890E.01/201: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Consul General at Algiers ( Wiley )

2096. For Murphy.2 The Department understands that Mr. Jean Helleu, Delegate of the French Committee of National Liberation at Beirut, is now in Algiers to discuss with the Committee future policy as regards Syria and Lebanon, in the light of the demands of the recently established elective local Governments to exercise all sovereign powers not necessarily reserved to the Allied military authorities for war purposes. This would apparently involve, notably:

Transfer to the local Governments of the governmental powers formerly exercised by the French High Commissioners and still retained by the Free French delegation, consisting mainly of the administration of the “common interests” (i.e. customs and monopoly revenues, patents and trademarks, et cetera).
Dismantling of the French administration, with transfer of appropriate French personnel to positions as advisers to local Government departments.
Changing status of French Delegation to that of diplomatic representation.
Appropriate modification of constitutional provisions conferring governmental powers on the French administration.

Despite the proclamations of “independence” issued by General Catroux in the fall of 1941,3 in the name of the French National Committee at London, the French authorities have continued zealously to retain maximum powers. It is understood that Helleu recently informed the Lebanese Government that the mandate remains in effect and that constitutional modifications would accordingly not be accepted.

It is the opinion of this Government that the French Committee of National Liberation should take practical steps to implement the “independence” promised the Levant States; and that its failure to do so would cast doubt on the sincerity of announced United Nations principles and thus injure our common war effort. In our view, no useful purpose would be served by an academic debate on the juridical technicalities of this complex situation. The validity of the French thesis is dubious, at best, and for practical purposes the League mandate must be regarded as being in suspense.

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In a recent exchange of communications with the British,4 copies of which are en route to you under cover of an air mail instruction dated October 25,5 the Department expressed this Government’s essential agreement with the views of the British Government as regards the possible conclusion of agreements defining the future relationship of the French authorities to the new States, stating this Government’s position in the following terms:

“This Government would not object to free and voluntary negotiations for this purpose between the Syrian and Lebanese Governments and representatives of the French Committee of National Liberation, provided the instruments concluded contained proper safeguards of the rights and interests of the local populations and of the United States and its nationals and on the understanding that such instruments would be applied provisionally pending their eventual formal ratification and approval by the interested parties.”

It was also made clear that this Government does not consider itself associated with the (Lyttleton-de Gaulle) agreements6 concluded prior to the invasion of the Levant States by British and Free French forces in 1941, and is not prepared to admit that France should enjoy a “preeminent and privileged” position therein.

Syria and Lebanon have never constituted a part of French territory but have been mandated States of Class A, whose independence was contemplated in the terms of the mandate itself and has already been long delayed, despite the relatively high level of education and political maturity of the populations. There would seem to be little doubt that reasonable arrangements accepted on a de facto basis by the principal parties at interest at the present time would be formally approved after the war. Moreover, we are convinced that sincere and generous action to implement the independence of the Levant States now would create goodwill toward the French on the part of the Syrian and Lebanese people and thus protect and serve the long run interests of France much better than insistence on retaining mandatory powers, which would certainly create an explosive quantity of ill-will and resentment. Please take this matter up in the foregoing sense with the appropriate French authorities (this will presumably include General Catroux) keeping the Department and Beirut informed of developments.

The substance of this telegram has been communicated to the British Embassy here and it is expected that your British colleague7 will shortly be instructed to make similar representations. You are [Page 1009] authorized to discuss this matter with him, but because of special interests which might be imputed to the British in this area, it would appear preferable that your action be independent of any which he may take.

Sent to Algiers for Murphy. Repeated to London, Cairo and Beirut.8

  1. Robert D. Murphy, U.S. Political Adviser, Staff of the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater, at Algiers.
  2. For reports of the declarations regarding Syria, September 27, 1941, and Lebanon, November 26, 1941, respectively, see telegrams No. 381, September 28, 1941, and No. 467, November 26, 1941, from the Consul General at Beirut, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, pp. 786 and 805, respectively.
  3. See Department’s memorandum to the British Embassy, October 25, p. 1000.
  4. Not printed.
  5. August 7, 1941, British Cmd. 6600, Syria No. 1 (1945), pp. 3–4.
  6. Harold Macmillan, British Minister Resident at the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Algiers.
  7. As telegrams Nos. 7055, 1705, and 266, respectively.