683.00/2–951: Telegram

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


387. Prime Minister Qudsi last night spoke more openly than hitherto about Syria’s relations with West. He said we need have no fear about where Syria will stand against Commie aggression. In case of invasion Syrian organized armed resistance might not last long [Page 1075] or appear to help cause much at moment if invaders bring overwhelming forces but struggle would continue. Army is being strengthened in manpower and organization but must have correspondingly more and better equipment. “Nothing fancy and I do not care whether it comes from” a reference to fact that recent acquisitions are from France.

He does not worry about talk of neutralism for when time comes he is sure that Syria will fight for democracy. “But I cannot ask Syrian people to defend their misery. We must fulfill our promises for economic balance. Thus progress with problem of Palestine refugees, loans and Point IV (see separate telegram)2 and military aid are all aspects of one question which is how fast we can move toward a clear-cut position. Syria will not fail cause of democracy in Middle East; she also will do utmost by own efforts.”

Foregoing should be considered in context visit British General Robertson.3 Latter’s talk with me was largely exchange of views since he had not yet seen Qudsi or talked seriously with military. British Minister tells me Robertson talks were generally satisfactory but no promises were made and no commitments requested. Syrians put forward request for armament for four divisions of which three armored but did not demur when Robertson suggested they make start with one infantry division for which he would go on record as favoring supply of equipment from West. He told them bluntly not to expect much if any help in aviation. To him Syrians stressed familiar Palestine arguments more than in recent talks with me. Neutralism attitude was also noted but Robertson and British Minister consider this to be reasonably explained by factor of timing; namely that it will take some time for Syria to pull her forces together and in present weakness any firm public stand with West would put Syria too far out in front of other states hereabouts equally exposed and better able to meet threat. Robertson told them before any military aid could be considered West must know what material Syrians now have and how they proposed to utilize it. Syrians are therefore getting to work preparing lists. This explains Qudsi’s remark to me when touching on military aid (see first paragraph) that maybe next week he would let us know results of review of military requirements now being made.

Indication of new policy trends suggested by foregoing will require further observation and analysis since Qudsi’s forthright statements [Page 1076] to me were made on eve my departure for Istanbul conference4 which looms larger in light publicity given to attendance Admiral Carney and concurrent Finletter mission to Turkey.5 They must also be viewed against background of requests for US and IBRD credits, not to speak of conversation with General Robertson earlier in day. For moment at least conjuncture all these factors has given Syrian Government sense of urgency in world situation.6

  1. Repeated to London, Paris, Amman, Ankara, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jidda, and Moscow.
  2. Telegram 388 from Damascus, February 9, reported progress on high-level discussion of economic assistance, made recommendations concerning the basic content of a Point Four agreement with Syria, and suggested a procedure for negotiating it (883.00 TA/2–951).
  3. Sir Brian H. Robertson, British Commander in Chief of Middle East Land Forces, was visiting various capitals in the Near East for conversations with the Defense Ministers.
  4. For documentation on a meeting of the Near East Chiefs of Mission at Istanbul, February 14 to 21, see pp 50 ff.
  5. Secretary of the Air Force Thomas K. Finletter arrived in Turkey on February 12 on a visit at the invitation of the Turkish Government to observe the progress of Turkish armed forces under the Military Aid Program.
  6. Discussions in Syria concerning technical assistance continued after Cannon’s return from the conference at Istanbul. Telegram 293, February 21, to Damascus, authorized him to proceed with the negotiation of a Point Four agreement (883.00 TA/2–2151). On March 11, in telegram 448, Cannon reported that Prime Minister Qudsi’s resignation, handed to President Hashim al-Atasi on March 10, left negotiation of the agreement unsettled (883.00 TA/3–1351). Cannon added, in telegram 453, March 13, from Damascus, that he could obtain immediate signature of a Syrian note on the Point Four agreement by deleting certain points for later consideration but he preferred, in light of the general situation, to leave the next move to the Syrians (883.00 TA/3–1351).