740.00119 (Potsdam)/5–2446

No. 636
Briefing Book Paper

top secret

Syria and Lebanon

It is clear that both the British and the French earnestly wish to dispose of the troublesome Levant States problem, which has clouded relations between the two countries and is blocking progress toward a general Franco-British treaty of alliance.1 As this Government has publicly supported the British military intervention in Syria,2 Mr. Churchill may seek our assent to proposals which his Government may make to the French for a solution of the Levant crisis.

[Page 960]

The British proposed to this Government on June 53 that a solution to the Franco-Levant problem be sought in conversations among British, French, American, Syrian, and Lebanese representatives. In our reply of June 64 we indicated our accord, but suggested that in working out the details, preference be given to reasonable suggestions of the French.

On June 7 the French Government expressed to us the opinion3 that a settlement could not be sought in exclusively Franco-British conversations, and proposed that the Levant problem should be discussed at a conference on general Near Eastern questions which would be attended by the five Major Powers. On June 8 we informed the French Government3 that we did not believe that an international conference on Near Eastern questions as a whole would be appropriate or helpful at this time, but we would welcome any further suggestions.

The Soviet Government’s attitude has been made known only to the limited extent of its note of June 1 to this Government,4 expressirg the opinion that “urgent measures should be taken for the cessation of military actions in Syria and Lebanon and settlement of the conflict by peaceful means.” The Soviet Union has as yet indicated no express desire to participate in a settlement of the dispute.

The newly-formed League of Arab Nations informed this Government through the Egyptian Legation on June 63 of its desire to be represented at any conference convened to settle the Franco-Syrian dispute. Our reply4 was limited to a friendly acknowledgment of receipt of the message.

The present French attitude is indicated in instructions sent to the French Ambassador in London.5 The French desire: (1) Franco-British negotiations on the immediate aspects of the problem, conducted through ordinary diplomatic channels; (2) Later, discussions limited to France on the one hand and Syria and Lebanon on the other to define a basis for relations; (3) Finally, a five-Power conference on Near Eastern problems as a whole. The British reaction to these proposals is not yet known.

In our discussions of these matters with the British we should emphasize the position to which we have steadfastly adhered; we cannot give our approval to any agreement regarding Syria and Lebanon that would be incompatible with the independence or [Page 961] sovereignty of those countries or that would discriminate against the United States in the Levant. We should also stress to the British our view that a solution of the Levant problem should encompass both Syria and Lebanon, and that we would regard as particularly unfortunate any solution that might seek to placate the French by concessions in Lebanon in compensation for failure to obtain a special position in Syria. The opportunity might well be taken to urge the British to follow up Minister Resident Grigg’s proposal whereby British and French troops in both countries would be withdrawn progressively and simultaneously from Syria and Lebanon without further delay.

  1. The development of the problem referred to is summarized as follows in another briefing paper prepared at about the same time but not included in the Briefing Book for the Berlin Conference (file No. 800.00/7–345):

    “The immediate origin of the dispute was the despatch of approximately two battalions of French reinforcements to the Levant States early in May. Resident General Beynet had just returned to Beirut from Paris to resume the long-suspended negotiation of a treaty regulating Franco-Levantine relations. Simultaneous arrival of new French forces was profoundly resented by the Syrians and Lebanese, who took it, probably correctly, to be intended as a show of force. In the tense atmosphere which ensued, an inevitable incident provoked widespread fighting between the French and the local populations.

    “Acting as trustees of security in the Middle East for all the Allies, the British, with our backing, stepped into the situation, obliged the French to cease fire and restored order. There had already occurred, however, sufficient casualties and destruction to make the French highly unwelcome throughout the area.”

  2. In a press conference on May 31, Grew informed the press that the British Government had consulted the United States with respect to British action in the Levant and that Truman had approved the British intention to “take action necessary to avoid further bloodshed”.

    On May 30 Churchill, in message No. 59 to Truman, had stated (paraphrase transmitted to the Department of State by the British Embassy, file No. 890d.01/5–3045):

    “… Continuance of the present situation both in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria will, I am convinced, cause the most grave trouble throughout the Middle East and upon our joint lines of communication via Egypt and Canal with the Far East.

    “We should therefore be prepared to order Commander-in-Chief of Middle East to intervene with British troops in order to stop fighting. Before doing so I feel I ought to know that we should have your approval and support. …”

    Churchill included in this message a draft telegram to de Gaulle very similar in its terms to the message actually dispatched on May 31 (see Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 564). Truman notified Churchill in telegram No. 50 of May 31 (Leahy Papers) that this draft telegram to de Gaulle met with his approval.

  3. Communication not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Communication not printed.
  6. Communication not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Communication not printed.
  9. Not printed.
  10. René Massigli. Instructions not printed.