Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Lebanon–Syria–Iraq Affairs (Gnade)

Participants: Faiz El-Khouri—Minister of Syria
Mr. G. Lewis JonesNE
Mr. R. E. GnadeNE

Problem: Discussion of new elements in Syrian political situation.


The Syrian Minister came to make his first formal call at the Department since the change of Government at Damascus. Mr. Jones showed him the New York Times article which quoted an American Legation spokesman at Damascus as saying that the Legation’s acknowledgment of Syria’s note regarding the new Syrian Government was “tantamount to recognition”. The Minister was puzzled by the meaning of tantamount, and was relieved to learn that it meant “equivalent”, and that it had been used because no formal act of recognition was required for the new Government as would have been required had there been a new regime in Syria.

The Minister stated: In his opinion the dissolution of Parliament and the other recent acts of the new Government in Syria meant that the Syrian Constitution was no longer operating and that therefore, in fact, the new Government was not bound to hold elections in four months as required by the Constitution. He cited a parallel occasion in 1939 when the ’Azm Government resigned and Parliament was dissolved by the French authorities. Government by the Secretaries General of the various Ministries should be good for Syria. These technicians will be able to work free of outside pressure and without political influences bearing down on them. It is high time that decrees of past governments be put into effect and the debris of years of instability be cleared up. The members of the Dawalibi Government are not anxious to be freed, because in the opinion of many Syrian politicians it is dangerous to work either with or against a Government such as the present one. The old slogan, “no change in policy”, which each government espoused, is no good. The Parliament prevented the government from progressing. Now is the time for a new straight-forward policy in Syria. The Minister hopes that the new Government will tell the American Minister that it has taken a clear decision to cooperate with the West. Details of the cooperation can be worked out as they arise.

Mr. Jones interposed that he hoped that the new policy would not necessarily be limited to a pro-US policy but would be a wider, pro-Western policy. He asked whether the new Government would not set [Page 1094] up a forward-looking program with such items as land reform, cotton cultivation improvement, swamp drainage, land tenure reform, etc. He suggested that the Government should show such a program to the Western chiefs of mission and then ask, “How can you help us”? He explained that the West has long had the feeling of being rebuffed by Syria. The Western powers came with clean hands to help, but were not welcomed. The new Government can now reevaluate Syrian policy and then come to the West to ask for aid. A strong man like Shishikli must first make the decision and then approach us.

The Minister commented that in any case the Syrians were not ready to be satellites of any power. The Syrians considered themselves the prime bearers of the torch of independence in the Arab World. Their land has been the heart of the movement for freedom among the Arabs.

Mr. Jones answered that the US wants cooperation, not satellites. Turkey, for example, is no satellite but works closely with the US and the West. The Arabs must get over their fear of being satellites. It is up to the Syrian Government to take the initiative of cooperating. The West cannot step forward and offer help; it must be asked. Western initiative in the matter might be fatal for Shishikli, a kiss of death. It is up to Shishikli to set up a program and then ask for aid—not for satellite status, which neither he nor we want.

Minister Khouri expressed his firm conviction that the future of Syria cannot be separate from that of all the Arab States. He always feels it wrong to come to the Department as the Syrian Chief of Mission in Washington, because basically he speaks as an Arab, not as a Syrian. The fundamental cause of Arab instability is Israel and the lack of security which because of the Israeli threat hangs like a shadow over the Arabs. Continued American aid to Israel makes US sincerity and cooperativeness questionable to the Arabs. With this the Minister launched into a long diatribe against Israel and against American support of the new Israeli State.

Mr. Jones concluded by pointing out to the Minister that one way in which the Israeli danger, as the Arabs saw it, could be countered was by the development of a strong stable Arab State as a counter balance to Israel in the Middle East. Now was the time when Syria might have the opportunity to develop itself into such a counter force.