890E.01/200: Telegram

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

295. Reference my 290, October 8, 8 p.m.,84 and 291, October 11, 8 p.m. During fortnight since Chamber voted confidence in new Government’s “independence” program, strong wave of Nationalist sentiment has swept Lebanese Christian as well as Moslem circles. Even Maronite Patriarch has cordially received President and Premier and given program his blessing.

Generally strongly anti-French in color, this present political trend supports basic plank of Government’s policy that Lebanon must achieve full independence in cooperation with sister Arab states based on mutual recognition of separate sovereignty and territorial integrity. In conversations here with several provincial leaders and on recent visit to paramount Druze sheikhs, I found interesting confirmation of reports that this support is as readily given by provincial groupings as by more politically minded Beirut circles.

President of Chamber has twice assured me, deputies will demand explanations if Government delays forthright action designed to implement program. In particular, they urge early modification of constitution, notably article 90 which subordinates exercise of legislative power to “rights and duties of mandatory power”.

Significant incident occurred October 13 when French Delegate General Helleu published decree prescribing return to Winter time. Government’s reply was immediate publication of similar decree, thus permitting Lebanese to observe their own rather than French promulgated law and deferring showdown on “vital question of the hour”.

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That question is: Shall French be recognized as having power to legislate by decree? Premier and Foreign Minister assure me they, like Syrian Ministers, will readily yield to Allied military authorities all powers “necessitated by conditions of war”, but they state flatly that exercise of mandatory authority by Free French is without juridical basis, repugnant to Lebanese aspirations and inconsistent with Allied promises and acts of recognition of independence.

Most important political achievement of fortnight resulted from series of meetings between Lebanese and Syrian Ministers, ending with signature at Damascus October 20 of agreement for establishment of joint commission to administer common interests. Premier informs me mêmoires of agreement, desiderata and demands are to be presented to French authorities this week; also that support of Arab States is to be urged by Syrian Minister now in Cairo.

President of Republic85 calling informally on me last week expressed keen satisfaction at course of developments and confidence in good sense of Ministry and leading deputies. Like Premier, he expected strong opposition by French and expressed hope British and American Governments would “assist Lebanese Government in overcoming obstacles”.

In case of United States, he said he hoped this could be done through “moral suasion at Algiers” to end that such further steps as war exigencies warrant be taken progressively to apply Atlantic Charter86 principles to Levant States. He promised me brief “confidential impersonal memorandum” of Government’s basic position and views.

This memorandum was brought me yesterday by Premier. He was obviously disturbed. Without sympathetic support of Allied and Arab Governments, he said “I fear we shall get nowhere”. He continued substantially as follows:

“We and Syrian Ministers had hopes from early conversations with Helleu that modus operandi could be found for definition of wartime relationships and transfer of common interests. But barometer fell sharply with recent return of Chataigneau from month’s consultations in Algiers.

“During ensuing fortnight we gained increasingly conviction that French will yield nothing of their de facto authority—to us it has no basis de jure—unless we first reaffirm or renegotiate Franco-Lebanese treaty of alliance. This we have no intention of doing; no Government could and retain Parliamentary confidence.

“Now we have just received uncompromising note from Helleu. It protests our program for progressive realization of independence. Special exception is taken to projected modification of constitution. Full mandatory authority is asserted. I can say no more except that matter must be submitted fully to Parliament.”

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Premier added he hoped to be able to give me full documentation end next week. If of special interest to Department, word in that sense would be helpful, for with 20–year background of mandatory control, there is still hesitation to communicate full texts of communications exchanged with French authorities.

Premier appeared, too, to be considerably perturbed by persistent recent rumor that Helleu is to be replaced by a French General and a division of French troops sent here to maintain security following expected departure of British Ninth Army units for European battle zone.

Résumé of memorandum sent me by President follows.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Chucri Kouatli, President of the Syrian Republic.
  3. Joint Declaration by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.