The French Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the American Embassy in France22
By note No. 1790, dated March 2 last,23 relative to the customs privileges of American educational and philanthropic institutions in Syria and Lebanon, the Embassy of the United States of America was good enough to inform the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that the Government of the United States, apprised of the Départment’s note dated November 8, 1935, continued to hold the view that the privileges of these establishments could not be unilaterally withdrawn or modified, and that any proposal tending to this end should be initiated by the French Government.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has the honor to advise the Embassy of the United States of America that the question thus propounded has had its closest attention. The Ministry, nevertheless, in the absence of more precise details relative to the point of view of the Government of the United States, is not in a position to determine the nature of the proposals which that Government would like to have laid before it.[Page 477]
The object of the above-mentioned note of November 8, 1935, was to bring about, through informal conversations, an examination of the disputed subject. The discussions which took place between a representative of the Embassy and the Services du Départment resulted solely in establishing the fact that neither the Embassy nor the Départment had sufficient basic information to evaluate the practical importance of the modifications made in the regime which, before December 20, 1934, the American institutions enjoyed. The suggestion was then made to leave to local representatives of these institutions the task of presenting their point of view to the High Commissariat, the necessary study to be made on the spot.
The Embassy’s note No. 1790 of March 2 last brings the question back to its starting point.
Such being the situation, the Ministry believes it should indicate as follows the position of the French Government.
Either the objection of the Government of the United States to the decree of December 20, 1934, has to do with the procedure followed in this case by the Mandatory Authority, in which event the French Government is entirely disposed to give to the regime established by this decision a contractual character by means of a Franco-American accord covering the application of this regime to American institutions.
Or the reservations of the Government of the United States have to do with the nature of this regime, and under this second supposition the French Government would not be prepared to submit any proposal whatsoever unless these reserves were precisely stated.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is constrained to add that any modifications of importance made to the advantage of American institutions only in the regime instituted on December 20, 1934, would present the most serious difficulties. The customs privileges granted to foreign institutions have in fact become a question of public opinion in the States of the Levant under French mandate. The Mandatory Authority, anxious to maintain for these institutions the facilities which they need, but at the same time desirous of protecting them from being reproached for benefiting from excessive privileges, to the detriment of public finances, has considered it necessary to codify these privileges, taking into account the practical needs of the establishments involved. It is a question, in short, of a consolidation destined to guarantee for the future the maintenance of these privileges which the local powers, in the absence of precise regulations, would not fail to call in question again. This end can only be attained, however, if the same regulations apply without distinction to Lebanese and to all foreign establishments.[Page 478]
The regime instituted on December 20, 1934, has been minutely studied by the competent services, and the French institutions, very numerous and extremely important in the Levant, declare that for their part they are satisfied.
The Italian Government, with regard to which the Mandatory Power undertook, by the terms of Article 7 of the Accord of September 29, 1923, particular pledges, referred to in the letter addressed by M. Poincaré to Mr. Myron T. Herrick, on April 4, 1924,24 has limited itself, in so far as it is concerned, to formulating reserves of principle, has declared that it appreciates the reasons of political expediency which determined the decision of December 20, 1934 and has not insisted that a special regime be maintained for it.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs hopes that the Government of the United States of America, taking into consideration the circumstances above described, will be satisfied in seeing its institutions enjoy, under the new regime, the same treatment as that accorded the Italian institutions which the above referred to letter of my predecessor described.