17. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State 1

447. Called on Prime Minister Asali February 26. After brief talk we were joined by Foreign Minister Azm so I acquainted them both with USG position re Turko-Iraqi agreement and area defense, expressing hope GOS (1) would do nothing embarrass Iraq and (2) might later find it possible associate Syria with developing defense organization (Deptels 348,2 388,3 4284). Ignoring first point (cf paragraph 6, Embtel 441)5 and without reference to Prime Minister who speaks almost no French, Azm immediately replied that GOS will act in accordance its own interests; that public statements Syrian foreign [Page 26] policy should not be construed too narrowly; that present government has sufficient latitude to permit conclusion agreements found to be in Syrian interest; and that any such agreement will of course require parliamentary approval.

Foreign Minister noted that GOS and USG could not agree on certain matters (presumably he had Palestine question chiefly in mind) but opined that on other subjects agreement could be reached. He expressed belief both sides should work towards agreements on these subjects rather than emphasizing points of disagreement.

I replied I was glad to hear GOS possessed latitude re foreign policy and apparently intended to use it. Foreign Minister then turned and informed Prime Minister in Arabic of what he had told me. At their request I afterward sent Prime Minister and Foreign Minister an aide-mémoire.6

Comment: Though I stated Department had instructed me inform them US position at early opportunity, Asali and, Azm probably thought my call timed to coincide with arrival Salah Salim7 which occurred hour earlier. Azm’s remarks may represent his personal views, and were no doubt intended to offset neutralistic ministerial declaration. Embassy doubts Azm can impose own interpretation on Cabinet, in view of government’s dependence on ASRP parliamentary support. Foreign Minister has in any case committed himself to nothing since (a) Syrian “interest” not defined and (b) likelihood approval defense aid agreement by present Syrian Parliament is remote. Department will note in this connection similarity Azm’s position to that of former Prime Minister Khuri who was unsuccessful in attempting modify his initial uncompromising public position against foreign agreements (Embassy despatch 325).8

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 682.87/3–155. Confidential. Repeated to Ankara, Baghdad, Cairo, London, Paris, Amman, Beirut, and Jidda.
  2. Printed as telegram 275, Document 2.
  3. Printed as telegram 1072, Document 10.
  4. In telegram 428, February 21, the Department of State instructed the Embassy in Damascus to inform Asali and Azm of the U.S. position on the Turko-Iraqi agreement as contained in telegrams 348 and 388 to Damascus. (Department of State, Central Files, 682.87/2-2155)
  5. Telegram 441 from Damascus, February 25, contained a report received from British Ambassador Sir John Gardener concerning six points made by Azm during a conversation with Gardener. Under the sixth point, Gardener had asked, Azm to prevent the Syrian Government from taking a hostile attitude toward Iraq regarding the Baghdad Pact. Azm had given an evasive response, but said he was urging Egypt not to withdraw from the Arab League Collective Security Pact and to moderate its anti-Iraqi propaganda. (Ibid., 783.00/2-2555)
  6. Enclosed in despatch 365 from Damascus, March 15. (Ibid., 682.87/3–1555)
  7. The Embassy in Damascus reported on March 1 that Major Salah Salim, Egyptian Minister for National Guidance, had arrived in Damascus on February 26 to discuss an Egyptian proposal for a new defense pact among those Arab States opposed to alliances with non-Arab powers. The plan provided for a unified army under a joint command, a unified foreign policy based on a prohibition of alliances outside of the proposed pact, and a unified economic policy enabling member states to finance the unified army from their own resources. (Telegram 451 from Damascus; Ibid., 786.00/3–155)
  8. Not printed. (Ibid., 786.00/2–1055)