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

478. Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Azm explained to me last night purpose of Syro-Iraqi[-Egyptian] declaration of March 2 and pact it foreshadows.

According to Foreign Minister pact aims solely at common defense of Arab States most threatened by Israel. It is neither anti-Iraq nor anti-Turkish nor anti-Western. Syria recognizes right, even duty, of Iraq and Turkey to prepare against principal threat to their security (i.e. USSR) but claims right to do likewise (i.e. to prepare defense against Israel).

Syria is in agreement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt on unified foreign, military and economic policy and hopes for adherence of Lebanon. After conclusion of three-state or four-state pact, effort will be made to arrange cooperation between the resulting organization and Turkish-Iraqi grouping with which Pakistan, Iran, US and UK will probably be associated. Such cooperation, while desirable, will necessarily be limited by sources from which the principal threat comes. (Proposed link between defense organization may supersede bilateral Syro-Iraqi tie suggested by Prime Minister; cf Embtel 465.)2

[Page 33]

There is no new urgency in the Israeli threat, but it is continuing and present moment appears to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt propitious to make defensive arrangement.

Arab League Collective Security Pact was abandoned because it included states not immediately threatened by Israel (Iraq), states neither threatened nor able to assist in common defense (Yemen, Libya) and states which by virtue of treaty engagements had lost full liberty of action (Jordan).

After presenting foregoing explanation, Foreign Minister asserted he would go to Baghdad on Monday March 14 to promote second stage of plan, his party to consist of General Shuqayr, one other Syrian Cabinet Minister, three Syrian Deputies and perhaps one Lebanese official. Foreign Minister expressed hope US Government would be able to approve aims of new pact. I replied that I would be glad to transmit Foreign Minister’s statements to Department and endeavor to secure Department’s views before Foreign Minister’s departure March 14 (rather than merely repeat to Prime Minister previous instructions already known to him, I believe it more effective be able give him authoritative statement from Department directly responsive his remarks).

Comment: Similar statement made by Foreign Minister to Turkish Chargé same day. In my opinion Foreign Minister and Prime Minister are beginning to feel effect of US, UK and Turkish representations as well as visible public distrust of a project which divides rather than unites Arab States. Foreign Minister’s statement that proposed arrangement is not anti-Iraq should not be taken seriously. Origin, timing and architects of March 2 declaration provide more reliable indication of intent of project than of Foreign Minister’s statements. These factors may be interpreted to show that having failed to prevent signature Turko-Iraqi pact, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a Syrian Government now amenable to their influences are attempting to isolate Iraq by drawing other Arab States into rival organization. This can explain use of, “defense against Israel” as rallying cry.

According to pro-Western Deputy, Saudi, Syrian and Egyptian authorities are using direct threats against Lebanese business communities and trade in Syria, Dhahran and Cairo and against Lebanese employees of Saudi Arabian Government in effort bring Lebanon into line.

Action requested: It is requested that Department instruct me to reply to Foreign Minister and repeat later to Prime Minister the following: [Page 34]

Views of US Government on problem of ME defense and re Turko-Iraqi pact were communicated to Syrian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister February 26 (Embtel 447, March 1);3
US Government still adheres to those views;
Foreign Minister’s attention is particularly called to the expressed hope of US Government that Syria would not associate in any effort make things difficult for Iraq nor act to preclude future Syrian association with Turko-Iraqi defense organization;
US Government, in view of origin and timing of Syro-Egyptian declaration of March 2, finds it difficult to believe that declaration’s principal purpose is other than that of embarrassing Iraq because Iraq has taken step toward effective regional defense;
Declaration if published, by its own terms, precludes Syria from adhering to Turko-Iraqi arrangement;
US Government does not regard the Syro-Saudi-Egyptian project as one which offers hope of an effective defense organization even within area to which it applies;
US Government foresees no US approval of, nor support for, project at any time;
While US Government has already stated that it expects Syria to act in accordance with its own interests, US Government doubts that Syria’s hasty reversal of policy after Asali Cabinet came into power is in Syrian national interest, in interest of Arab States or in the general interest;
In view of quick leak to hostile local press of American Ambassador’s aide-mémoire4 and a similar prompt leak of the Turkish Chargé’s aide-mémoire of March 7,5 American Ambassador has been instructed to deliver this message by word of mouth only;
Anything else Department believes useful.

Prompt instructions are requested preferably, for greatest effect, in time to enable me to reply to Foreign Minister before his March 14 departure.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 683.87/3–1155. Confidential; Niact. Repeated priority to Baghdad, Cairo, Ankara, and London.
  2. See vol. XIII, p. 519, footnote 2.
  3. Document 17.
  4. Reference is to an aide-mémoire presented by the Embassy in Damascus to the Syrian Government on February 26 describing the U.S. position on the Turkish-Iraqi Pact. (Enclosed in despatch 365, March 15; Department of State, Central Files, 682.87/3–1555)
  5. On March 5, the Turkish Government issued a statement expressing its concern over the trend of events in Syria and Syria’s apparent hostility toward Turkey. (Telegrams 1009 and 1012 from Damascus, March 5 and 6; Ibid., 682.83/3–555 and 682.83/3–655) On March 7, Turkish Chargé Ismail Soysal, acting on instructions, delivered orally to Prime Minister Asali an additional statement protesting what Turkey believed to be the anti-Turkish nature of the recent Syrian-Egyptian agreement. (Telegram 475 to Damascus, March 10; Ibid., 674.83/3–1055)
  6. In telegram 473 to Damascus, March 11, the Department of State concurred in Ambassador Moose’s proposed reply to, Azm with the following changes: 1) in paragraph 6, add at the end “and therefore cannot support it”; 2) omit paragraph 7; 3) change paragraph 9 to read: “In view of leak to local press, and distortion, of American Ambassador’s Aide-Mémoire, Ambassador instructed deliver message by word of mouth only”. (Ibid., 683.87/3–1155)

    Moose subsequently made the approved presentation to Azm on March 12. According to Moose’s report, Azm again denied that the Syro-Saudi-Egyptian pact was aimed at Iraq. Azm also reaffirmed that Syria recognized Iraq’s right to make arrangements for its own defense, but believed that the Syrian situation required different arrangements. Moose, in turn, replied that the circumstances surrounding the Egyptian-Syrian statement of March 2 justified the U.S. fear that the ESS pact was aimed at Iraq. (Telegram 486 from Damascus, March 13; Ibid., 683.87/3–1355)