NEA Files: Lot 55–D36

Statement by the United States and the United Kingdom Groups

top secret


Political and Economic Situation in Syria and Lebanon.


The British group said that there was discernible in the Arab League a line of cleavage into two camps in which Syria was tending to align herself with Saudi Arabia (and Egypt) against Iraq and Transjordan. It was important that both Britain and the United States should counter a tendency observable in some parts of the Middle East to associate Iraq and Transjordan with Britain and Saudi [Page 605] Arabia and Syria with the United States. This tendency was sometimes expressed in talk of Anglo-American rivalry in the Middle East as a whole with particular reference to oil questions. The American group said that their information was to the same effect and they stressed the fact that there was nothing in such stories. They shared the view of the British group that efforts should be made when occasion offered to put an end to these allegations.
Both groups felt anxiety about the financial situations in Syria and Lebanon which were in a serious condition. The British Government had felt unable to accede to a request by Syria and Lebanon to enter the sterling area and had advised the two Governments to try to enter into a satisfactory financial agreement with the French. The American Government had been informally approached for a loan by both Syria and Lebanon, but the Export-Import Bank upon examination had not found the proposal practicable. The British group observed that it was important to avoid economic chaos in the two countries because of the opportunity which would be afforded for the exploitation of such a situation by Communist elements, which were particularly strong in Lebanon. The British Government would, therefore, be glad to see American economic support which might be given Syria and Lebanon.
The British group remarked that the Syrian Government might, under Nationalist pressure, refer the question of Alexandretta1 to the United Nations. This would have undesirable repercussions in that the Soviet Government might for example use it as a precedent to raise claims against Turkey. The American group shared the opinion of the British group that the reference of this matter to the United Nations would be undesirable and further observed that it would definitely be preferable that for strategic reasons Alexandretta should remain in Turkish hands.
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Both Governments should take advantage of appropriate occasions to correct misapprehensions regarding alleged British support of a Transjordan–Iraq group in opposition to an American supported Syria–Saudi Arabia group as reflecting Anglo-American rivalry in the Middle East.
The financial situation in both Syria and Lebanon requires continued attention.
Not only would it be politically inadvisable for Syria to raise the question of Alexandretta in the United Nations but it would be disadvantageous from the point of view of Middle East security if Alexandretta were to pass from Turkish hands. Any move by the Syrian Government in this direction should, therefore, be discouraged.
There should be close consultation between the American and British Governments on all these questions.
  1. In telegram 62, March 17, 1947, the Department requested the Legation in Damascus to discuss with the Syrian Foreign Office the “evident tendency Syrian Govt to view Hatay problem as possible case for UN in near future as result alleged persistent refusal Turkish Govt to enter into direct negotiations.” The Legation was instructed to “emphasize our view that Turkey’s problems with USSR are overriding considerations and that we consider it urgently desirable to maintain integrity of Turkey’s eastern frontier in face threatened Soviet encroachment. We therefore strongly urge patience on part Syrian Govt in its own best interest, as any impairment Turkish sovereignty on part USSR would seem bound to jeopardize Syrian sovereignty sooner or later. We therefore earnestly hope Syrian Govt will refrain from pressing this question at present time.” (767.90D/2–2847) In telegram 121, April 12, the Legation in Damascus reported information from the Syrian Prime Minister that “Syria realizes gravity of situation facing Turkey and for that reason only now refrains from raising Alexandretta question before UN. Such forbearance should not be misconstrued, for Syria is not abating its claims and will present them at proper moment.” (767.90D/4–1247) For documentation on the cession of the Hatay (the Sanjak of Alexandretta) by France to Turkey, see Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. iv, pp. 832 ff.