890D.01/1–246: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

secret

13. In reviewing Levant State troop withdrawal question with US, Baxter of FonOff said that evacuation of Syria had presented no particular problems to British and French military representatives and that discussions on this subject initiated on December 21 had been continued on December 28. Evacuation from Lebanon on other hand had given rise to series of difficulties, some of which had been so important as to necessitate reference to Paris and London for reconsideration.

One of these problems concerned composition of force to remain in Lebanon until UNO able to take over.2 British military representatives, acting under their instructions, had taken position that force would be Anglo-French. French interpreted agreement to mean that there would be a period before assumption of responsibility by UNO when French would be in sole occupation. Owing to loose wording of agreement it was obvious that there had been a real misunderstanding on both sides on this point but actually much more than a question of interpretation was involved because British felt that as a practical matter the leaving of a comparatively small French force alone in Lebanon would be risky business from security viewpoint since trouble might very possibly recur which French could not handle without reinforcements. Such a situation would present [Page 752]explosive possibilities not only in Lebanon but in Near East generally. However, solution of this problem should not necessarily hold up preceding evacuation steps in Syria and it might be cleared up automatically if UNO action could be speeded. Presumably Levant State governments would not lose opportunity to seek to apply such accelerating pressure.

A second and more immediate problem was manner in which proportional withdrawal of French and British troops would be calculated. British had taken position that withdrawal would be on global basis of total French and British troop strength in both Syria and Lebanon. (Baxter estimated these at about 21,000 British and 8,000 French.) In discussing withdrawal from Syria, where French estimated to have 1,000 or so troops as compared about 10,000 British, French had suggested withdrawing their contingent into Lebanon and complete withdrawal of British elsewhere. Although not sharing French view, British now inclined to feel that their own original instructions may have been somewhat too rigid and they have just suggested to French that all French and British forces in Syria be withdrawn entirely from Levant States as soon as possible, possibly within about 3 months, and that status of troops in Lebanon be left as it is for the moment, while pressing for early action by UNO. If UNO action delayed, further consideration would then have to be given to troop reduction in Lebanon. Baxter saw key to this problem in speed with which UNO prepared to act.

Baxter emphasized all this now very much in talking stage between FonOff and French Embassy here and that insufficient time yet to ascertain French reaction.

Regarding discussion of these matters with Syrians and Lebanese, Baxter observed that such action was of course envisaged by Anglo-French agreement of December 13 and he assumed such talks might begin following initiation of Franco-British military negotiations. He said he saw no reason why such four-party discussion should interfere with long-term question of assumption of security responsibility by UNO.3

Sent to Department as 13; repeated to Beirut as 1; repeated to Paris as 2.

Winant
  1. The Anglo-French agreement regarding the withdrawal of British and French troops from the Levant, signed at London on December 13, 1945, stated in part: “The programme of evacuation will be drawn up in such a way that it will ensure the maintenance in the Levant of sufficient forces to guarantee security until such time as the United Nations Organisation has decided on the organisation of collective security in this zone.” For draft text of agreement, see ibid., p. 1176.
  2. In telegram 5, January 2, 1946, 3 p.m., the Chargé in Beirut reported that the Anglo-French military conversations had practically broken down, the British especially being pessimistic unless London and Paris clarified the terms of the Anglo-French agreement (890D.01/1–246). At a further meeting, lasting about 2 hours on January 4, the British and French reached agreement on troop withdrawal from Syria (except for the question of withdrawal from the Mezzé airport). In telegram 9, January 4, 3 p.m., the Chargé noted that the agreement “represented merely paper work as no decision was made as to what place troops would be withdrawn to.” (890D.01/1–446)