The Consul at Beirut (Steger) to the Secretary of State

No. 1025

Sir: I have the honor to refer to despatches Nos. 226120 and 2301, dated respectively October 26 and November 9, 1935, from the American Embassy at Paris, reporting the results of representations made to the French Foreign Office regarding the unilateral denial to American philanthropic and educational institutions in French Mandated territory of privileges previously assured by agreement between the American and French Governments.

From these two despatches it is noted that, although a note of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs under date of November 8th invites the American Embassy to enter into an exchange of views for the purpose of reaching a new agreement, an official of the Ministry has verbally suggested that the conversations be postponed pending further consideration of the situation by the French High Commissioner at Beirut, and discussions between him and the representatives of American missions in this country.

I now have the honor to enclose a memorandum of a conversation which I had yesterday with M. Kieffer, Chief of the Political Bureau of the High Commission. It will be seen that, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs duly transmitted to the French High Commissioner the suggestion that he initiate negotiations here, the latter has definitely declined to take any such action.

My opinions as to the general situation, based on local observations and frequent discussion with competent officials of the French High Commission, have been duly communicated to the Department in previous despatches. I now feel it incumbent upon me to express the opinion that the officials of the High Commission, and possibly also those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Paris, are deliberately evading the issue. They realize that their legal position is weak; however, the provisions of Arrêté No. 292/LR of December 20, 1934, constitute a fait accompli, and the High Commission has every interest in postponing, rather than in meeting, the issue.

It is my understanding that the Department takes the attitude that the provisions of Arrêté No. 292/LR, being in contravention of treaty rights, are inapplicable to American institutions, and that, pending the consent of the American Government to eventual modifications, the rights formerly enjoyed by these institutions continue [Page 473]to exist unimpaired. I am inclined to believe that if the Department should insist strongly upon practical recognition of this legal situation, the French Government would find in this insistence an incentive for altering its present policy of procrastination.

Respectfully yours,

Christian T. Steger

Memorandum by the Consul at Beirut (Steger)

I called this morning on M. Kieffer, Chief of the Political Bureau of the French High Commission, and inquired if the High Commission had received recommendations of the French Foreign Office to the effect that the High Commissioner initiate conversations with representatives of the American missions in this country, with a view to adjusting the differences which had arisen as a result of the application of the High Commissioner’s Decree No. 292/LR of December 20, 1934, limiting the customs privileges enjoyed by philanthropic and educational institutions.

M. Kieffer replied that the High Commissioner had received such recommendations from the Foreign Office, but had interpreted them to mean that the initiative for such conversations should come from the American interests concerned; and that he had recently replied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stating that no one had approached the High Commission on the subject.

I replied that his evaluation of the position appeared to be at variance with my own and with my understanding of the position of the American Government; that the position of the State Department was that an international agreement had been arbitrarily altered by the Mandatory authorities without the consent of the American Government, and that, until the consent of the American Government should have been obtained, the terms of the assurances previously given by the French Government must be considered as being still in force. Such being the case, I added, the French authorities, if they desired to effect a change in the legal situation could hardly expect that the American Government should take the initiative by proposing a reduction of privileges guaranteed to American institutions by the existing agreement. It was rather, I stated, the Mandatory authorities who should act with a view to ascertaining whether the Government of the United States were willing to recede from the position taken in my note of January 25, 1935.

From this point the conversation turned to the more general question of the right of the French High Commission to withdraw the privileges previously agreed upon between the two Governments. [Page 474]From M. Kieffer’s statements it appears that the chief, if not the only argument in legal justification of the stand of the High Commission is that advanced in paragraphs 6 to 9 of the High Commission’s note of May 8, 1935. (My comment on the argument will be found in paragraphs 8 and 9, page 3, of my despatch No. 887 of May 25, 1935.) M. Kieffer, while admitting that the French Foreign Office, in its note of March 10, 1931, accepted the contention of the American Government that the franchise granted to the institutions should be unlimited, now argues that the French Government, while bound under the terms of the Mandate to preserve privileges enjoyed by foreigners under the Ottoman régime, had no right to grant an extension of those privileges. According to this argument, the assurances given in 1931, being contrary to the terms and the spirit of the Mandate, must be considered as null and void.

Aside from this legal argument, the only justification advanced is that of expediency. In connection with this point, I merely repeated to M. Kieffer my previous statement that the American Government had expressed its willingness to give sympathetic consideration to the views of the Mandatory authorities, but that it still held to its standpoint that any modification of existing American rights must result from an agreement between the two parties rather than from unilateral action.

M. Kieffer then, reverting to my former statement that discussions of possible modifications should be initiated by the High Commission, promised to discuss the matter again with the French High Commissioner and to inform me of the results.

C. T. Steger

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