to know how “political” this issue had become, this was shown by the telegram which the President had received last night from Governor Stevenson. It was sent from La Guardia Field at 7:25 p.m. Stevenson was writing the message even while the President was talking,8 and he released the text of the message before he sent it to the President.
The President then said he wished to ask one question. Is the United States under the necessity of introducing the resolution in the UN General Assembly today, or could the Secretary-General, for example, introduce a resolution? Secretary Dulles replied that resolutions would either be introduced by the United States or by the Soviet Union. Indeed, any nation could introduce a resolution, and perhaps India would do so. Secretary Dulles added that he had had a long message from Prime Minister Nehru. He hadn’t had a chance to read it as yet, but it was said to be cast in very general terms.
The President said that at any rate he thought it would be a complete mistake for this country to continue with any kind of aid to Israel, which was an aggressor. The President then interrupted himself and said that, on the other hand, Israel had not yet been branded as an aggressor, had it? Secretary Dulles answered that Israel had not yet been branded an aggressor by the UN. Nevertheless, at the very minimum we must do to the Israelis what the UN resolution called for. In illustration of this, Secretary Dulles read from the written statement to which he had referred earlier in the course of the meeting. This statement, as read, gave details as to what governmental aid by the United States to Israel would be suspended, including even such matters as shipments already in the pipeline, and the like. In concluding his reading of the statement, Secretary Dulles described these sanctions as very mild.
The President inquired whether it would not be wise to state plainly that the United States was party to a tripartite agreement made in good faith with two other nations. These other two nations have reneged on their commitment and deserted us. Accordingly this [Page 908]statement must contain a review of exactly what we are going to do. The President then commented that since we had already made it clear that we would not involve ourselves in this war, what the Secretary of State proposed to say was generally correct, though the sanctions outlined in the statement seemed a little mild. The President inquired about the timing of the issuance of this statement. Secretary Dulles replied that if the President approved, he would issue this statement of mild sanctions today. He would then summon the Israeli Ambassador and inform him that these sanctions represented the minimum. This would threaten further steps by way of sanctions if the Israelis did not retreat to the armistice lines from which their military operations had commenced. He would, for example, threaten to suspend Israeli remittances from the United States to Israel.
Secretary Wilson inquired whether we could not wait for the United Nations to take action in this General Assembly before we undertook to do anything else. Secretary Dulles replied that it had been his intention to issue the statement he was discussing this morning.
At this point, Secretary Humphrey inquired whether our resolution could not simply demand that the United Nations determine who was the aggressor. Meanwhile we would withhold any further action of any kind until they made such a determination of the aggressor. The President replied that it seemed to him foolish for people who know as much as we do about what is going on, to continue to give, as a government, assistance to Israel. Secretary Humphrey then suggested that our best course of action might be to suspend all our government assistance to everyone concerned—Israel, Egypt, Britain and France.
The President replied that what we must now do is to agree among ourselves what the United States should do in the light of our statement. Secretary Humphrey countered with the view that until the United Nations actually identifies the aggressor, we should take no further action. After the identification is made, we could proceed to take appropriate action. Dr. Flemming pointed out that this still leaves us the question of the position we should take before the United Nations General Assembly. To this, Secretary Humphrey replied that we should take whatever position we think is right. Personally, he believed that the United Kingdom was the real aggressor, and Israel only a pawn.
The President led the discussion on a slightly different angle by stating that he had never realized that the Arab states had consistently afforded the UN inspectors access to their boundaries so that inspections could be consistently made. It was the Israelis who had refused similar inspection rights on their side of the boundaries.
Governor Stassen raised the question as to the merits of focusing the U.S. position in the United Nations on a simple cease-fire agreement. After all, our great objective is to prevent this war from spreading. A number of mistakes had already been made. The Soviets had made a grave error in putting arms in the hands of the Egyptians. Egyptian seizure of the Suez Canal was a grave error, in turn, and after all, the Suez Canal is an absolutely vital lifeline for the British.
The President answered Governor Stassen by pointing out that, in fact, transit through the Canal has increased rather than decreased since the Egyptians took over. Governor Stassen admitted that this was true, but emphasized that the British feel that they cannot possibly have an individual like Nasser holding their lifeline in his hands. In response to this argument, the President cited the six principles agreed on among the British, French and Egyptians, emphasizing in particular the principle that the Canal must be insulated from the politics of any nation. He accordingly could not agree, he said, with Governor Stassen. If the British would agree to negotiate a settlement, then the opinion of the whole world would be against Egypt.
Governor Stassen replied by expressing his agreement that the British had committed a terrible error. On the other hand, it was a vital friend who had committed this error, and our real enemy was the Soviet Union. One of the reasons for such strong sentiment in Britain was the British fear of the effect on the pound sterling of having the Canal in Nasser’s hands. They were facing a genuine crisis. They had made a judgment that the future of Great Britain depended on getting the Canal into friendly hands again. The Soviet Union is still the great threat to the United States. We must accordingly approach the whole problem with a calm perspective. About all that we need to do now is to move toward the future; that is, in the direction first of a cease-fire, and then of a negotiated peace. Governor Stassen emphasized that he could not see how it would serve the interests of the United States to strike now at Britain and Israel.
With great warmth, Secretary Dulles said he was compelled to point out to Governor Stassen that it was the British and French who had just vetoed the proposal for a cease-fire. Of course, once they were thoroughly lodged in Egypt, they would be agreeable to accepting a cease-fire. Governor Stassen asked that even so, wasn’t this kind of an acceptance of a cease-fire to our immediate advantage? Secretary Dulles replied with an emphatic negative, and added that what the British and French had done was nothing but the straight old-fashioned variety of colonialism of the most obvious sort. Even so, replied Governor Stassen, it seemed to him that the [Page 910]future of Great Britain and of France was still the most important consideration for the United States, and that all our efforts should now be directed toward a cease-fire.
At this juncture in the discussion, Secretary Humphrey called attention to the developing fissures in British public opinion. He said he referred not only to the split between the Conservative and the Labour Parties, but to differences of opinion among the Conservatives themselves. He was convinced, he said, that recent British action was primarily Eden’s own creation.
Governor Stassen replied that if British public opinion was divided, so would American public opinion be divided if we go on with our plan against Britain, France and Israel. On the other hand, U.S. public opinion could readily be united under a course of action in which we avoided anything except the cease-fire. Governor Stassen turned to the President and went on to say that he might not succeed in gaining Congressional support for his long-term policies if U.S. action in the current crisis divided our people. We must keep the U.S. people united, and we would certainly not succeed in doing this if we split away from Britain and France and acted on the assumption, which Governor Stassen did not believe correct, that these two powers were going downhill.
The President responded to Governor Stassen by stating his emphatic belief that these powers were going downhill with the kind of policy that they were engaged at the moment in carrying out. How could we possibly support Britain and France if in doing so we lose the whole Arab world?
Secretary Wilson counseled that we must take a longer time to analyze this problem, and Secretary Humphrey repeated his suggestion that we defer action until the UN defines the aggressor. To these suggestions, Secretary Dulles responded that we would very soon find in the UN who is the aggressor if we permitted the Soviet Union to introduce its resolution. This resolution would certainly declare that Britain and France were the aggressors, and the Soviet resolution would win by acclamation. As a result, we lose our leadership to the Soviet Union.
Secretary Humphrey then asked Secretary Dulles what kind of U.S. resolution he really wanted. Secretary Dulles answered that he wanted a resolution which would call on the parties in the conflict to state the terms on which they would end hostilities and meantime pledge themselves to call off the hostilities. Secretary Humphrey said that if this was the case, what the Secretary wanted was in effect what we had all been talking about—a cease-fire. The President said that he likewise favored in general the idea of including the call for a cease-fire in the resolution. Secretary Dulles pointed out that unless the United States were to propose a resolution which was [Page 911]“moderate” in character, the Soviets would propose a resolution couched in very extreme terms. If we could not support such a Soviet resolution, we would be left in the backwash. Worse than that, Secretary Dulles predicted that the United Nations Organization would be unable to survive a failure to act on the great issues in the Near East.
Governor Stassen again put forward his suggestion that the resolution confine itself to calling for a cease-fire. With warmth, Secretary Dulles inquired of Governor Stassen how we could possibly do only this when the Israelis, the British, and the French were overrunning Egyptian territory.
The President inquired what the argument was really all about. Turning to Secretary Dulles, he said that the Secretary was asking for a mild U.S. resolution in the United Nations. The President said he couldn’t agree more. Do we need to do anything beyond this? Secretary Dulles replied that he thought the best thing was for him to go back to the State Department and work in quiet on a draft.
Secretary Humphrey pointed out that we were all seeking some kind of delaying action in the United Nations before we proceeded to impose sanctions on anyone. Secretary Dulles insisted that his own list of sanctions constituted nothing more than a slap on the wrist to Israel. Nevertheless, this mild slap on the wrist might well avoid the necessity for more severe measures.
Governor Stassen again called for a resolution which sought only a cease-fire. The President, however, explained that we could scarcely call for a cease-fire and continue to send supplies and assistance to Israel. Secretary Wilson believed that we shouldn’t make a goat out of Israel alone. Were we proposing to continue to send military supplies to Great Britain? The President replied that we would so continue to assist Britain in order that she might meet her NATO requirements. If the British actually diverted these supplies to other purposes, we would have to consider such an action to represent another case of “perfidious Albion”.
(At this point, Secretary Dulles asked and was given the President’s permission to leave the Cabinet Room to take a telephone call from Ambassador Lodge at the United Nations.)9
The President stated his firm belief that we should state clearly that we are going to suspend arms shipments to the whole Near Eastern region while the UN is considering this crisis. He then added that he could scarcely even imagine that the United States could abandon Britain and France. On the other hand, he believed that Secretary Dulles was correct in trying to devise some list of moderate sanctions. Secretary Wilson counseled that we stop everything [Page 912]while the President “took a look”, but the President went on to say that he just knew that Secretary Dulles was right in trying to get from the United Nations something that was soft and reasonable. If he succeeded, we would avoid getting into a “runaway” situation. The President repeated this view when Secretary Dulles returned to the Cabinet Room. He counseled that we stop all arms shipments to the hostile areas at once, and that we decide later what we should do about “Hollister’s stuff” (assistance programs under the aegis of the International Cooperation Administration). If the UN ended by branding Israel an aggressor, then assistance programs under the ICA would be stopped too. What the President said he really feared was the prospect of imposing a blockade against Israel.
Secretary Dulles turned to the President and warned that if he did not provide leadership at this point, the UN would be calling for a blockade likewise of Britain and France. It would not do for the United States to confine itself merely to calling for a cease-fire, with the Israeli forces running all over Egyptian territory.
Mr. Allen Dulles offered the suggestion that in the present circumstances of approaching military defeat, Nasser might well welcome a cease-fire in order to save his skin. Admiral Radford thought that this was unlikely, and added his further belief that the General Assembly would end by branding Britain, Israel and France as aggressors all.
Secretary Dulles pointed out that we have said to Prime Minister Eden that the kind of action which he had undertaken to carry out was nothing short of disastrous. Having nevertheless continued with his policy and action, do we, the United States, propose to go along with it? Governor Stassen argued that we must still try to save a friend from disaster, even though that friend had brought the disaster on himself.
Turning to the Secretary of State, the President suggested that the thing for him to do was to go now and see what he could draft up in the way of the mildest things we could do in an effort to block the introduction of a really mean and arbitrary resolution in the UN General Assembly. Secretary Dulles agreed, pointing out, however, that Ambassador Lodge had just informed him that if we did not come back to the UN with a resolution much along the lines of our earlier resolution, the Soviets would certainly introduce a very much more extreme resolution. Such an action on the part of the Soviets would plainly force the United States into one camp or the other. We would not be able to walk the tightrope after five o’clock this afternoon.
Secretary Humphrey asked whether we were not all clear in our minds that we cannot be on the side of the British and the French on this issue. The President said that at any rate we certainly [Page 913]couldn’t be on their side unless he turned around completely from what he said in his statement last night (the 15-minute telecast from the White House).10 On the other hand, the President stated with emphasis, we do not want the British and the French to be branded aggressors. Secretary Humphrey commented that we would want to do our best to extricate the British and the French from their error, but we didn’t need to get into the error with them.
Coming back to the General Assembly meeting, said Dr. Flemming, are we in a position to get our resolution before the General Assembly earlier than the Soviets can get theirs? Secretary Dulles replied that we can do so if we move fast enough. He said he wanted to be quite clear: It is important that we suspend our economic assistance program to Israel at this time, though the fact of this suspension need not be made public. Both Secretary Humphrey and the Attorney General disagreed with the latter proposal, and expressed a preference for stopping arms shipments to the whole Near Eastern area. They believed that our action should cover the whole area and not be confined to a single country such as Israel.
Secretary Dulles, in response, pointed out that we had only yesterday been arguing in the UN Security Council in favor of suspending economic and financial assistance to the Israelis. Could we now abruptly change? Mr. Allen Dulles pointed out that if the British and the French were branded aggressors, would we not then have to apply sanctions against them as well as against Israel? This seemed to Mr. Dulles a very dangerous course of action.
The President added the further point that we would find plenty of Americans who think the Arabs are every bit as much aggressors as anyone else. In response to the President’s point, Secretary Dulles stated that General Burns had been trying desperately to induce the Israelis to agree to inspection and patrol by members of the Armistice Commission. The Israelis had frustrated all his efforts. Governor Stassen admitted the truth of this statement, but pointed out that we could not fail to consider the state of mind of the Israelis in the face of so many provocations and fears. Secretary Dulles answered that one thing at least was clear: We do not approve of murder. We have simply got to refrain from resort to force in settling international disputes. Turning to Governor Stassen, he cited one of the Governor’s own speeches, in which Governor Stassen had made this very point; and he again warned that if we [Page 914]stand idly by in this great crisis the whole United Nations would go down the drain.
The President expressed agreement with Secretary Dulles’ position, while Governor Stassen once again called for a cease-fire only. In some irritation, Secretary Dulles inquired whether Governor Stassen meant a cease-fire that would leave the aggressor in possession of his gains. Governor Stassen replied that, under the circumstances, the answer was yes, for which there seemed to be some support among other members of the National Security Council. Secretary Humphrey, in turn, called again for stopping all arms shipments to the whole Near Eastern area, without singling out the Israelis for special treatment.
Mr. Hollister raised the question of what supplies should be sent and what supplies should be held up for Arab states other than Egypt, while Governor Stassen outlined again his view of how we could best proceed in the UN General Assembly. He argued first for a resolution insisting on a cease-fire. This might be followed by a second resolution calling on Israel to bring back its forces within the armistice lines. This might be followed by a resolution looking to a settlement.
The President inquired whether we should not, as a precautionary measure, state that we are stopping all military, strategic, and governmental shipments from the United States to all nations involved in this mess at this time. In any event, he added, the Secretary of State must now be allowed to go off and put something down on paper. He could then come back and get together with the President and with other key members of the National Security Council.
After the Secretary of State had left the Cabinet Room, the President turned to the other members of the Council and said that of course no one in the whole world really expected us to break off our long alliance with Great Britain and France. We must not permit ourselves to be blinded by the thought that anything we are going to do will result in our fighting with Great Britain and France. Such a course of action is simply unthinkable, and no one can possibly believe that we will do it.
Mr. Allen Dulles served notice of an announcement that the British had sunk a ship in the Suez Canal,11 which would probably block traffic in the Canal. Mr. Dulles said he believed that the ship in question had been filled with cement by the Egyptians for the express purpose of blocking the Canal.
The President then ended this phase of the discussion by calling on Admiral Radford to give the Council his report on the military situation in the area of hostilities.
Admiral Radford read his report, which gave a detailed appreciation of the military situation. (A copy of the substance of Admiral Radford’s report is filed in the minutes of the meeting.)12 When he had finished, Admiral Radford stated that the U.S. forces in the area had largely completed their first responsibility of effecting the evacuation of U.S. citizens from the area of hostilities. He pointed out that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were currently much concerned over the possibility of uprisings against Europeans in the several Arab states.
Dr. Flemming asked about the reports as to the likelihood of sabotage of the oil pipelines. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robertson inquired whether evacuation had been completed in Cairo. Admiral Radford replied that the evacuation of Americans from that city was not yet complete.
The President then asked Admiral Radford whether it was at all possible that the Russians could have “slipped” the Egyptians a half dozen atomic bombs. Admiral Radford replied that he doubted this, particularly in view of the manifest failure of the Egyptians to make effective use of the other weapons which the Russians had already provided them.
Secretary Wilson expressed a doubt as to the wisdom of keeping the Sixth Fleet in the area of hostilities once it had completed its task of assisting in the evacuation of Americans from the danger area. He said that the Defense Department needed guidance on this matter.
The President brought the meeting to a close by stating that we must go now and see what we can do about this business. His idea was to do what was decent and right, but still not condemn more furiously than we had to. Secretary Dulles was dead right in his view that if we did not do something to indicate some vigor in the way of asserting our leadership, the Soviets would take over the leadership from us. He had told Anthony Eden a week ago that if the British did what they are now doing and the Russians got into the Middle East, the fat would really be in the fire.
The National Security Council:13
Noted and discussed an oral report by the Secretary of State on the subject, particularly as regards appropriate U.S. action under [Page 916]the Tripartite Declaration of May 1950; and the U.S. position in the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly scheduled later this date.
Noted the President’s directive that the Secretary of State draft appropriate action papers in the light of the discussion at this meeting, for subsequent consideration by the President.
Noted and discussed an oral briefing by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the military situation in the Near East.
Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Secretary of State for implementation.
[Here follows agenda item 3, “U.S. Policy Toward Developments in Poland and Hungary”, which was deferred until a subsequent meeting.]
S. Everett Gleason
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Prepared by Gleason. The time of the meeting is from the record of the President’s Daily Appointments. (Ibid.)↩
- The paragraph that follows constitutes NSC Action No. 1626, approved by the President on November 6. (Department of State, S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council, 1956)↩
- For text, see .↩
- Taken at the 263d meeting of the National Security Council on October 27, 1955.↩
- The U.S. draft resolution was brought to a vote at the 749th meeting of the Security Council on October 30. The result was seven in favor, two (Great Britain and France) opposed, and two abstentions. (U.N. doc. S/PV.749)↩
- The text of the U.S. statement to be made at the October 31 meeting of the North Atlantic Council was transmitted to Paris in Topol 704, October 30. (Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86/10–3056) A report on the October 31 meeting is in Polto 960 from Paris, October 31, not printed. (Ibid., 750.5/10–3156)↩
- No copy of the draft statement described here has been found in Department of State files or the Eisenhower Library. Dulles directed on October 31 that a public statement be prepared which would reflect the decisions made at the Department of State meeting held at 4 p.m. on October 31; see .↩
- The text of Stevenson’s telegram to Eisenhower was printed in The New York Times, November 1, 1956.↩
- No account of this conversation has been found in the Eisenhower Library.↩
- At 7 p.m. in Washington, October 31, President Eisenhower reported to the nation over radio and television on developments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. For text of the President’s statement, see Department of State Bulletin, November 12, 1956, pp. 743–745; extracts pertaining to the Middle East are printed in United States Policy in the Middle East, September 1956–June 1957, pp. 148–151.↩
- Reference is to the Akka; see .↩
- Not found in Department of State files or the Eisenhower Library.↩
- Paragraphs a–c and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1627, approved by the President on November 6. (Department of State, S/S–NSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council, 1956)↩