890D.01/2–145: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France ( Caffery )

633. Reurtel 6469 [469], February 1, 6 p.m.32 The potentially explosive situation in Syria and Lebanon resulting from the intransigent conflicting attitudes of the French and local Governments toward remaining unsettled issues connected with Syrian and Lebanese independence is a source of continuing concern to this Government. All outstanding questions seem to us susceptible to settlement by friendly negotiation or arbitration in accordance with the principles of the Atlantic Charter33 to which the United Nations have adhered.34 We therefore desire both sides to show moderation and should look with disfavor on French use of military force in present impasse, whether in form of French troops or French-controlled native levies. We hope the French Government will instruct its representatives in the Levant States to seek friendly agreement, and are urging the local Governments likewise to show moderation and to enter into amicable negotiations with a view to the conclusion of mutually acceptable accords defining the relations between France and Syria and Lebanon.

If the French intend sincerely to implement their promises of independence we can see no reason why they should refuse to:

Transfer the Troupes Spéciales to the local Governments, subject only to such overall supervision by the French and British military [Page 1045] authorities in the Theater as may be considered necessary by these authorities for the duration of the war in Europe and accepted by the local Governments.
Agree to the reasonable equipment of the Syrian and Lebanese gendarmeries (we understand that the plan approved by General Holmes35 involves the transfer of only 100 automatic weapons and 33 reconnaissance cars).36
Replace its Délégation Générale at Beirut and Délégation at Damascus by diplomatic missions.

At the same time we appreciate the desire of the French to obtain assurances regarding the protection of the reasonable rights and interests of France and French nationals in the independent Levant States. We are accordingly instructing Wadsworth37 to urge the Syrian and Lebanese authorities to alter their present negative attitude and to enter into negotiations with a view to the conclusion of mutually acceptable accords with the French, defining the relations between them, which do not infringe the rights and interests of others, including the United States. (This telegram is being repeated to you).38

In this connection, we regret to state that a preliminary examination of the draft “Convention Universitaire39 which the French are seeking to conclude with Syria and Lebanon indicates that its terms contemplate discriminatory privileges for France and that its conclusion would seriously injure American educational and cultural interests in the two States. We are now making a study of that convention40 and will be prepared shortly to present our views in greater detail. We assume, however, that the French are not seeking to promote their own interests at the expense of others and that they would be glad to make appropriate modifications in the proposed terms.

Please discuss urgently with the Foreign Minister, solution reached which, while adequately assuring the protection of French interests, will confirm and ensure the full independence of Syria and Lebanon. You should also make it clear, if the need arises, that we regard our policy toward the independent Levant States as entirely distinct and separate from our policy toward France and the French Empire. [Page 1046] Keep Department closely informed. Sent to Paris. Repeated to Beirut.41

  1. Not printed; it reported that the British Ambassador in France had delivered a note to the French Foreign Office on February 1 calling attention to the inflammatory situation in the Levant in connection with the Troupes Spéciales and had asked the French Minister for Foreign Affairs if the French Government could not make a gesture of appeasement. Mr. Bidault was reported to have replied in the negative but that the French authorities would do everything to avoid trouble or provocation and would reply only if attacked by force of arms (890D.01/2–145). In telegram 495, February 2, 1945, midnight, Mr. Caffery quoted a communiqué, issued by the French Cabinet on February 2, as stating “France alone is responsible for the maintenance of order in Syria and the Lebanon. … The Government is resolved to maintain order in these countries.” (851.00/2–245)
  2. Joint statement by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, August 14, 1941, Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367.
  3. In the United Nations Declaration, signed at Washington, January 1, 1942, ibid., 1942, vol. i, p. 25.
  4. Lt. Gen. Sir William G. Holmes, General Officer Commanding the British Ninth Army (Levant).
  5. In a letter of March 30, 1945, the British Embassy stated that the plan involved transfer of 82 Bren guns, 76 Sten guns, and 30 reconnaissance cars (890D.01/3–3045).
  6. Telegram 36, February 16, 7 p.m., p. 1042.
  7. As No. 632; same as No. 36, February 16, 7 p.m., to Beirut, p. 1042.
  8. Copy transmitted to the Department in despatch 441, July 14, 1944, from Beirut, not printed.
  9. Entitled United States Educational Interests in Syria and Lebanon and the Proposed Franco-Lebanese and Franco-Syrian Educational Conventions, prepared on February 16, 1945, by the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs as Report No. A–7 (890D.42/2–1745).
  10. As telegram 37.