890D.00/944: Telegram

The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Beirut ( Wadsworth ) to the Secretary of State

103. Reference my 94, March 3, 8 p.m.12 Recapitulations follow of interesting conversations I had over the weekend with General Catroux, [Page 958] the Syrian Prime Minister, and former Lebanese President Edde. Read together they throw considerable light on the confused political situation in these two Republics. The latter’s views warrant I believe the Department’s careful consideration.

1. With General Catroux after dining with me March 6.

His main objective was to reestablish constitutional regimes in the two states in accord so far as possible with their own constitutional procedures. He had been given full powers to that end by the French National Committee.

That the states wished to enjoy a larger measure of independence was obvious, but there was also a strong demand for protection as well, especially in Lebanon. A majority would welcome having France continue that role. There existed certainly a current of anti-French feeling, especially in Syria, but this was primarily a manifestation of xenophobic tendencies in extreme nationalist circles.

Reestablishment of constitutional regime might be attained in a number of ways: by recalling the former parliaments as urged by national bloc leaders, by permitting the present governments to hold elections or by forming new “neutral” governments for that purpose. New presidents might also be desirable; for in Syria there was strong nationalist demand for former president Attasi, and in Lebanon he was disappointed in President Naccache whose various protests were ill-considered because based on tales as to his intentions. Of those he had informed no one.

Were elections to be held, political rivalries between professional politicians would play a controlling role in the cities. In the country districts the same leading landed families which had elected their representatives to former parliaments would control results. Among the rank and file of the people questions of food supply predominated.

He was planning to return to North Africa within the fortnight and would announce his decision before leaving.

In the field of “Arab unity” he could envisage the possibility of federally reunited Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Trans-Jordan. But he could not perceive justification for including Iraq whose historical background, geographical position and economic interests caused it to look rather towards the east. Nor of Egypt which racially and in its basic social trends was very much a foreign country.

In this connection he appreciated the disruptive influence of expansionist political Zionism. American Zionists would of course continue to campaign for a Jewish state but it was their reported extensive support in influential non-Jewish circles which most excited local apprehensions. While it was probably best that no official declaration of policy in the matter be made during the war, could not something be done to discourage university professors and others from publicly voicing pro-Zionist views?

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2. The Syrian Prime Minister who called March 9 especially to talk politics.

Obviously influenced by a discussion he had just had with President Naccache he argued that for the French National Committee to arrogate to itself the power to decide how the constitutional regime should be established was to make a farce of his country’s independence.

Syria had been occupied by force of arms by the British assisted by the Free French. In exercise of right of conquest the latter, with the former’s consent, had proclaimed Syrian independence with limitations necessitated by conditions of war and had invited the late Sheikh Tajedine [el Hassani] to assume the powers of the Presidency and consolidate such independence.

The Sheikh had accepted and appointed a Ministry. With his death the latter had properly assumed the powers of the Presidency and were prepared to hold elections. It was for the new Parliament to elect a new President who would appoint a new Ministry. How else could even the fiction of independence be maintained?

To whom could his Ministry now resign? Who properly could appoint a new one? Had not both Britain and the United States recognized the present regime of limited independence? Without their consent, he concluded, Catroux had no right to modify it. And for the Free French to claim as they had increasingly done since General de Gaulle’s visit last summer that their powers were those of mandatory France was to deny even that limited independence.

His Government was by conviction cooperating with the Allied war effort. It recognized willingly the war necessitated limitations on the exercise of its sovereignty. It was solving successfully the difficult problem of food supply. It had balanced the budget after one month in office. There was no valid reason to deny it the right to hold the elections.

Neither he nor a majority of his Ministers would stand for election and he was quite prepared to declare he would not accept election to the Presidency. Therefore, self-interest could not be charged.

The Syrian people were determined to gain their independence. Reestablishment of Parliamentary life was a necessary first step. But to follow any procedure to that end imposed by a pretendant mandatory authority would be tantamount to accepting a self-denying servitude.

3. Former President Edde who took tea alone with me March 10.

His aim and that of his party is a politically and economically independent Lebanon … as always throughout history a mount of potential refuge, retaining its communal social structure, its people [Page 960] bound together by a strengthening nationalism, its laws, judiciary and administration modeled on best Occidental principles and practice.

Politically independent means no ties of federation or of confederation with the culturally backward, dominantly Moslem Hinterland, a Switzerland of the East protected in such independence by a strong friendly power or by international guarantees and giving in turn fullest guarantees to its own minorities and to foreign institutions and interests.

Economically independent means to be self-supporting through development of its tourism and summer and winter resorts, its irrigation possibilities, olives, fruits and vegetables and its water power and small industries, a Switzerland of the East in close trade relations with its neighbors but through commercial treaties rather than customs union.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Constitutional life must be reestablished as a first step, for only through Parliamentary action can progress be made towards broadening Government authority and evolving programs for determining Syrian Lebanese relationships and the country’s future international status. If he is again called to office, either as the last Constitutional President or by election, he will accept though troubled at the increasing insistence of Free France on its mandatory responsibilities.

4. I should appreciate the Department’s comment as to whether material of this kind is found of sufficiently timely interest to warrant the courage [coverage] I have been giving in my telegrams or whether its submission by despatch or airgram would be preferable.

  1. Not printed.