Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs (Allen)1
Subject: Discussion in Big Three Meeting on July 23, 1945, regarding Syria and Lebanon.
When this item on the agenda was reached, Stalin stated that he would circulate a draft of a proposed brief statement to which he hoped the Conference could agree on this subject (a copy of the draft is attached2).
Churchill: At present the burden of maintaining order in Syria and Lebanon has fallen on our shoulders. We have no intention or desire to gain advantages there except those enjoyed by other countries. When we entered this area in 1941 to throw out the Germans and Vichy French, we and the Free French both agreed to recognize the independence of Lebanon and Syria. In consideration of the very long historical connection of France in these countries, we agreed not to object to France having a continued favored position there. We have told General de Gaulle that when he makes a mutually satisfactory [Page 318]treaty with these two countries, we shall withdraw our troops. If we withdraw now, it would lead to a massacre of the French civilians and small number of French troops there. The outbreak would affect security in Palestine and Iraq and possibly also in Egypt. There could not be a worse moment than the present for such a disturbance. The area constitutes an important line of communications to the Far Eastern war. The recent troubles started when the French sent 500 reinforcements to the area. This was a ridiculous action. What could 500 men do? But the entire Arab world was immediately convulsed with excitement. Lately General de Gaulle has agreed to hand over to Syria and Lebanon the Troupes Spéciales. I trust that agreement will be reached on independence and some recognition given to the French cultural and commercial position in the area. We repeat, we have no desires except to withdraw from a thankless task, assumed on behalf of the Allies. Since the matter rests between us and the French, we do not welcome the proposal for a conference in which the United States and the U. S. S. R. would enter. The whole burden has been borne by us with no help (after prompting by Mr. Eden, Mr. Churchill added: “except for the diplomatic approval and support of the United States”). If the United States cares to take our place, that would offer a new consideration.
Truman: No, thank you. When the trouble started, I had some correspondence with the Prime Minister on the subject. Mr. Churchill wrote to me, saying that another war was about to commence in the Near East and he had the troops to stop it. I said: “Please do so by all means. We do not want a war near the Suez route to the Far East”.
We are in slight disagreement with the Prime Minister, however, in one regard. We are in favor of equal treatment for everybody in the area, with no one having a privileged position.
Stalin: Including France?
Stalin: May I infer that my colleagues do not recognize any special privileges for France in the area?
Truman: I certainly do not.
Churchill: We would like to see France have a privileged position there. We agreed to this when we were weak. We cannot change now. This agreement, however, was only as far as the United Kingdom is concerned. We would not make any serious effort to help France obtain privileges. If they do so, we shall smile benignly.
Stalin: From whom can France get these privileges?
Churchill: From Syria and Lebanon.
Stalin: Only Syria and Lebanon?
Churchill: Only. The French have large interests there. They [Page 319]even have a tune: “Pars [Partant?] pour la Syrie”. (Laughter). Their interests go back to the Crusades.
Truman: The United States favors equal rights for everyone.
Churchill: Will you prevent Syria from giving privileges to France?
Truman: No, but we are certain that the Syrians will not give France privileges.
Stalin: The Syrians are reluctant to do so. (Laughter). I welcome the full explanation given to us on this subject by Mr. Churchill and am happy to withdraw my paper.
(This item on the agenda was considered as having been completed with the foregoing discussion).