890D.01/614: Telegram

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

246. I beg to request elucidation of various declarations made by Department, particularly of those given in Radio Bulletin 161, July 9,22 concerning relations between United States and Free France as applied to these territories under mandate. This I should like to have if possible for my guidance in dealing with Free French, Lebanese and Syrian officials as well as with British civil and military authorities.

Do declarations mean we will continue to deal with Free French officials here or less to exclusion of others. I ask this question as Lebanese and Syrian officials are most anxious to have [us?] recognize their “independence” and are persistently attempting to get into contact with this office on official matters without going through Delegation General of Free France, while French maintain they alone are qualified to deal with foreign officials until such time as authority to do so shall have been transferred to local governments.

Syrian and Lebanese officials are being urged by British Minister Spears to press their claim for independence and ignore so far as possible Free French. In public pronouncements he appears to take independence of two countries seriously but in private conversation he laughs at the idea. I feel convinced his object is to take advantage of present feeble condition of French to eject them from these territories with view to having English take their place, as real independence for Levant States is out of question. His actions have convinced General Catroux that such is his design.

These actions are many and characteristic. He has built up a “Spears Mission” with a personnel so numerous that a British substitute could easily be found on the spot for each French official displaced and he has a British “political officer” in every locality of importance in these territories. He has forced himself into a position of equality with Catroux in the all important Wheat Office (see telegrams 189, May 2723 and 195, May 30, and despatch 418, July 324) [Page 599] by threatening to withdraw British credits from Free French; which might be interpreted as an opening wedge toward a condominium. He had made determined attempt to have railway now being built by British Army from Nakoura to Tripoli24a recognized as British property and to have land which is being expropriated for that purpose registered in name of the British Government. He is behind move to have elections held in near future though there is no popular demand for them and the time seems most inappropriate. He has been urging Syrian Government to insist on services of Surete Generate being turned over to it, that is, control of movements of persons into, within and out of Syria, in spite of fact that it is generally admitted that vast majority of Syrians and Syrian officials are strongly pro-Axis in their sympathies. This was done without knowledge of General Wilson.25

Most of these actions are recent and have done nothing to improve relations between Spears and Catroux to which reference has been made in a number of telegrams, and the “showdown” to which reference is made in the last paragraph of number 195 of May 30, 10 a.m. may have to take place soon.

These actions of the British Minister do not appear to be at all in consonance with the repeated declarations of responsible officials in London concerning their war aims and their relations to France and particularly to the Free French. They must be motivated by a personal policy or be in accordance with views not publicly stated. This unavowed policy might subsequently be approved by London if it proved successful. …

Spears has overplayed his hand as far as the Lebanon is concerned. President Naccache who is a quiet man expressed himself to me recently as concerns Spears with the utmost violence saying he would refuse to have anything further to do with him unless he ceased his continuous intriguing and dictating. There have been a number of manifestations recently indicating that the Lebanese mean to make quite clear that their friendship for France remains fundamentally unaltered. This will be the subject of a despatch.

What the reaction in Syria has been I have as yet had no opportunity to determine. It is certain that the French are not liked there. It is probable that the Syrians, as Arabs, dislike the English more than the French.

General Wilson in a conversation on July 8 indicated that he has no sympathy with Spears. He considers that all the bad blood and confusion resulting from his actions are most dangerous from the point of view of the security of the territory. He spoke in the highest terms of Catroux.

[Page 600]

Under these conditions it would appear to me most inexcusable that the United States go beyond its statement of November 29, 194126 as concerns the independence of Syria and the Lebanon (please see my 227 June 25, 10 a.m.27) and thus become implicated in a policy the objects of which are not clear or avowed. However the Department’s telegram 72 [78] of June 2, 9 a.m. [p.m.]28 indicates that further action is contemplated. If that is the case I should appreciate being advised so as to be able to adapt my actions as closely as possible to the Department’s views.

I think our position will not suffer but will ultimately gain by our being extremely reserved in our declarations as concern this part of the world until the present extremely confused situation shall have been somewhat clarified.

  1. See Department of State Bulletin, July 11, 1942, p. 613. For further correspondence on relations of the United States with the Free French Forces, see vol. ii, pp. 502 ff.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Despatch No. 418 not printed.
  4. In Lebanon.
  5. Gen. Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Commanding British Ninth Army.
  6. Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, p. 807.
  7. Post, p. 649.
  8. Post, p. 647.