Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Kohler)

Participants: Mr. Francis Lacoste, Counselor, French Embassy
Mr. Ailing (NE)
Mr. Kohler (NE)

Following the conversation between the Acting Secretary and the French Ambassador on March 2, 1945, M. Lacoste called on Mr. Ailing today for further discussion of the question of Syria and Lebanon, with particular reference to the desire of the French for a “privileged” position therein.

Mr. Ailing initiated the discussion by reviewing the relation[s] of the United States with the mandated States since the first World War. He pointed out that while we had not participated in the League and had ourselves taken no territory, we had been at considerable pains to establish our rights as a leading participant in that conflict to equality of treatment with the mandatory powers and with other members of the League. Such equal treatment, including the right to establish schools teaching in the English language, had been assured to us in the case of Syria and Lebanon by the Franco-American Treaty of 1924 and related instruments. On the occasion of the recognition of the independence of Syria and Lebanon, in September 1944, we had concluded agreements with the local Governments under which they had undertaken to continue to accord to the United States and its nationals the same equal treatment granted by the Treaty of 1924. We fully realized that France had a close relationship with Syria and Lebanon and that she had considerable interests therein, which were likewise entitled to recognition and protection by the local Governments. During the recent tension which had developed in the Levant, we had urged the French to take steps to complete the independence of Syria and Lebanon and had at the same time urged the local Governments to moderate their negative attitude and seek to negotiate agreements with France which would define their future relationships and protect French interests while not discriminating against those of other powers, including our own.

Copies of the Treaty of 1924 and of the Agreement of September 7–8, 1944, with Syria were handed to M. Lacoste, together with a paraphrase of the Department’s instructions of February 17 [16], 1945 to Ambassador Caffery.63 He indicated that he was familiar with [Page 1054] the Department’s Memorandum of October 5, 1944, handed to the French Delegation here.64

During this discussion, M. Lacoste made some “personal” observations on the American “open-door” policy. He said that at the turn of the century, when this policy was defined,65 the United States was only one of a number of powers in the world of relatively equal size and strength. However, we had now become so colossal that if the open-door policy were followed, the others would be unable to compete with us. Consequently, M. Lacoste implied, other Governments would have to seek exclusive areas and advantages.

Mr. Ailing vigorously disagreed with this analysis, emphasizing the decreasing size and the increasing interdependence of the whole world. He pointed out that equality of opportunity was high on our list of war aims and that we had no intention of fighting this war and then abandoning our objectives.

M. Lacoste then inquired specifically whether we objected to a “privileged” position for France in Syria and Lebanon. Mr. Ailing replied that if “privileged position” meant “privileges” not available to others, we certainly did object. We had been guaranteed equality of treatment under the mandate and could hardly agree to less favorable treatment now that they are independent.

M. Lacoste said his Government would be disappointed at our unwillingness to recognize a “privileged” position for France in the Levant States. France had given Syria and Lebanon the benefits of French culture and civilization which had greatly benefited them and had cost the French a great deal of money. France deserved some return for this investment. Mr. Ailing replied that there could certainly be no element of surprise for the French Government in our views. They had been consistently and clearly stated for the past 25 years, having been the subject of long negotiations and of repeated conversations between French and American officials. Recently, our attitude had been explicitly set forth in the Department’s Memorandum of October 5, 1944. Mr. Ailing went on to say, however, that we should welcome a clear definition of what the French had in mind when they spoke of a “privileged position”, as there had always been considerable obscurity on this point. For example, Lyttelton had written General de Gaulle in 194166 assuring him that after Syria and [Page 1055] Lebanon were independent, Britain recognized that France should enjoy therein a “predominant position among European powers”. In his reply, de Gaulle had referred to a “pre-eminent and privileged” position. While it was true that Mr. Churchill had used the words “French privilege” in this connection in his recent speech in Parliament,67 there seemed to be marked confusion as to what either the British or the French really meant. M. Lacoste said he would try to obtain clarification from Paris. In reply to his inquiry, Mr. Ailing said that while our principal direct concerns in Syria and Lebanon were economic and cultural, our interests should not be interpreted as being limited to those fields.

M. Lacoste then referred to the use of the word “unconditional” in connection with our recognition of Syrian and Lebanese independence, which he said had been avoided by other recognizing powers. Mr. Ailing said he believed the same terminology had in fact been used in exchange of messages between Mr. Molotov68 and the Syrian and Lebanese Foreign Ministers. In any case, this was similar to the “privilege” question. Would the French have wanted us to impose “conditions” on the Syrians and Lebanese? If so, what “conditions”?

  1. See telegram 633, p. 1044.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. v, p. 795.
  3. For documentation on the enunciation of the open door policy in China, see ibid., 1899, pp. 128 ff.
  4. For exchange of letters of August 7, 1941, at Beirut, by Capt. Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of State in the Middle East, and Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Chief of the Free French, see British Cmd. 6600, Syria No. 1 (1945): Statements of Policy by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in respect of Syria and the Lebanon, 8th June–9th September, 1941, p. 3. For documentation on the interest of the United States in this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, pp. 725 ff., passim.
  5. Mr. Churchill stated on February 27: “However, I must make it clear that it is not for us alone to defend by force either Syrian or Lebanese independence or French privilege. We seek both, and we do not believe that they are incompatible.” For full text of statement, see Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 408, cols. 1287, 1290.
  6. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs.