890E.01/101: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut ( Engert ) to the Secretary of State

449. My 443, November 9. I have just been shown in strict confidence a note dated yesterday which General Catroux is sending to Lyttelton today rejecting two principal British suggestions regarding the proclamation. Incidentally the British observations have been made verbally not in writing.

Foreign Office had suggested that reference to the treaty of 1936 be omitted because the Lebanese did not like it and it had never even been ratified by France. Catroux presumably under instructions from de Gaulle states that reference to the treaty is necessary because it satisfies Free France and cannot harm British interests. It confirms “the preeminent and privileged position of France in the Levant, a position which no nation has challenged and which the British Government has recognized as existing and as continuing after the granting of independence.” He then explains that France needs the right to station troops in the country for the protection of Christians and other minorities in Syria and the Lebanon concerning whose fate “America and Great Britain have repeatedly expressed interest.…60 inasmuch as it is inconceivable that Great Britain should wish to question either France’s privileged position in the Lebanon or her role as protector of the Christians” there could be no objection to taking the 1936 treaty as a basis.
The Foreign Office had objected to the statement that the Lebanon constituted “a politically and territorially indivisible entity whose integrity must be protected against all encroachments.” It feared lest an irrevocable fixing of boundaries cause dissatisfaction in Syria and disturb the relations between Great Britain and the Arab world. Catroux replied that Syrians had been aware of his intention since September 27, 1941, and not a single protest had been received directly or indirectly. A compact Lebanon was necessary for the interests of France and useful to Britain and other western powers as a bridgehead vis-à-vis the independent Mohammedan countries. Moreover, the principle of Lebanese unity was recognized by the mandate which refers to the frontiers established in 1920 “and the Franco-American Convention of April 4, 1924, extended to the Lebanon thus defined the guaranty of the United States.” Syria formally accepted this state of affairs in 1936 and renounced all claims regarding the frontiers of the Lebanon. Furthermore, all difficulties between Syria and the [apparent omission] must be settled “through the medium of France to the exclusion of any other power.” He, therefore, considered the discussion as closed and there was no point in reopening it.

From conversations with General Spears I gather that the British feel several other passages besides those mentioned show a distinct inclination on the part of Free French to perpetuate a tutelary relationship [Page 801] which might even during the war confine Lebanese collaboration to Free France to the exclusion of Great Britain, the other Allies or the United States. I agree that all unnecessary limitation of Lebanese independence merely to serve French vanity is undesirable and will not only be criticized locally but will be used by Nazi propaganda.

The Department may wish to make some observations regarding the reference to our treaty of 1924 quoted above.

Repeated to London. To Cairo by mail.

  1. Omission indicated in the original telegram.