314. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Allen) to the Under Secretary of State (Hoover)1

SUBJECT

  • Syrian Request for Purchase of Arms

Discussion:

We have had a series of urgent telegrams from Embassy Damascus which emphasize Syria’s determination to buy arms wherever it can get them at an early date.2 Chief of Staff Shuqayr is reported as resisting Czech and Russian offers. President Quwwatli and the conservatives also are said to be opposed to Soviet bloc arms for Syria. Their position is reportedly weakening, however, and our Embassy reports that unless the US or other Western powers can sell some defensive military equipment to Syria, the Syrian Government will be under overwhelming pressure to buy from the Soviets. Moreover, the recent conclusion of an agreement with the Iraq [Page 559]Petroleum Company for greatly increased pipeline transit payments3 is expected to give Syria the immediate foreign exchange with which to make such purchases (i.e., $42 million in the next 13 months over and above the $7 million from other sources already appropriated for arms).

In view of the foregoing, I recommend that you authorize Ambassador Moose to negotiate a Section 1064 arms sales agreement with Syria. Announcement of the agreement could be timed to US action on Israel’s request for arms, it being assumed that Israel will be able to obtain certain quantities. The agreement would contain no US commitment but would require Syria to use the equipment for defense purposes only and not to undertake aggression. We already have such agreements with Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel and more than 50 other countries. For this reason, we now doubt that Israel, Iraq or Egypt can raise serious objection. If they should, we can point out that the agreement was concluded for purposes of providing Syria with necessary transport equipment. Prior to public announcement we plan, to the extent it seems desirable at the time, to inform other governments such as Israel, Egypt and Iraq.

The agreement is described in the attached Department Circular No. 25 authorization request which was prepared in October and approved at that time by Mr. Phleger as to authority (Tab A5).

I further recommend that you approve in principle the sale under this agreement of military transport equipment to Syria and that the items requested by Syria last September be spaced for delivery in accordance with Syrian needs and within Syrian capabilities. Some of the requirements in Syria’s September request for trucks, trailers and jeeps totalling approximately $13 million might be satisfied quite quickly from surplus US equipment in Libya and Germany if a 106 sales agreement were signed.

Recommendation:

That you (1) approve the attached request for permission to negotiate an arms sales agreement with Syria (Tab A), and (2) sign the attached telegram informing Ambassador Moose of this authority and approving in principle the sale under the agreement of the [Page 560]military trucks, trailers and jeeps requested by the Syrians last September (Tab B6).

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783.56/12–855. Secret. Drafted by Boardman on December 7; Frechtling concurred. A marginal notation on the source text by Barnes reads: “Approved by Mr. Hoover after talking to Mr. [Gordon] Gray. 12/8/55.” Also on December 8, Hoover initialed his approval of Allen’s memorandum, Document 309.
  2. In telegram 428 from Damascus, October 30, Ambassador Moose proposed that the United States delay informing the Syrian Government of the decision contained in Document 313. (Department of State, Central Files, 783.00/10–3055) For additional information, see ibid., 783.5–MSP and 783.56.
  3. Signed November 29. (Telegram 534 from Damascus, November 29; ibid., 783.5–MSP/11–2955)
  4. Reference is to the provisions governing the sale of military equipment on a reimbursable basis to foreign governments, contained in Section 106 of the Mutual Security Act of 1954 as amended on July 8, 1955. (68 Stat. 836; 69 Stat. 283)
  5. See Document 309.
  6. Not attached to the source text but presumably the same as telegram 413 sent to Damascus at 6:28 p.m., December 8. It authorized the Embassy to inform the Syrian Government that the United States was prepared to exchange notes with Syria which would constitute an agreement for sales of military equipment along the lines of the U.S.-Lebanese agreement previously made available to Syria. Telegram 413 also authorized the Embassy to present to the Syrian Government the price and availability study prepared by the Department of Defense in response to the Syrian note of September 1. (Airgram A–35, October 11; Department of State, Central Files, 783.56/ 9–2755) Telegram 413 was approved and signed by Hoover.

    On December 10, Moose handed Prime Minister Ghazzi a note informing him that the U.S. Government was prepared to conclude a reimbursable military aid agreement with the Syrian Government. (Telegram 573 from Damascus, December 13; ibid., 783.5–MSP/12–1355)

    In telegram 633 from Damascus, January 5, Moose conveyed a report obtained from Fansa that Syria would sign no reimbursable military aid agreement with the United States because Syria considered the prices too high. (Ibid., 783.5–MSP/1–556)