Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. George V. Allen of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs
Participants: Mr. Barclay, Second Secretary, British Embassy
Mr. Murray54
Mr. Alling55
Mr. Allen

Mr. R. E. Barclay, Second Secretary of the British Embassy, called this morning to present the hope of the British Government that the Government of the United States might extend formal recognition to Syria. He said that Lord Halifax56 had mentioned the matter to the Secretary last night.

Mr. Barclay said that the Embassy had received instructions from the British Government to point out that a recognition of Syrian independence by the United States would have a considerable stabilizing effect in the Near East and would strengthen the position of Great Britain and her allies throughout the Arab countries.

Mr. Murray suggested to Mr. Barclay that the recognition of Syrian independence by this Government presented a good many technical and political considerations which he thought would need clarification before action could be taken by this Government. In the first place, he pointed out that the rights pertaining to the United States and its Nationals in Syria were derived from a formal treaty between the United States and France signed in 1924, consent to the ratification of which was accorded by the United States Senate. Mr. Murray said that under American constitutional procedure these rights could not be given up by executive action alone, and that recognition of Syrian independence, unaccompanied by a new treaty making provision regarding those rights, might jeopardize these rights.

Mr. Murray pointed out that our position with regard to recognizing the independence of Syria was also different from that of Great Britain, since we still maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy. [Page 796] Mr. Barclay said that the Secretary had mentioned this phase of the subject to Lord Halifax.

Mr. Barclay was asked whether he had any further information regarding the exchange of letters which took place on August 7, 1941, between Mr. Lyttelton and General Catroux, in which Mr. Lyttelton stated on behalf of the British Government that when the independence of Syria and Lebanon has been granted “we freely admit that France should have the predominant position in Syria and Lebanon over any other European Power”. In replying to this letter, General de Gaulle took note of the British renewed assurances that Great Britain admitted as a basic principle the “preeminent and privileged” position of France when Syria and Lebanon shall have attained independence. Mr. Barclay said that he presumed this promise of a continuing preeminent position for France referred only to military matters, and would be similar to the position held by Great Britain in Iraq following the granting of independence to that country in 1932. Mr. Murray said that he was afraid that the Free French might have in mind a more extensively preeminent position, relating possibly to commercial, cultural and political privileges in addition to military privileges. Mr. Barclay agreed that the position to be held by France in Syria needed clarification, but pointed out that the preeminent position of Great Britain in Iraq following the independence of that country had extended only to the right to maintain troops there and did not include any commercial or other privileges. He said he felt certain that no more than military privileges were intended for France in Syria.

It was pointed out to Mr. Barclay that according to information we have received from Beirut, the Turkish Government has announced its decision not to recognize the independence of Syria, on the grounds that Turkey did not desire to recognize independence conferred by a belligerent government. Mr. Barclay said that he was not aware of this development and thought that his Government, in view of its treaty relations with Turkey, should look into the matter at once.

During the conversation, it was suggested to Mr. Barclay that his Government itself might derive some benefit by the adoption of a careful policy by the United States with regard to Syrian independence. It was suggested that Great Britain, because of the international situation at the moment, may have considered it necessary to make concessions to de Gaulle and did not feel in a position to demand a specific description of the special rights which France would enjoy following independence. The United States, however, was under no embarrassment in this respect, and the British might welcome insistence on our part that the continuing privileges of France in the area be clarified. At any rate, the American Government [Page 797] would doubtless require such clarification before taking action in the matter of recognizing Syrian independence under the present arrangements.

Mr. Barclay was asked whether his Government had indicated an appreciation of the effect which a recognition of the termination of the mandate in Syria might have on the Palestine situation. Mr. Barclay said that he felt certain his Government had this prominently in mind. He thought that while the Jews in Palestine might object to the British Government’s action in having agreed to the termination of the Syrian Mandate without having first adequately safeguarded the position of non-Arab peoples in the area, the Jewish displeasure would be offset by the very great pleasure with which all Arabs would welcome the independence of Syria. Mr. Alling pointed out that the Jewish question was one which the American Government wished to bear prominently in mind. Mr. Murray said that he was not certain the Arabs would be so enthusiastic about the so-called “independence” of Syria when they realized the full implications of the reservations made on behalf of France.

In leaving, Mr. Barclay said that he would report to his Government that the constitutional procedure with regard to the relinquishment of American treaty rights complicated the question of the recognition of Syrian independence by this country, and that the American Government would also doubtless desire further clarification of the position to be held by France after independence is granted.

  1. Wallace Murray, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  2. Paul H. Alling, Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. British Ambassador.