Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Alling)
Mr. Wright30 said that he would like to explore with me certain questions relating to Syria and the Lebanon. He recalled that a few weeks ago when Mr. Strang was here, Mr. Murray had discussed certain Syrian and Lebanese questions. However, the Foreign Office was not quite clear as to the nature of our complaints and would appreciate an elucidation.
I told Mr. Wright that I thought the problem could be summed up under three headings:
- In the exchange of letters between Lord Lyttelton and General Catroux over a year ago the British had agreed to recognize the “preeminent and privileged position of the French in Syria and the Lebanon.” I said that so far as we were concerned, that was merely a bilateral agreement between France and Great Britain and we considered that it in no way affected our rights in those territories. Mr. Wright agreed and pointed out that in any case the exchange of letters [Page 970]had stipulated that France was to enjoy a preeminent and privileged position only as regards European powers.
- I said that we still considered that the rights which we had acquired under our convention of 1923  with France31 in regard to Syria and the Lebanon still remained in effect. I added that a year or more ago the local authorities had endeavored to override an exchange of notes with the French which was subsidiary to that convention, but that the matter had finally been straightened out to our satisfaction. In any case, this effort on the part of the local authorities to invade our rights had indicated to us the necessity of pointing out that those rights still existed.
- On the question of the recognition of Syrian and Lebanese independence, I explained that we felt that we could not recognize something which did not exist. It was obvious, for example, that the Syrian and Lebanese Governments were not independent and that many of the functions and attributes of government were actually exercised by the French authorities. I said that we realized of course, during the war and the military occupation of the territories, there would necessarily be some elements of government which would have to be controlled to a certain extent by the military authorities. I pointed out, however, that many of the civilian activities of the local governments were actually exercised by the French and that the latter showed no disposition to turn over those functions to the Syrian and Lebanese authorities.
Mr. Wright expressed his appreciation for the foregoing information and went on to say that as soon as elections were held in Syria his people hoped that we would be in a position to extend full recognition to the Syrian and Lebanese Governments. Later he stated that this hope was being expressed on the specific instructions of the Foreign Office. He went on to say that the Middle East, including Syria, would be an important land bridge in the eventual military operations in the Far East; that it was essential to strengthen the Allied position in that area, and the Foreign Office felt that this end would be attained by the American Government extending full recognition to the two local governments. I told Mr. Wright that obviously I could not answer his question offhand; that it would need discussion within the Department before anything definite could be said. I told him that in my own personal view, the question whether we could extend full recognition to the Syrian and Lebanese Governments after the forthcoming elections would depend to a considerable extent upon the manner in which those elections were held, and also whether a considerable degree of independence, bearing in mind wartime limitations, was actually given to the two governments. In this connection I pointed out that there were many governmental functions now being exercised [Page 971]by the French which could presumably be carried on by the local authorities. I also said that if the elections merely meant a continuation of the present system, I could not see that there would be any sound basis for recognition on our part of the complete sovereignty of the two States.
Mr. Wright said that if we desired he would be glad to give us an aide-mémoire setting forth the British point of view. I said I thought this would be desirable but suggested that he wait a few days until there had been an opportunity to discuss the matter within the Department.