890D.01/600: Telegram

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

195. Developments since my 158, May 6, have been more satisfactory than I dared anticipate and may be summarized as follows:

Catroux and Spears have adopted more conciliatory attitude toward each other. Spears realizes that the personal equation is an important factor and Catroux no longer resents everything Spears says to him. Catroux told me yesterday that Spears had become “much more reasonable”.
Several promising steps have been taken toward a reconciliation between the Maronite Patriarch on the one hand and President Naccache and General Catroux on the other.
The most important tangible result has been the creation of the Wheat Office referred to in my 189, May 27, noon.20 Negotiations had [Page 597] been in progress for nearly 2 months and had several times reached a complete deadlock as it had been difficult to reconcile conflicting views of Spears, Catroux and the Syrian and Lebanese Governments. Highest authority will be committee of two consisting of Catroux and Spears with powers not only to ratify or modify the decisions of the Wheat Commission but also to act on its own. It is understood that if the present plan should fail, General Catroux will agree to have recourse to the British Army of Occupation and will delegate to the Commander in Chief the necessary powers to act.
As anticipated in the second paragraph of my telegram number 155, May 1, the proposals mentioned in the Department’s 57, April 28, were modified. Catroux tells me that when he was in Cairo recently he found Casey21 anxious to establish a friendlier tone in the relations between the British and the Free French in the Levant. To help matters along Catroux agreed to elections before the end of the year subject to approval by de Gaulle, although he was personally still convinced that no real popular demand for elections exists. I am inclined to agree with him.
In return for this concession Casey and Spears did not insist on numbered items 2 and 3 under b. As regards item 1 Casey admitted that Catroux had a right to issue decrees concerning “reserved subjects” but suggested that such legislation be limited to the strictly necessary. Catroux maintained he was justified in legislating on all subjects which interested both Syria and the Lebanon, especially on economic matters, as the two States had so far not been able to agree on formula for handling such questions jointly. Catroux has promised, however, to inform Spears in advance of any important decrees he proposed to issue.
The following procedure has provisionally been agreed upon in connection with the elections but Casey and Catroux are to meet again re details.
At Catroux’s request the announcement of elections will be [delayed] until about July 1, so as to make the interval between the announcement and the elections as short as possible.
Catroux will then issue a general preliminary statement announcing that the time had come for a return to a more constitutional or at least democratic regime. This statement will make it clear that it was being issued in full agreement with the British Government.
The statement will be followed immediately by an announcement by the Presidents of Syria and the Lebanon that elections would be held before the end of the year.
The above compromise has avoided the showdown which has been threatening for some time and which would have been very unpleasant for everybody concerned. If the present atmosphere can be [Page 598] maintained it should be helpful in the solution of future problems as well.

Repeated to London.

  1. Not printed. For General Catroux’s account of the establishment of the Wheat Office, see his Dans la Bataille de Méditerranée, pp. 268 ff.
  2. Richard G. Casey, British Minister of State Resident in the Middle East.