890D.01/2–446: Telegram

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

secret
us urgent

548. My 446, January 28.23 In addition to my talks with Bidault we have also made occasion to impress on Chauvel, Ostrorog and other ranking Foreign Office officials our views on Franco-British agreement on Levant as set forth in Dept’s 5975, December 20.24 While I believe that French now understand our position they do not of [Page 760]course agree entirely with all our views on this subject. Therefore following summary of French position as expressed by officials mentioned above may be useful to Dept as an indication of French thought on this subject.

Foreign Office states that it has realized for some time that France can no longer maintain a special privileged position in Levant and that arrangements for withdrawal of French forces were necessary before a satisfactory settlement of whole Levant problem could be reached. (French are frank to say that they regret very much this withdrawal.) It was for this reason that Franco-British agreement of December 13 which bound two powers to withdrawal of military forces from Levant was signed. French take view that this agreement constitutes a basic and real step forward in solution of Levant problem. French maintain that despite decision to withdraw troops French Govt is nonetheless in “a delicate position vis-à-vis French public opinion and cannot afford to give French public impression that it is gratuitously abandoning all French interests in area”. Should it order immediate withdrawal of all troops from Levant particularly when British are still maintaining forces in other Arab states and have not even reached agreement in principle to withdraw them French Govt “would risk a serious reaction from French public particularly in view of traditional French suspicions of British motives in Middle East and probable interpretation of this action by French people as a voluntary abandonment of all French interests in Middle East.” (In connection with foregoing French officials are perhaps even more suspicious of British motives and of desire of British Colonial Office to replace France in Levant and Mideast).

French observe that December 13 agreement providing for withdrawal of troops from Syria into Lebanon and subsequent withdrawal from Lebanon when UNO has organized collective security in that area will be infinitely more acceptable to French people since UNO aspect raises question from national to international level and French public opinion will probably not react unfavorably.

With foregoing factors in mind French state that they do not see necessity for immediate evacuation of French and British troops from Levant until collective security has been organized in that area thru UNO. They believe that a premature withdrawal would jeopardize Christian population and they argue that since foreign troops are stationed in many countries in world they fail to see why, when French and British have agreed to withdrawal troops, Syrians and Lebanese should complicate matters by pressing for immediate withdrawal.

Foreign Office admits that France in past has made serious errors in Levant but feels that these past errors are no reason for present [Page 761]French Govt to abandon legitimate French interests in area or to have France placed in a less favored position in this area than other foreign nations such as US and England. In this connection French feel very strongly about closing of French schools by Syrians25 and they believe that until Syrians permit French schools to operate in Syria on same basis and under same conditions as other foreign schools there is no reason for French troops to be withdrawn. They point out that such action would be impossible to explain to French public which has long taken pride in “the predominance of French culture in the Levant”. For foregoing reasons French believe that Syrians should be made to understand that while French realize they cannot maintain a special position in Levant no French Govt can permit Syria and Lebanon to place France in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis other foreign countries which have interests in area.

While it is obvious that there are some Frenchmen who would like to perpetuate France’s former position of special privilege in Levant, foregoing represents a brief summary of French views as expressed by Foreign Office and it may be helpful in understanding present French approach to this problem.

Sent Department 548, repeated Beirut 2, London 109.

Caffery
  1. Not printed; it reported a statement by the French Foreign Minister that he was now free to take a less rigid position regarding the Levant since the resignation of the de Gaulle government but that he was unwilling to acquire the reputation of having presided at the funeral of France in that area (751.00/1–2846). The deGaulle government resigned on January 20.
  2. This was a repeat of telegram 413 to Beirut, Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. viii, p. 1184.
  3. In despatch 389, January 11, 1946, from Damascus, the Chargé in reporting that the French schools in Syria had not reopened at the beginning of the new school year, stated: “The position taken by the Syrian Ministry of Education here is that during the course of the year 1944, all foreign schools were requested to supply certain statistical information to the Ministry, and all complied, with the exception of French schools. To a second request for this information sent to these schools, a curt reply came from the French Delegation at Damascus stating that the French institutions to which these inquiries had been addressed were under the protection of the Delegation to which in future all such inquiries should be sent. As a result, the Syrian authorities have adopted the point of view that these French schools were more political than educational in nature, and that since the bombardment of May last terminated the direct political relaions of the Syrian and French Governments any French schools desiring to open their doors anew must comply with the regulations prescribed by the Syrian Government.” (890D.42/1–1146).