The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier (Blake) to the Secretary of State

No. 76

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that under date of February 24th, 1926, I received from the Consul-General of Belgium (President by rotation for the current year of the International Commission of Cape Spartel Lighthouse) a circular stating that, at a meeting of the Commission to be held, on March 2nd, 1926, a communication received from the Mendoub, or Sultan’s Representative at Tangier, would be brought up for discussion. A copy of this communication was attached to the circular in question, and reads, in translation as follows:—

Mendoub to Consul-General of Belgium, President of the International Commission of the Lighthouse at Cape Spartel.

The Shereefian Government, proprietor of the Lighthouse, intends to proceed immediately with the modernization thereof, and which is incumbent upon the said Government. It will entrust the Shereefian Services of Public Works with the direction of the works preconized by Mr. de Rouville. The Service of an improved Lighthouse demanding a select personnel and constant technical control of specialist engineers, the Shereefian Government proposes to the Commission that the service of upkeep and superintendence of the Lighthouse, when modernized, should be confided directly to the State Engineer for the Zone of Tangier. This functionary would present his reports and all explanations which would be required of him, both to the International Commission and to the Shereefian Government, he would be dependent upon the latter so far as concerns the repairs and future improvements of the Lighthouse, and the technical advice of the Shereefian Services of Public Works would always be assured to him.

Tangier, February 22nd, 1926

(Signed) Mohammed Bou Achrine.

[Page 744]

It appeared to me that this proposition was in direct conflict with the terms of Article IV of the International Convention of 1865,21 inasmuch as it contemplates the transfer from the Representatives of the Powers in Tangier, to the exclusive direction of the Shereefian Government, of the functions which have been exercised by the former under the International Convention above referred to. The procedure followed, in accordance with the terms of the Convention, on the last occasion when improvements to the Spartel Light were discussed, will be found in my despatch No. 442 of May 7th, 1914,22

Under the circumstances, I made, upon the circular convoking the meeting of the Lighthouse Commission, the following annotation:—

“Without specific instructions from my Government I am unable to assist at a meeting of the Commission, at which the discussion would appear to bear upon questions conflicting with the provisions of an International Convention subscribed to by the United States in 1865.”

The measures proposed by Mr. de Rouville, Engineer in Chief of the Central Services of Lighthouse and Buoys, of the French Government, are set forth in a communication, dated Paris 29th, May 1925, addressed by him to the President of the International Commission of Cape Spartel.

A copy of this communication is herewith enclosed for the Department’s information.22 Owing to the highly technical description of the modifications recommended, no translation is submitted with the present despatch, which is concerned particularly with the political question raised, by the procedure proposed for carrying out the modifications, and the derogation, involved thereby, to the authority of the International Commission of Cape Spartel Lighthouse.

It will be evident from Mr. de Rouville’s letter that his recommendations were solicited in an entirely informal way, were so presented and could not be considered to have any binding or authoritative effect upon the International Commission of Cape Spartel Lighthouse, composed of the Representatives of the Powers in Tangier.

Furthermore some criticism of these recommendations and other suggestions for the Modernization of the Cape Spartel Light were subsequently presented by other Governments, but no opportunity has been taken, as yet, to coordinate and define the various proposals to be ultimately submitted to the various Governments which are parties to the Convention.

Under these circumstances the decision of the Shereefian Government, as announced by the Sultan’s Representative, in the communication to the President of the International Commission, as above quoted in translation, possesses a disturbing political element. It clearly [Page 745] contemplates a violation of the Convention of 1865, and should this action of the Maghzen, inspired by its French advisors, encounter resistance on the part of the other powers, it is doubtless the intention of the French Government to determine the denouncement, by the Sultan, of the Cape Spartel Convention.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In 1923, at a conference in Paris between France, Great Britain and Spain, the two latter powers capitulated on the point of the sovereignty of the Sultan in the Tangier Zone, and in view of their long and persistent opposition to the French pretensions in this regard, there cannot have existed, on the part of Great Britain or of Spain, at that time, any illusions as to the mystery of the French motives.

Since the Tangier convention has been brought into application, France has lost no opportunity to assert, to enforce and to extend, every vestige of power or authority accorded to her vicariously in the name of the Sultan’s delegate.

The collective authority which the representatives of the Powers in Tangier derive from the Cape Spartel Convention of 1865, is the only effective international control which has hitherto survived impairment by the French process of attrition upon international conventions in Morocco, but it is significant in this connection to observe that Article 53 of the Tangier Agreement of 192323 provides as follows:—

Article 53. The Contracting Governments recognize that the Shereefian Government retains its property rights in the Cape Spartel Lighthouse, the Convention of March 31st, 1865 remaining provisionally in force.

On page 13 of my despatch No. 54 dated January 28th, 1926 (Moroccan events in perspective; Incidents, Episodes and Actualities)24 I signalized as one of the elements of French policy in Morocco, Lyautey’s manoevres for the mastery of Tangier, in order that France, as a great power, might take her seat at the entrance of the Mediterranean, in preparation for the future.

The elimination—in time of war—of all control but that of France over the Lighthouse at Cape Spartel, on the Straits of Gibraltar, will constitute no unimportant step towards the achievement of French aims in this direction.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On the other hand, and to conclude, the Department may deem that although I may not have completely misread political symptoms, [Page 746] I may be inclined slightly to exaggerate the consequences of the situation. While realizing that there is a deliberate design to serve a particular political aim, the Department may not apprehend that damage to our maritime interests will necessarily be involved therein, as a result of any disparities. I would in this case most respectfully request telegraphic instructions to this effect, in order that I may alter the attitude, which I have hitherto assumed, of declining to attend any meeting of the International Commission, in which the question of the Mendoub’s letter might arise. My position, on this point is based upon the fact that the Commission is not empowered to discuss or consider in the conduct of its business, propositions which assume the assertion by the Maghzen of rights in conflict with the terms of an International Convention which has not yet been denounced.

It is my opinion, and I desire to make this plain, that a weak and subservient acquiescence on the part of the Commission, by permitting this question to be put before it at a formal meeting would constitute a first step in the surrender of the principle involved, and would facilitate the demolition of the Convention by the irregular means which the French Government is attempting to adopt in the premises, under the political symbol of the Sultan.

I have [etc.]

Maxwell Blake

Post Scriptum. (March 12th). On the day following the drafting and signature of this Despatch, I received a circular, from the President of the Cape Spartel Lighthouse Commission convoking, without any reference to the Agenda, a meeting of the commission for March 16th, and on this circular, I inscribed the following annotation:—

“I refer to my annotation on the circular of February 23rd, and I desire to know the agenda for the meeting of the 16th instant. I have not yet received from my Government any instructions which would permit me to assist at a meeting of the Commission at which the letter of the Mendoub would be, even incidentally or indirectly, introduced into the discussions.”

A few hours later the President of the Commission visited me, and having read my annotation, gave his verbal assurances that the Mendoub’s letter would neither be mentioned, referred to nor made the subject even of unfinished business. He next asked what were my suggestions as to its disposition and I replied that I considered it to be his duty, as President of the Commission, to circulate this letter and to invite the members of the Commission to indicate the nature of the reply which should be made to the Mendoub. The President agreed to do so. The situation will be defined and clarified by this procedure, if it is not deviated from. …

  1. Malloy, Treaties, 1776–1909, vol. i, p. 1217.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For text of agreement, see Great Britain, Cmd. 2096, Morocco No. 1 (1924); also League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxviii, p. 541.
  5. Not printed.