783.00/11–150: Telegram

The Minister in Syria (Cannon)1 to the Secretary of State 2


207. Legation believes that positive support and encouragement Syrian Government by steps indicated Deptel 151, October 25 would enhance its stability, strengthen US position in Syria, and promote US policy objectives in the NE. Following considerations bear on this belief:

Unlike some other Arab states, Syria is viable with only limited outside aid. This economic potential which present government seems genuinely disposed to develop, together with efforts to raise general level of living, make Syria almost unique among Arab states in prospects for evolution as a modern state. If Syria succeeds in achieving stability through efforts present government, example to other Arab states would be of first importance. Not least important effect would be fundamental strengthening of progressive non-Communist forces in area.
Prime Minister Qudsi’s Government is on solid constitutional grounds and is backed by largest and most progressive political grouping in Syria.
Domestic opposition to Qudsi Government comes primarily from essentially reactionary and unrealistic groups such as Nationalist Front (Legation despatch 141, September 11)3 whose domestic political programs are questionable and whose policies in past, when they have held power, have been contrary to principles of US policy in area and have not served to promote sound economic development. They were largely responsible for unstable situation which led to coup d’état of Husni Al-Zaim, they lack large body popular support and are incapable of rising above short-sighted partisan viewpoint.
Syrian Army is major imponderable in present situation. Factions unfriendly to present Government doubtless still exist, but fact remains that present Army strong man Shishikli who has remained in power for ten months, and his civilian comrade former Minister Defense Akram Hawrani, have support of large body of junior officers. Moreover, though impatient concerning what he considers unnecessary slowness in carrying out reforms, the Radical [Page 1216] Hawrani seems to have decided to go along with general lines of Qudsi’s socio-economic policies. While Syro-Iraqi Union question could divide this partnership from Qudsi and the Populists, latter seem to have profited by previous lessons enough to agree to soft-pedal this issue. Working with Army will continue to require high degree of statesmanship, but Qudsi’s success since June 4 suggests obstacles not insurmountable. Firm action by US may tend discourage factionalism in Army caused by subversive elements. As part of program proposed in Deptel 151, US may wish to consider strengthening Qudsi’s position with Army through offers of military advice or perhaps limited military aid in working out military problems.
Recent organized attempts to subvert present Syrian Government, such as Ajlani–Kallas greater Syrian conspiracy (Legtel 169, October 44) and attempted assassination Lieutenant Colonel Shishikli (Legtel 182, October 125) were apparently not inspired or supported by sizeable body of opinion in Syria. Supporters former President Quwwatli seem to have been involved in an attempt on Shishikli and money and some members of gang have been traced to other Arab states (Legtel 203, October 275).

We suggest that prior to action along lines Deptel 151 proposals be authorized approach Prime Minister Qudsi informally to discover which of suggested steps in his opinion best calculated promote Syrian stability. Such approach would serve also to elicit evidence subversive activity for possible citation in discussions with other Arab Governments and would be helpful in determining which lines of action most suitable in eventual approaches to other Arab states.

Regarding step (1) of Deptel 151 we agree with Embassy Cairo (Embtel 423, to Department6) that direct approach to Quwwatli by Embassy might be misinterpreted however discreetly made. Perhaps Azzam Pasha could ask Quwwatli and Mardam Bey in interests of Arab League, to request their supporters to refrain from further attempts at subversion in Syria. Embassy Cairo’s comment on this invited.

Regarding Points (2) and (3) Legation concurs with Embassy Cairo that suggestions of Point (3) might lead to charge US interfering in Arab affairs, but we think renewed counsel of non-interference, contemplated in Point (2) could profitably be made, particularly [Page 1217] if talk with Qudsi elicits specific evidence of interference of nationals of other Arab states in Syrian affairs.

Regarding step (6) we greatly doubt if useful purpose would be served by bringing in the French. French Legation here does not share US–UK point of view toward present Syrian Government because of belief that Qudsi and Populists may attempt bring about Syro-Iraqi Union. French also appear to be worried lest Qudsi Government will loosen French economic foothold in Syria. Present level of French political prestige here and in other Arab countries makes approach by them of dubious value and until we can bring about improvement in rapport between French Legation and US and UK Legations, sharing highly classified plans of action, with French would be difficult and questionable.

As for requesting British make similar approach, [French] would certainly view with alarm our making British privy to our action without bringing them in also. Moreover, SAG, Egyptians and Turks are extremely suspicious of British in Syria and might well misinterpret British action. On other hand, special position British in Iraq and Jordan would give immense value their making representations those governments along lines indicated Deptel 151. British Legation certainly shares this Legation’s attitude toward present government Syria and it also desirous promoting its stability.

Wonder if best course would not be to inform British and French substance action taken by US and suggest that they take similar action under terms tripartite declaration.

  1. Cavendish W. Cannon succeeded James Hugh Keeley as Minister in Syria; he was assigned to Damascus as of September 20.
  2. Repeated to Cairo, Jidda, Baghdad, Amman, Beirut, London, Paris, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed; it described the arrest of Parliament Deputy Munir Ajlani and Lt. Col. Bahij Kallas, Military Attaché-designate to Washington, on the charge of conspiracy to initiate a pro-Greater Syria coup, a conspiracy allegedly financed by King Abdullah of Jordan (783.00/10–550).
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed; it included the comments of the Ambassador in Egypt, Jefferson Caffery, who claimed that it was very difficult to approach Quwatly without publicity which might serve to defeat the main purpose of the approach and give the impression that Quwatly had the support of the United States (783.00/10–2850).