740.0011 European War 1939/12842: Telegram

The Minister in Egypt (Kirk) to the Secretary of State

840. My 574, May 23, 8 p.m.; 630, May 31, 6 p.m., and 747, June 17, 5 p.m.22 Since Eden’s22a May 29 statement on Arab unity23 [Page 613] the Legation has endeavored to learn representative opinion here on that subject with the following result.

British Embassy sources profess to be greatly pleased with the general local reaction to the statement and say that in the circumstances the Embassy has indicated to the British Foreign Office that a further declination on the subject would be helpful.

Egyptians consulted have usually expressed the opinion that the Eden statement marks a solidarity but almost invariably qualify their approbation by citing certain people very strongly notably the following: that certain Arab leaders have for years been advising and urging the British to make a statement in respect of Arab aspiration and feel that had their advice been followed the effect would have been much more convincing than now when a declaration on the subject not only savors strongly of political expediency but also comes so late as to make it difficult to follow it up with appropriate measures in time to meet the present critical situation in the Near East.

That the British have given so many unfulfilled assurances in the past in respect of Egypt and the Arab countries that further expressions of good intentions do not carry conviction.

That the Eden statement is extremely vague and should be followed up by a more detailed declaration containing inter alia a specific assurance in respect of Palestine.

That in deciding on such matters the British tend to act unilaterally rather than in consultation with Arab leaders with the result that action taken is not always appreciated at its full value.

In connection with the foregoing it may be of interest to the Department to know that in discussion of this I have repeatedly heard it suggested that the United States is in a particularly favored position to contribute to a solution of the Arab problem and I have frequently heard the following reasons adduced in support of this view.

That since it appears that the United States Government is disposed to assist Great Britain to the full in the prosecution of the war it would seem logical to assume that the American Government might find it possible to collaborate politically with British in the Near East particularly in respect of the Arab cause which is regarded as falling within the purview of the policy of the democracies as regards the rights of small nations.

That the United States is in a peculiarly favored position to lend a helping hand in the East where it has no unhappy past to live down nor political ambitions to further and where as a consequence any assurances given would be accepted in good faith.

That the greatest obstacle to a satisfactory settlement of the Arab question is the Zionist issue and that the United States could make a particular contribution in this respect since rightly or wrongly the impression prevails in the Arab world that the influence of American [Page 614] Jewry is one of the principal deterrents to a resolution of the Palestine question.

That the Arab countries would like to see the traditional American economic principle of the open door in good standing in the Near East which, in the past and despite commitments to the contrary, has been subject to British and French exploitation to detriment of the local population.

Needless to say there are obvious weaknesses in the case for Arab unity such as disagreement among Arab leaders as to specific objectives, unreconciled dynastic and nationalistic rivalries which would militate against effective cooperation and the assiduity that agitation for Arab unity is to no small extent carried on by a group of professional politicians animated largely by personal motives.

On the other hand there is no doubt that regardless of such negative considerations the Arab unity concept does have a wide appeal as at least a symbol of the common aspiration of all Arab peoples to achieve complete independence from the foreign control to which they have so long been subjected and in that sense and to that extent the movement is regarded as one of which due account should be taken particularly in view of the growing tendency of certain of its proponents to look to the United States for support.

In presenting the foregoing I am appreciative of the fact that there may well be compelling reasons for the American Government’s not making a declaration of policy in respect of the Arab peoples at this time. It is submitted, however, that in view of the importance of current developments in the Near East it would be highly advisable to undertake without delay the formulation of such a policy as a basis to be used eventually for either a public statement or for confidential communications to Arab leaders and as a working plan for such concrete support as in the meanwhile may be given to Arab countries in implementation of that policy.

In the meantime, as was pointed out in my telegram 572, May 23, 4 p.m., and as mentioned above, it is considered significant that in any discussion of this subject a recurrent theme is the conflict of Zionism with Arab aspirations and the effect attributed in that connection to the influence of American Jewry. Any steps therefore which might be taken either officially or privately to bring Zionist leaders in the United States to revise their views on the Palestine problem in the light of the demonstrated impracticability of the present policy would in my opinion constitute one of the most efficacious immediate steps which could be taken on American initiative for alleviating prevailing unrest and counteracting Axis influence in the Arab world.

  1. None printed.
  2. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. British Cmd. 6289, Misc. No. 2 (1941): Speech by the Rt. Eon. Anthony Eden … delivered at the Mansion House on May 29, 1941.