183. Telegram From the Embassy in Syria to the Department of State1

1934. Department will have observed from recent welter public statements by politicians of various political hues that Syrian Government has revived and greatly invigorated campaign for early Syro-Egyptian union. We presume current offensive initiated by ASRP and their army allies primarily as best, perhaps only effective, means checking growth Communist influence and perhaps decisive Communist gains in next summer’s general election. However, this platform is so politically irresistible that most leaders, including Azm, have felt obliged to jump on band wagon and whip up horses. Even Syrian Communist Party has been impelled to issue statement favoring union, though with obvious mental reservations. Such momentum for prompt and far-reaching action is being created that, on Syrian side at least, it might be difficult to draw back even if and when inevitable complications fully appreciated.

We are, of course, not in position accurately estimate whether GOE for same motive as ASRP or for reasons of its own, shares this enthusiasm for early union and will be willing take concrete steps carry it forward. We should appreciate having Embassy Cairo’s latest appraisal. We must emphasize however that, while Syrians propose commence with economic negotiations later this month, they are already [Page 404]far out on limb with their proclamations of intention to go promptly all the way to “one people, one president and one parliament.”

Even if both parties eager to move ahead rapidly, complications will presumably arise which will slow pace somewhat. Ambitious on both sides may be disillusioned as negotiations proceed. Nevertheless we have impression that if Syrians have their way complications might be ruthlessly swept away and startling progress toward creation new Arab state made this year.

In evaluating effect on US interests, first observation of this Embassy would be that, insofar as situation inside Syria concerned, United States not at present in favorable position to check movement toward Syro-Egyptian union and would be wasting its prestige ruthlessly in openly opposing so popular a cause.

As to merits of question, domination of Syria by Nasser is obviously far from attractive solution. Over and above additional difficulties this domination might create for west inside Syria, we are acutely aware of increased pressure enlarged Arab state would exercise on west-oriented neighbors of Syria.

At present however alternatives in Syria are meager. Conservative parties seem thoroughly cowed and fragmented, and substantially powerless inside army which remains decisive element in Syrian politics. Influence in Syria of western-minded Arab states also at very low ebb. Syrian politics are notoriously unstable and this unfavorable as it might perhaps in time be corrected. Unfortunately, however, Communist influence has been growing steadily and could well have immovably entrenched itself before any substantial conservative revival could occur. In this context only two real short-run alternatives in Syria may be either (1) substantial increase in Egyptian influence verging on if not wholly realizing union, or (2) so substantial Communist entrenchment that it could be dealt with only by force from outside.

Under these circumstances we would hesitate, despite our grave doubts concerning long-term effects Egyptian control or absorption of Syria, to oppose substantial increase in Egyptian influence at this time, even if we thought our opposition might be effective. If for these or other reasons US does not intend to oppose, it would seem prudent, while not encouraging at least to appear relaxed and mildly sympathetic.

Since it is likely subject of Arab, i.e. Syro-Egyptian, unity may come up in early conversations with Bitar, I should appreciate receiving any comment Department may wish to make on above evaluation. My present inclination would be to reply to any query re US views on this subject by (1) paraphrasing sympathetic remarks Arab unity made [Page 405]by Ambassador Lodge in his October 25 UNGA speech,2 and (2) adding that on other hand we remain strongly opposed to efforts, direct or indirect, to force Arab or any other states to join groupings which they do not wish to join and which they might consider incompatible with their sovereignty and independence.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 674.83/1–1558. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Cairo.
  2. For text of this statement, see Department of State Bulletin, November 18, 1957, pp. 777–782.
  3. On January 17, the Department of State replied that its initial thinking closely paralleled the analysis presented here. (Telegram 1590 to Damascus; Department of State, Central Files, 674.83/1–558)