890D.01/2–2145: Telegram

The Minister to Syria and Lebanon (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

44. I called on President Quwatly yesterday in Damascus (in absence of Foreign Minister) to acquaint him with nature of representations regarding Franco-Levant relations Ambassador Caffery had been directed to make urgently to French Foreign Minister (Deptel 36, February 16, 7 p.m.), and your consequent instructions to me (Deptel 37, February 16, 9 [10] p.m.43).

[Page 1047]

[Here follows account of conversation regarding President Kuwatly’s trip to Jidda and Cairo, including information given to him concerning discussions between President Roosevelt and the Kings of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.44]

I then read him pertinent passages of my instructions and of those sent Caffery, saying I felt confident they would reassure him as to our policy. He listened carefully, then had me repeat certain parts on which he commented.

I had begun with passage “all outstanding questions seem to us susceptible of friendly negotiation or arbitration in accord with the principles of the Atlantic Charter to which the United Nations have adhered”. He commented that for himself he had, unhappily, little faith in French good-will or good intentions. He asked what was implied by “arbitration”; I could make only general reply.

He continued by asking how Syria could adhere to United Nations pact;45 he wished very particularly to do so. I suggested this would seem a most appropriate question for his new Minister in Washington46 to take up with you. He concurred but said he would appreciate my obtaining brief direct reply. He had read that Peru and two other Latin American Republics had recently declared war on Germany.47 Was such declaration essential? He had gathered the contrary when talking last week with Egyptian Premier.48

Resuming main line of discussion, he welcomed our representations to French Government, especially passage beginning “if French intend sincerely to implement their promises of independence” and Department’s clear statement of Syria’s three chief desiderata. But he had little hope French could be brought to accept our views.

On ensuing passage he commented that Syrian Government had always been willing to give specific assurances that French interests would be fully protected; it had assumed international obligations of predecessor regime. But what were those interests?

If they were schools and missions, he continued, they might have same guarantee as that given American institutions; if railways or other material interests, no difficulty should be encountered in drafting reasonable specific assurances. If, however, there was question of so-called historic position of France, with implied right of intervention to protect minorities, or of alliance, with conventional special position such as Britain has in Iraq, he could never agree.

[Page 1048]

As to reopening negotiations, he recalled that that had already been done. Just 2 weeks ago Foreign Minister Mardam had invited written proposals on all pending questions (reLegtel 35, February 8, 5 p.m.49). Only answer thus far received was that this démarche had been communicated to Paris and that Paris must be given time to draft reply. What, he asked, had the French been doing these many months? He answered his own question: “Primarily playing for time.”

He continued substantially as follows: “We want to finish with them. We will negotiate. The British and now you counsel patience. We have agreed, but I tell you our waiting will be in vain. You know what has happened in the Alaouite country during my absence” (reLegtel 42 of February 14, 6 p.m.50 and despatch 663, February 1951). He elaborated: “Our gendarmes would have had little trouble in restoring order in the Murshid district52 had the French military not intervened. French political officers incited the trouble, and now not only do their military prevent our suppressing it but their agents are distributing arms to villages and sending word to other Alaouite districts that the French have returned and will restore their regime of autonomy of 1936–39. On least alarming construction all this seems designed to put pressure on us to sign their kind of treaty.”

On subject of treatment of minorities he said Syria would willingly adhere to any formula or give any guarantees proposed by United Nations but could not incorporate such matter in treaty or accord with France alone.

He made no comment except by way of general concurrence when I told him of Department’s objections to Conventions Universitaires.

In recapitulation, when I again urged moderation, I felt I should stress that our representations in Paris were strongly oriented to induce French to meet Syrian desiderata. I ventured to suggest that Department would not have made them except in belief that some progress towards satisfactory settlement would result.

He replied that he understood this and was appreciative but not optimistic. All he could see was protracted delay, continuing tension and, unhappily, possibility of serious conflict. Parliament had just reconvened. Its members were already impatient and less willing or able to appreciate international implications of the situation.

Had he in mind, I asked, any particular gesture—if not of good will, at least of a willingness to meet him part way—which the French [Page 1049] might make to ease the present tension, such, for instance, as prompt withdrawal of their objection to completion of gendarmery equipment? He replied by asking whether, if the French would not so agree, we would be willing to supply the lacking automatics and reconnaissance cars.

In conclusion he asked me to let him and his Government have memorandum of my instructions and those to Caffery. In light of foregoing, are there any parts thereof Department would wish me specially to stress if approving my presenting such a document; and would Department care to take that occasion to make brief reply to his specific queries on arbitration and as to how Syria might sign pact of United Nations?

His query on gendarmery equipment question was, I believe, more rhetorical than of nature requiring direct answer.

Paraphrases by mail to Paris, Baghdad, Cairo and Jidda.

  1. Instruction to Ambassador in France was telegram 633, February 16, 10 p.m., repeated to Beirut as No. 37, p. 1044; instruction to Minister to Syria and Lebanon was telegram 36, February 16, 7 p.m., p. 1042.
  2. For documentation on these discussions, see pp. 1 ff.
  3. United Nations Declaration signed at Washington, January 1, 1942, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. i, p. 25.
  4. Nazem al-Koudsi who was accredited as Syrian Minister on March 19, 1945.
  5. Relevant documentation on declarations of war on Germany by certain American Republics is included in vol. ix under Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
  6. Mahmud Fahmy el-Nokrashy.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Not printed: it reported clashes between chieftains and gendarmes in the Alaouite section of Syria and the despatch of troops by the French to restore order (890D.01/2–1445).
  9. Not printed; it cited reports of French sponsorship of plans to detach the Alaouite section from Syria (890D.01/2–1945).
  10. So named after Sulaiman Murshid, a chieftain with a large following in” the Alaouite section of Syria, especially among the mountain villages back of the port of Latakia.