His president might never have said such a thing, judging from the way Syria's Ambassador Sabah Kabbani was greeting some of his American guests. Ever the consummate diplomat, he had kisses for some, hugs for others, firm handshakes for others still.

Only a month ago Syria's President Hafez Assad had branded the United States as Syria's "number one enemy." Last night, responding the way they do to such things in this curious world of diplomacy, an officail U.S. presence was hardly, if at all, discernible.

Unofficially, it was something else. More than 500 invited guests, many of them foreign diplomats but many of them also American business types, streamed into the Washington Hilton's International Ballroom East to help celebrate the 36th anniversary of the withdrawal of French troops from Syria.

"This national day is related to an evacuation of foreign troops from an Arab land," said the ambassador, pointedly putting the historical event into a more modern context. "So always we are looking forward to the evacuation of more Arab land from foreign occupation, especially the Arab land under the Israeli occupation."

Nothing strident about it, because Kabbani, a poet, artist and photographer, is not that kind of diplomat. But he is quietly persistent in responding to questions between the arrivals of guests.

Prospects of war betwen Syria and Israel?

"We are at war, there's nothing new," said Kabbani, a sardonic note detectable in his voice. "This is what Mr. Begin is doing -- he is creating tensions in the area and with Mr. Sadat he is always putting obstacles to this peace process."

That is why, Kabbani continued, the meetings this week between Begin and President Carter "didn't achieve anything."

There were interruptions for the ambassadors of Bangladesh, Kuwait, Somalia, Oman, Algeria, Lebanon, Austria, Saudi Arabia; the charges d'affaires of Tunisia, Afghanistan and India. The Soviet Union's Anatoily Dobrynin arrived and all around, guests were reminded of that strengthening alliance as the one with the United States grows weaker.

"The Syrians are loners," said one guest, recounting mounting internal unrest in Syria where assinations, strikes, demonstrations and continuing disorder raise questions about Assad's survivability. Sadat has given him until the end of the year.

"Ah, but Sadat is engaging in rhetoric," said an American. "The Syrians have been mean to him and he is being mean to them."

"I wonder," mused Kabbani, "if Mr. Sadat is doing some astrology now."

And then, "who doesn't have problems? I believe that the problems we have now in Syria are the result of our opposition to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt."

Nearby stood Karma Kabbani, Sabath and Maha Kabbani's 17-year-old daughter, making a rare appearance at an embassy function.

"Oh, yes," said the National Cathedral School senior, I'm probably more nationalistic after living here all these [six] years than had I been home in Syria. Sometimes I take stands and I'm alone. Like in government class when I support the PLO."