The Secretary of State to the Chargé in France (Armour)

No. 2994

Sir: The Department refers to its instruction No. 1648 of August 6, 1925,47 to which it appears that no reply has been received from the Embassy, and to previous correspondence regarding the customs franchise extended to American religious and philanthropic institutions in Syria and the Lebanon, and in this connection transmits a copy of despatch No. 2763 dated September 25, 1928, together with copies of its enclosures, from the Consulate General at Beirut.48

From these various enclosures it will be noted that the French Authorities in Syria recently submitted to the Consul General the draft of a new ordinance regulating the entire question of customs immunity for philanthropic institutions and their personnel. Apparently the proposed ordinance did not change in principle the former regulations [Page 269] concerning importations by these institutions but it did provide for a limited customs immunity for the personnel, who, though entitled to such immunity under the terms of M. Poincaré’s note to the Embassy of November 2, 1923,49 have never received it in practice. After consultation with the heads of the American institutions affected the Consul General submitted a counter plan which apparently was acceptable to the Mandatory Authorities provided the Italian Government was also agreeable. It is understood that Mr. Knabenshue, the Consul General at Beirut, discussed this entire question with a member of the Embassy staff at the time of his recent passage through France.

In the opinion of the Department the plan suggested has much to commend it, chiefly because it would tend to regularize the situation in respect to the customs immunities enjoyed by American institutions in Syria and at the same time would remove a source of irritation.

It is therefore desired that you seek an early occasion to discuss this matter with the French Foreign Office; at that time you may intimate that this Government would be willing to consider the acceptance of a plan similar to that suggested by Mr. Knabenshue, provided that the Italian Government is also agreeable. The necessary steps to bring this matter to the attention of the Italian Government are naturally to be taken by the French Foreign Office.

You will of course inform the Department promptly of the result of your interview; at the same time it is desired that a report be made as to what, if any, action was taken by the Foreign Office as a result of the representations made by the Embassy in accordance with the Department’s instruction No. 1648 of August 6, 1925.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Nelson Trusler Johnson