890E.00/172: Telegram

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

309. Reference my 306, November 9, 10 a.m., and 307, November 10, noon.9 Lebanese Minister of Interior called on me this noon following call on Spears. He informed substantially as follows.

This morning protocol officer of French Delegation General telephoned Lebanese Premier and each of Ministers and, without giving reason or explanation, informed them that “the invitation extended you for tomorrow’s Armistice Day military review is annulled”.

Ministers immediately met with President of Republic10 who, although his invitation had not been annulled, decided without hesitation that he would not attend review.

[“]Government has formally charged me to inform you of foregoing and to inquire as to what your conduct, as diplomatic representative accredited to Lebanon, will be in the circumstances.

We are addressing ourselves in the same sense to the Belgian, Egyptian and Iraqi representatives as well.[”]

At this moment Spears telephoned me. I said my reaction to question was that we should not attend in person but that, in view of common Allied war effort and review being a strictly French military affair, I should wish Legation’s Military Attaché and other American Army officers to attend. We had, I suggested, responsibilities both to Lebanese Government and to our French Allies.

Spears concurred saying that was exactly his view and one with which Minister of State Casey,11 to whom he had just telephoned, was in full accord. Only his Military Attaché and representatives of Ninth Army would attend.

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I then raised question as to whether, in view of Lebanese approach to our diplomatic colleagues, it might not be well were we to have meeting of Diplomatic Corps to consider matter. He readily agreed, and meeting was held this afternoon.

Spears opened meeting by saying French withdrawal of invitations “great affront to country to which we are accredited” and that he believed “unity of action on our part to be highly desirable.” In view of French action he did not see how we could possibly attend in person; he and I, however, believed representatives our military forces should attend as evidence of united Allied military effort.

There was agreement on this formula and each diplomat present was asked so to inform French Delegation. Gwynn13 has just returned from doing so. Chief of Delegation’s diplomatic section with whom he spoke did not consider himself competent to discuss question but readily took note for communication to proper authorities of names of four American officers who will attend.

In extraneous discussion of Corps meeting both Spears and Iraqi colleague, Tahsin Qadri, expressed themselves seriously concerned at turn of events. Half hour earlier Lebanese Foreign Minister had informed Spears he had strong reason to believe Helleu would speak on radio Levant, possibly tonight, and announce “dissolution of Parliament and Government and his own assumption of personal rule”.

Spears commented forcefully that Britain as well as Free French had guaranteed Syrian and Lebanese independence. French seemed now to be proving to whole world they had no intention of keeping their word. Britain to the contrary had every intention of doing so.

Qadri emphasized repeatedly that as expert in Arab affairs and well informed on temper of opinion both here and in Damascus and Baghdad, he viewed situation in “gravest possible manner”. French were “playing with fire”. He too had had report of Helleu’s plans; if carried out “reaction in Arab world might be disastrous to Allied war effort in this theatre of operations”. He planned “to tell French so as a friend”.

British Counsellor, just returned from Damascus, confirmed that Government there is “very interested and solidly behind Lebanese position”. He added information that Radio Levant, questioned by his office, admitted that Helleu might speak tomorrow night.

British Third Secretary later informed me Lebanese Foreign Minister had added as he left Spears’ office that, were Helleu to carry out reported plan, Government would go at once to Serei [Sérail] (government offices) and remain there until ejected by force.

During meeting Spears had further telephone conversation with Casey. They agreed that, in event Helleu does not deny report [Page 1011] categorically, Spears would strongly insist that action be deferred until London should be informed and afforded opportunity to express its views at Algiers.

Repeated to Algiers.

  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Beshara el-Khouri.
  3. Richard G. Casey, British Minister of State in the Middle East resident at Cairo.
  4. William M. Gwynn, Second Secretary at Beirut.