Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Foy D. Kohler of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs

Participants: Mr. Richard G. Casey, British Minister of State.
Mr. Murray.3
Mr. Alling.4
Mr. Kohler.

During his call at the Department today, Mr. Casey spoke of the Syrian situation along the lines of the attached copy of the memorandum5 he prepared on this matter after his recent visit to the Levant [Page 954] States. He said that Britain’s initial commitments to the Fighting French, in connection with turning over to them the administration of Syria and Lebanon, were unfortunately too broad. While the implementation of the independence of the Levant States could not, because of these commitments and because of war conditions, be undertaken along the whole front at the present time, he felt the British pledge of independence for these States given at the time of the invasion and British military interests made it imperative to secure promptly the specific reforms which he had proposed. He said London backed him up in this and that he intended to tackle these problems “hammer and tongs” upon his return to Cairo.

As regards “free elections” he said the Fighting French had agreed to this for the near future, probably to take place in March, and that he proposed to see that they lived up to their word.
As regards reform of the Intérêts Communs he explained that the Fighting French had held onto the collection and administration of the indirect taxes (customs, monopolies, et cetera). When the local governments had insisted these revenues should be turned over to them, Catroux6 had indicated he would do so if they worked out a plan, anticipating they would never agree on the distribution. To his surprise they promptly got together and presented a scheme providing for immediate distribution of forty percent of the total to each state, the balance of twenty percent remaining to be divided by arbitrators. Catroux had thereupon started stalling and was continuing to do so.
Mr. Casey said the Gardes Mobiles and French Special Service officers were … a menace to any orderly regime. He thought it urgent that the former be abolished and the latter shorn of the powers which make them local despots and altered simply to Intelligence officers.
Finally, as regards increased British participation in censorship and security matters, Mr. Casey said this was regarded as a necessity in view of British responsibility for the military defense of the area and of the unsatisfactory manner in which the French had handled it by themselves to date.

Mr. Casey said that while the last two projects were solely British responsibility, he very much hoped to have American support on the first three, and was sure that he could count on it in view of our sympathetic attitude toward the implementation of the independence of these States. Mr. Murray replied that he could, adding that he [Page 955] would find Mr. Wadsworth7 both well-informed and cooperative. Mr. Casey said he knew this was so.

Mr. Murray raised the question of the British recognition of a “predominant and privileged” position for France in the Levant States. Mr. Casey quickly injected that the phrase “among European nations” had been added to the statement. Mr. Murray continued that he realized this, but that this Government’s policy contemplated equality of opportunity for all rather than recognition of a special privileged position for any country, including the mandatory power, in any of the mandated States. In practice, he thought, our stand would lead to an equal position for all powers in the Levant States, since we would insist on equal rights with those which might be granted to France and other powers, including the British, would no doubt insist on equal treatment with us. Mr. Casey agreed with this view.

  1. Wallace Murray, Adviser on Political Relations.
  2. Paul H. Alling, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Gen. Georges Catroux, Free French Delegate General and Plenipotentiary in Syria and Lebanon, and Commanding General, French Forces in the Levant.
  5. George Wadsworth, Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Beirut and Damascus.