Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/22½


Notes of a Meeting Held at Mr. Lloyd George’s Residence, 23 Rue Nitot, Paris, on Thursday, May 22, 1919, at 11 a.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
      • The Rt. Hon. Viscount Milner, G. C. B.
      • General Sir H. H. Wilson, G. C. B.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau
      • M. Tardieu
      • M. Berthelot
      • Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. Secretary
      • Prof. P. J. Mantoux Interpreter

1. With reference to C. F. 20.A., Minute 4:—1

Spheres of Military Occupation in Syria M. Clemenceau said he would confine himself to questions of fact. As had been said yesterday, the Sykes-Picot Agreement detailed Spheres of spheres in Syria, both of sovereignty and of influence. When he had gone to London, he wanted to settle the question once for all. There had been a good deal of friction which he wanted to get rid of. Mr. Lloyd George then said he wanted Mosul. He replied that he would do his best, but that he must consult the Quai d’Orsay. He had promised, however, to defend Mr. Lloyd George’s case, and he had done so. He only heard on this very morning of the negotiations between M. Bérenger2 and some British petroleum people, for laying a pipeline to the coast. He knew nothing of the details of this arrangement. It was not a proposal for a railway, however, and it was not that to which he had alluded yesterday. It was only a matter of laying a pipe-line to get petroleum to Tripoli, in the interests of those who wanted to buy and those who wanted to sell. He was not very much interested in this matter, as Mr. Lloyd George had erroneously assumed on the previous day.

He must recall at this point that Mr. Lloyd George had also spoken to him in London of Palestine, which, according to the Treaty of [Page 808] London was to be subjected to some kind of international rule. Mr. Lloyd George had asked for British rule, with arrangements for the sanctity of the Holy Places. He had replied that he had no objection, provided the sacred spots were protected. In London, however, the conversation had been about Mosul, and Palestine. Before these conversations had been finally concluded, he had been shown a map, which was now in front of him. He recalled that the Sykes-Picot agreement had provided for an enclave at Haifa, where would be the terminus of a British railway to Mesopotamia, but he understood that the idea of that railway was that it should go mainly through the British zones, although he thought some arrangement had been made for part of it to go through the French zone. Consequently, he had been very surprised on the previous day to see the map now before him. He did not dispute the fact that the map left Mosul, Palestine, and Cilicia out of the French zone, but what had surprised him was to find the line across the desert had been moved northwards for a considerable distance. In fact, the new line he saw on this map was the line on the map Lord Milner had shown him, and which Mr. Lloyd George had professed at the time not to know anything about. After all that he had previously given up, this new concession was asked for. What was the reason? In order that the British might construct a railway. He could understand Great Britain wanting a railway through a more fertile tract, and to meet this desire he had no objection to their railway passing through French territory. He was, however, not ready to consider the present proposal, which would divide in two Jebel Druse (General Wilson commented: the Hauran), and take it from Syria. This he could not admit. Although today the only question under discussion was the limits of occupation, he must register a protest against this line.

He did not wish to raise any question of pride or amour propre between Great Britain and France. He had only raised this question because he had been asked to send French Commissioners. As soon as the question of the substitution of French for British troops was arranged, he would be ready to send the Commissioners.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether M. Clemenceau now claimed the whole of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, or was it only invoked when it was desired to obtain something from Great Britain? The territory in dispute was, under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, not allotted to France, but was entirely Arab. The same applied to Damascus, Aleppo, and Horns, which were to be entirely Arab. Under the Sykes-Picot Agreement they were not included in Syria, and France was only to have the littoral. If that arrangement was to stand, he would be glad to know. He thought it was agreed that the Sykes-Picot Agreement had been a bad one. He wanted to know whether [Page 809] it existed or not. If it exists, France has no right to hoist a flag or to put a soldier in the Arab zone; they had only the right to provide advisors. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was based on an understanding that the Turks were to be overthrown, in which case there was to be a certain division of responsibility. It was, however, based on the supposition of a joint effort. It was never supposed that one Power was to do the whole thing. He had repeatedly raised the question of operations to defeat Turkey. Lord Milner had been present with him on the first occasion when he had raised it. There had been a conference at Boulogne. Still earlier, Lord Kitchener had wanted to land troops at Alexandretta but the French had opposed it. The French had been in the position of not going there themselves and not letting us go. Yet, the best direction of attack was from the north. Great Britain had incurred white casualties of some 125,000 men in the Turkish campaign. If Syria had been attacked from Alexandretta, it would have been a ripe pear ready to be plucked. If the agreement was to be invoked, it was a pity this had not been done in the earlier stages. At that time, France had not been so keen about it. M. Clemenceau had then said that he did not care about Syria. (M. Clemenceau demurred to this. Of course he cared about it, but he had not seen any economic advantage in it.) General Robertson4 had shared M. Clemenceau’s opposition to the Turkish campaign and had been supported in his opposition by M. Clemenceau. General Wilson, however, had taken a different view, as had the Military Representatives at Versailles. Eventually, the decision to attack Turkey had been carried, but the British had had to undertake the operation practically by themselves. If the Sykes-Picot agreement was to be claimed in the letter, he would say, first, that the portion now in dispute was Arab and not French under that agreement, and, secondly, that it ought to have been claimed when it involved some effort. We were not claiming the whole of this territory, because we have conquered it. We were only saying that we were entitled to explain why we desired certain re-adjustments. It was no use for France to claim that she had not been able to fight in Syria because she had been fighting so hard in France. As a matter of fact, at the time when these decisions had been taken and at the time when the principal fighting in Turkey occurred, the British were also doing the bulk of the fighting in France. Their casualties at that time had been 50 per cent, higher than the French. General Petain,5 no doubt for reasons he considered sufficient, would not participate in the big attacks. Why did we now want this re-adjustment? Of the pipe line, he knew nothing and was very annoyed [Page 810] when he first learned of it. There seemed to have been some negotiation between the people in Paris interested in oil and those in London. Consequently, at the moment when M. Clemenceau had said that he did not like the arrangement (M. Clemenceau interjected that he had referred to something quite different), he had cancelled it. He did not want to be mixed up with oil trusts in London or America or Paris, as he was afraid it would vitiate the whole business. Consequently, on the previous afternoon, he had written to M. Clemenceau to cancel the whole of these oil negotiations. Mr. Walter Long6 appeared to have initiated these negotiations, but he had never spoken to Mr. Lloyd George about them. When it was put as a sort of breach of faith, he thought it was time to put an end to these negotiations.

Once Mogul had been conceded to the British, the upper line shown on the map was the only possible line. It was the question of a rectification of a line through what was practically a desert, although it contained oases. It was purely a question of which line was to be adopted. He pointed out that the French line was not direct. It was curved out towards Mosul and drawn so as to prevent the British from having the oasis of Tadmor. This would put the British railway entirely at the mercy of the French oil interests. All that was asked was that the line should go direct and give us Tadmor. He did not wish to be at the mercy of oil interests, whether they were British or French. Unless the map he had presented was agreed to, he would have to await the report of the Commission before withdrawing the British troops. If they reported that the British were not wanted there, then the British would have no right to stay, neither would the French if the report was against them.

M. Clemenceau said he must deal with two or three of Mr. Lloyd George’s arguments. First, there was the question as to whether the Sykes-Picot agreement held. He claimed that it did, of course. Mr. Lloyd George had not questioned it in London. He had declared that this was the Treaty to which he intended to remain faithful and that the word of the British Government was engaged. A Treaty was a Treaty and could not be departed from, but he declared on his honour that Mr. Lloyd George had said repeatedly he would remain faithful to it, so he, himself, adhered to it.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether this included Damascus?

M. Clemenceau said of course when he gave Mosul he realised he would share in Damascus and Aleppo on corresponding terms. Of course, he recognised that Damascus was Arab. He had two things to say. When he had agreed that Mosul should be included in the British zone, Mr. Lloyd George had never told him that it [Page 811] involved this considerable alteration in the line. He would never have agreed to give up Mosul if he had realised this. And, secondly, at no time was it understood that, as a consequence of the Sykes-Picot agreement, France would have to interfere in Turkey, With the Germans at Chateau-Thierry, he had not regarded Turkey as very important. Mr. Lloyd George claimed that the British had lost more men than the French in 1917. That was a matter that could be established by figures. Anyhow, he was not the man to question the war action of the British Army. He knew what they had done and nothing would induce him to say anything against them. But there was no relation between that and what had been conquered here by the British with the help of French troops.

Mr. Lloyd George said the help had been negligible. Perhaps 2,000 men out of 200,000—1 per cent.

M. Clemenceau, continuing, said that, at any rate, the French flag had been there. If he had resisted Mr. Lloyd George’s proposals at Versailles, it had been because he thought that if the white forces had been used on the French front, the war would have ended much sooner. That was all he had to say on this subject. If he had not agreed to cede Mosul in London, the present controversy would never have arisen. How far, he asked, did it affect the military occupation? The British were in occupation and consequently it was for them to decide and for him to draw the conclusions. He was not willing, however, to accept the line now proposed. Mr. Lloyd George said: “Now I shall send my commissioners, but I shall not withdraw the troops.” If Mr. Lloyd George took this attitude, he, himself, would do no more. He thought that Mr. Lloyd George was wrong, but he would take very great care not to push matters so far as to make trouble between the Entente. As for himself, he would say plainly that he would no longer associate in connection with the British in this part of the world, because the harm done to his country was too great. As regards the petroleum question, he knew nothing and did not care any more for it than Mr. Lloyd George did. It was only today that he had heard that M. Bérenger had gone to London. This was all he had to say. It was for Great Britain to decide as to the withdrawal of her troops and to take the responsibility.

President Wilson enquired as to what part he was asked to play in this affair. He, himself, had never been able to see by what right France and Great Britain gave this country away to anyone.

Mr. Lloyd George said he was quite willing to abide by the decision of the inhabitants as interpreted by the Commission.

President Wilson said that that was necessarily his own point of view. He had no other means on which to form judgment. He did [Page 812] not think that these peoples could be left entirely to themselves. They required guidance and some intimate superintendence, but this should be conducted in their interests and not in the interests of the mandatory.

Mr. Lloyd George said he could not send Commissioners if the French would not send any, but the American Commissioners could go alone.

President Wilson said that his Commissioners were absolutely disinterested. One of them was Mr. Charles R. Craig [Crane], a very experienced and cosmopolitan man. He proposed that the question should now be adjourned for further consideration.

Mr. Lloyd George said that the question must not be considered by itself. It must be treated together with the Italian question. He understood that the French Colonial Office was not willing to make any concessions to Italy in Africa. The British Colonial Office was prepared to surrender a considerable tract of territory. Lord Milner said that the Italians asked for 60,000 square miles and we were willing to give up 40,000 square miles. It had also been proposed that we should give up Cyprus, although that was not in any bargain or treaty. The Cameroons had been captured half by us and half by the French, but the whole of the naval part of the campaign had been undertaken by the British. Yet, we were conceding nearly the whole of the Cameroons to France. In Togoland, the British had conquered the better half of the country, and yet we were giving up almost the whole to France. This ought to be taken into account in considering the Syrian question.

President Wilson said that his attitude towards Italy was that she could take a mandate over any territory where the inhabitants asked for her.

General Wilson asked if General Allenby7 would remain in command in Syria, and whether he was authorised to refuse to allow French troops to be sent in. The French kept wanting to send regiments into Syria and General Allenby said that this would give trouble if it was done before an agreement was reached.

Mr. Lloyd George said that General Allenby was in command and was responsible for order and must have a free hand in the matter until a settlement had been reached.

President Wilson said that he hoped a settlement might be reached soon. The door was certainly not locked to one.

(The subject was adjourned.)

Villa Majestic, Paris, 22 May, 1919.

  1. Ante, p. 756.
  2. Victor Henry Bérenger. French General Commissioner for Petroleum, 1917–1920.
  3. Gen. Sir William Robertson, British Chief of the Imperial General Staff; 1915–18.
  4. Henri Philippe Petain, Commander in Chief of the French Armies.
  5. British Secretary of State for the Colonies to January 1919; First Lord of the Admiralty from January 1919.
  6. Field Marshal Sir Edmund Allenby, Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, 1917–19.