Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the President

top secret

The Department of State has completed its preliminary study of the proposals being put forward by the Governments of Iraq and Syria for closer relations between their countries. It finds that its conclusions are concurred in by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense which have been consulted on an informal basis.

These conclusions are as follows:

The overall United States policy objective in the Near East is to promote area peace and stability. In keeping with this objective the United States should continue to look with disfavor upon any attempt to modify the status of the Near Eastern countries by external intervention or force. However, since it is a cardinal principle of American policy to respect the right of peoples freely to choose their own form of government, this Government should not oppose unions of peoples brought about by the freely expressed will of these peoples.
The Department recognizes the existence of a genuine feeling among the Arab peoples in favor of the principle of Arab unity, and believes that eventual union of Syria with one or more other Arab countries might promote long-range economic and political stability in the area. There is insufficient evidence, however, to indicate that, in existing circumstances and under present auspices, the proposals at hand correspond to the will of the Iraqi and Syrian peoples. The possibility exists that the ultimate popular reaction may not be sufficiently favorable to ensure the orderly formation of a [Page 183]federated Hashemite monarchy without prejudice to the stability of Syria and Iraq, and concomitantly to the stability of the Near Eastern area as a whole. A political union of this form and under these auspices may, for example, be associated locally with the so-called “Fertile Crescent” or “Greater Syria” schemes1 which have acquired a reputation in the Near East as being of “imperialistic” inspiration. A determined opposition from sizeable nationalist elements in both Syria and Iraq could develop around the anti-imperialist theme. There are also reports of opposition among factions of the Syrian Army who may be in a position to make the transition to political union turbulent.

It is already evident that the movement for political union of Iraq and Syria is a matter of considerable concern to the remaining Near Eastern States and certain other powers. The King of Saudi Arabia is apprehensive that a Hashemite-dominated grouping of Arab states may in time endeavor to restore a Hashemite monarchy in the Hejaz, and may likewise interpose obstacles to the construction or operation of the Trans-Arabian pipeline which will run through Syria, especially since Iraq is anxious to expand oil production from its own vast petroleum reserves. The Government of Lebanon believes that implementation of the proposals will disturb Lebanon’s economic relations with the Arab hinterland, and fears that the larger Moslem state will have irridentist designs on Lebanese territory and endeavor to disturb Lebanon’s pro-western and Christian orientation. King Abdullah of Jordan is reported to be opposed to the present proposals because he is excluded from the leading role in the formation of a “Greater Syria”. King Farouk of Egypt is also known to be strongly opposed to the creation of a larger grouping of Arab states dominated by the rival Hashemite dynasty. There is no doubt that one of the chief motivating factors behind the unification move is fear of Israel, and it may therefore be expected that Israel itself will, in turn, consider the union of Syria and Iraq as a possible threat to its political and economic security.

The Government of France is known to be strongly opposed to the unification move, and to regard the United Kingdom as the power behind it. The USSR may likewise oppose this move as it would strengthen the power of the Hashemite family, which it regards as under British control and sponsorship. In view of Iraq’s intransigent attitude toward the United Nations efforts to achieve a settlement of the Palestine controversy and the refugee problem, it seems reasonable to believe that the proposed union may further retard settlement of these two questions.

In these circumstances, the Department of State plans, if you approve, to inform the Government of the United Kingdom along the lines of Annex A.2 This procedure has the merit of testing the genuineness of the proposal without disapproving it and of placing the responsibility for the proposal with the Governments of Syria and [Page 184]Iraq rather than with the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom. At the same time it is intended to inject a note of caution by reference to our feeling of concern on the basis of such information as has become available.3

  1. For previous documentation on the desire of Transjordan for a Greater Syria, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. v, p. 538 ff.
  2. Presumably the Aide-Mémoire handed to the British Embassy on October 18, infra. It was drafted on October 12–13.
  3. President Truman, in a memorandum of October 17 to Secretary Acheson, stated he had read the Department’s memorandum and Aide-Mémoire and thought “the matter is being approached in the proper manner.” (790D.90G/10–1749)