783.56/1–1050: Telegram

The Minister in Syria (Keeley) to the Secretary of State 1


20. Legtel 16, January 9. Suitable opportunity did not arise during talk with Prime Minister today to give full expression to concern expressed in Deptel 8, January 7, but when Khaled Azm inquired if US was now prepared to sell Syria arms (apropos item on military aid re confidential conclusions Istanbul conference2 for guidance chiefs mission in oral presentation to governments which I took occasion our talk to convey and at his request to explain) I replied that whole embargo had been lifted. I did not for following reasons feel moment propitious to put forward such request: (a) continuance Palestine conflict and furore Israel likely to raise over potential threat to its security, (b) possible feeling that Syria should improve its economic before its military position, and (c) evidence better discipline rather than intensify power of army after three military coups in ten months. To latter he smilingly inquired if I thought more arms could make army more troublesome in that respect than it already is.

Prime Minister went on to say Syria needs fighter aircraft. To my query “what for” he replied “to protect Damascus which is only 60 kilometers from Israeli frontier”. He then asked about possibility military mission. I replied that purchase of arms including aircraft and provision military mission were, I felt, both possibilities that had better wait some evidence progress in three directions I had indicated. He did not pursue subject.

At time Legation reply to Deptel 522, December 133 drafted MA suggested that our refusal provide military equipment might not deter Syria which might obtain its needs elsewhere to our loss in trade prestige and influence. Arms purchased by Zaim4 from France now arriving and French Minister has repeatedly indicated in conversation (Legation A–113, April 183) that France is natural source arms supply for Syrian army which being originally French equipped “will naturally turn to French for replacements”. Both French and British have received Syrian officers for training (Legation A–77, March 163) [Page 1204] and are doubtless willing furnish military missions (British military adviser to Syrian army who recently died has not yet been replaced).

Instruction for future guidance would be appreciated, particularly if Department wishes Legation to follow different line than I took with Prime Minister (Tel Aviv Embtel 16, January 95 to Department received since mytel).

  1. Repeated to Tel Aviv, London, Paris, Ankara, and Arab capitals.
  2. For documentation concerning the Istanbul Conference of American Chiefs of Mission held on November 26–29, 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, pp. 165 ff.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Col. Husni Zaim, former President of Syria who was overthrown by a coup d’état on August 14, 1949, and subsequently executed.
  5. Not Printed.
  6. Not Printed.
  7. Not printed; it described, in part, Israeli criticism of British arms shipments to various Arab states and United States acquiescence with this policy. The Embassy in Tel Aviv asked the Department for a clearer statement on United States policy towards these arms shipments. (780.5/1–950)