Syria and Lebanon (Situation)

Part of Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th May 1945.

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Photo of Hon. William Waldorf Astor Hon. William Waldorf Astor , Fulham East 12:00 am, 30th May 1945

It is indeed tragic that within the space of one Parliament we should be discussing on the Adjournment two of our Allies, two members of the United Nations, engaged in this very tragic war. All of us who speak must take great care, remembering that both sides are our friends, and that both sides have the most acute susceptibilities in the matter. We know the romantic and historical trend of the French character and how much it is associated with Syria. When the previous crisis arose people tried, not in the House but elsewhere, to cast aspersions on my hon. and gallant Frined the Member for Carlisle (Sir E. Spears), who was then British Minister on the spot, saying that the trouble was due to his conduct. The fact that this far worse incident has come after he has been back for many months, shows how ill founded were those accusations. We cannot divest ourselves of interest in this. Our interest in the Arab world is predominant and vital. There is a danger that this trouble may spread to Transjordania and Palestine and the safety of these regions is vital for our interests and for the prosecution of the Far Eastern war, so that our troops and ships may pass unimpeded.

France equally in the last analysis must rely on the friendship of the Arab world in view of her communications with the Far East, and must have good relations with England and Egypt. The oil which comes through Tripoli depends not on. the mere holding of Tripoli, but on its sources in Iraq, in the neighbouring Arab country. Therefore we must try to get both sides to a settlement, because we cannot fail to intervene if this thing goes on further. I suggest that the way to do it is to try to get a settlement between England and France. This is more than a local affair. We want to get an Anglo-French alliance absolutely close, firm and watertight, which looks after the strategic interests of both, with France not confined in the tiny little port of Beirut. She ought to share with us the possibilities of Alexandria, Gibraltar and Malta, we sharing with her Toulon and Dakar. That is the scale on which we must go, as in 1906, when English and French interests in the Mediterranean were disentangled, the French taking the Western end and England the Eastern, when we were able to form that entente cordiale which took us through the stress and strain of the German crisis. That is the object to aim at. France being very susceptible, and some elements incurably suspicious of us, I hope we shall try to get the new American President to take a prominent part in the alleviation of this trouble, because what does San Francisco mean, and what does the Atlantic Charter mean, if this dispute is to continue in this way?

I should like to say a word of sympathy towards the people in this region. I spent a very happy year there, and I can testify to the friendship of the Syrians and Lebanese to the cause of the United Nations. They have helped us and have been very good friends to us, and we know how Moslems all over the world must feel when one of their most sacred cities, Damascus, is subjected to bombardment twice within 25 years. We can assure the Foreign Secretary that anything that he may do will have the support of all Members of the House.