890D.20 Missions/5–846

Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Henderson)51

You may recall that several months ago the Syrian Government requested us to send a military training mission to Syria. At the Under Secretary’s direction, we inquired as to the British and French attitudes. The British were lukewarm and thought that a military mission from a small neutral might be the answer. The French said they would regard our sending a mission to Syria as an “unfriendly act.”

The matter has simmered along52 as we had some hope that when enabling legislation should be passed, the French attitude might have changed.

The necessary legislation has now been passed by the House and may be passed by the Senate in the near future. The British have come to us again,53 this time on a different tack, and urged us to send a mission to Syria, on the ground that a strong power should undertake the job. The French, when asked whether their attitude had changed, replied that while they would not regard an American mission as an “unfriendly act,” still they would “not regard it as a friendly act”. In addition to citing the sensitiveness of Paris on this matter, they argued that if any of the western Great Powers should undertake such a mission, Soviet Russia would demand similar or compensatory privileges in Syria.

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A new aspect of the question has arisen in view of the fact that Syria, having received no reply from us, has approached the Swedes for a mission; and the French have told the Swedes that France would not object to a Swedish mission.

In view of the foregoing, plus the fact that an American military mission to Syria might find itself in an embarrassing if not impossible position if the United States should, as seems quite likely, become involved in the Palestine question54 in a manner displeasing to Syria, we propose to reply to the Syrians that there are several rather serious obstacles in the way of furnishing an American military mission; that we nevertheless strongly desire Syria to have the assistance it needs to train its new army; and that, accordingly, we will be glad to support the request Syria is understood to have made to Sweden for such assistance. We would also inform the British and the French of our reply to the Syrians.

I should be glad to know whether you concur in the proposed line of action.

A more detailed memorandum giving the background of this question is attached.55

Loy W. Henderson

[In telegram 248, June 10, 1946, 7 p.m., the Department informed the Legation in Beirut that it had given careful and sympathetic consideration to the Syrian request but regretted that “due to various obstacles of legal and technical nature”, it would “not be practicable for US Govt to provide desired military mission or to assist in obtaining American reserve officers for such mission”. The Department stated it would “be glad to support, if Syrian Govt so desires, request which Syria is understood to have made to Sweden for such assistance”. (890D.20 Mission /6–1046)

Notes embodying the substance of telegram 248 were sent to the Syrian Legation and to the French and British Embassies on June 10.]

  1. Addressed to the Under Secretary of State (Acheson) and the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews).
  2. In telegram No. 1, January 2, 1946, the Legation in Damascus had reported receipt of a note from the Syrian Foreign Office dated December 26. 1945, which suggested that, since the U.S. Government due to “legal difficulties” had not been able to comply with previous Syrian request for a military mission, the War Department in Washington be requested to supply the Syrian Legation with names of qualified officers willing to undertake such work with the Syrian Government. Such officers would be granted proper military rank in the Syrian Army and would wear Syrian uniforms. (890D.20Mission/1–246)
  3. In a note of May 8, not printed.
  4. For documentation on this subject, see pp. 576 ff.
  5. Memorandum of May 20 by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Satterthwaite), not printed.