Sykes-Picot Letters

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As early as the spring of 1915 the British felt they knew what the French ambitions were for Syria and Palestine following World War I. Immediately after Henry McMahon had begun his correspondence with Sharif Husayn, the British moved quickly to open negotiations with the French regarding other areas of interest in the Middle East.[1] The negotiators were George s Picot and Sir Mark Sykes. Picot, a French diplomat, had an extensive background in the Middle East. Sykes on the other hand was a Member of Parliament who was well versed in the political game but had no diplomatic ties to the region.[2] At first Picot wanted French control/influence over all of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Sykes wanted control/influence from the Mediterranean across the Middle East into Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Both sides had to make agreements for anything to work. Sykes wanted Palestine to be excluded from French interest and be an international zone. But in order for the French to give up Palestine Sykes was forced to concede certain lands that had high value; mainly Mosul. Sykes agreed to give Mosul to the French and was able to get Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo included in the French sphere of influence.[3]

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In May 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement was officially concluded. The British would occupy the lands south of Baghdad all the way to the Persian Gulf. Their sphere of influence would include Egypt and run east through Iraq. The British also gained the ports of Haifa, Acre, and the right to construct a railway from Haifa to Baghdad. The French were given control of Lebanon and coastal Syria in addition to southern Turkey. The French sphere of influence would be the rest of Syria and run through Mosul or northern Iraq all the way until the Iranian border. Both nations were allowed to determine administrations within their direct control regions. Within their sphere of influence both nations had first choice on local enterprises and were the sole advisors to that particular area.[4]  Russia also played a minor role in the agreements. Russia would have direct control over Constantinople and a sphere of influence in Kurdistan. The British seemed to come out as the winners of the agreement. They had kept their hopes of having ports in the Mediterranean and the railway would prove crucial. But the indirect control over Egypt would prove the most beneficial outcome for the British due the economic importance of the soon to be built Suez Canal


[1] Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010) 63.

[2] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents, 63.

[3] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents, 63.

[4] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History With Documents, 64.