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Cablegate: Fm Clashes with Mps Over Livni Meeting

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DE RUEHMK #1067 3320434
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P 280434Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7448
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 001067

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STATE PASS TO USTR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/27/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL IS BA
SUBJECT: FM CLASHES WITH MPS OVER LIVNI MEETING

REF: MANAMA 968

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Bahrain's Foreign Minister defended his October meeting with Israeli FM Livni before MPs in a contentious session of the lower house. Islamist MPs called on the government to boycott the Annapolis conference and re-open the Arab boycott office. The GOB has so far offered no reaction; its delegation is in Annapolis and the FM reaffirmed the economic benefit of closing the boycott office in subsequent remarks to the press. End summary.

2.(C) A number of local columnists and politicians criticized Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa following his meeting with Israeli FM Tzipni Livni in October on the margins of UNGA (reftel). At that time, he defended the meeting as being consistent with the Arab League initiative and told the Ambassador that he would appear before Parliament in response to demands by MPs for an explanation. (Note: Other ministers, on other issues, have asserted that parliament has no authority to compel them to appear. End note.)

3.(U) On November 20, the FM appeared before the full lower house to respond to questions about his meeting with Israeli FM Livni in New York in October. He stressed that it was appropriate for the GOB to meet GOI officials given Bahrain's membership in the Arab League follow-up committee. Such meetings did not constitute normalization of relations with Israel, he said; that would come only after the Palestinians had achieved a just peace with Israel.

4.(U) MP Nasser Al-Fadhala of the Muslim Brotherhood's Al-Minbar society rose to admonish Sheikh Khalid for meeting Livni and, clearly intending to insult him, announced that he should wash his hands seven times with water and seven times with sand for having shaken hands with her. (Note: This is the practice prescribed in the Koran for ablutions after coming in contact with an unclean animal. End note.) The FM reacted angrily and shot back that it was Al-Fadhala and Al-Minbar that should wash their hands because they were stained "with the blood of Palestinians," implying that all Muslim Brothers shared responsibility with Hamas for the recent shootings in Gaza of Fatah demonstrators. In the uproar that followed, Sheikh Khalid left the chamber. A number of MPs called for the re-opening of Bahrain's boycott office, and the lower house voted a resolution calling on the chamber's chairman to ask the government to boycott the Annapolis conference. (Note: The government has offered no reaction to the resolution and Shaikh Khalid is currently in Annapolis. End note.)

5.(C) In a meeting with Pol/Econ Chief on November 21, Saeed Al-Majed, a close advisor to Al-Wifaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman, said that Salman had no problem with the FM's meeting and did not agree with those MPs criticizing him. He chose not to speak during the session because he did not agree with the critics and could not side publicly with the Minister on such an emotional issue. In the end, Salman abstained from the vote on the non-binding resolution. Al-Majed said that re-opening the boycott office was "...a stupid idea. If this one is from Israel and this one is not, the people will decide which one they want to buy." He lamented that MPs were wasting time "playing to the street," rather than addressing real problems. The FM essentially echoed this sentiment in comments to Al-Watan daily, which implied that public opinion, not a boycott office, would determine the extent of economic engagement with Israel. He also noted that the closure of the boycott office was in Bahrain's best interest because it made possible the FTA and all of the economic benefits that have come with it.

6.(C) Comment: Al-Minbar usually acts in support of the government, part of an unofficial arrangement whereby Sunni religious parties help the government counter the influence of the Shi'a Al-Wifaq party. On this issue, however, both Shi'a and Sunni Islamists in parliament will likely continue playing to popular sentiment and denounce official and commercial dealings with Israel. The GOB can effectively exercise a pocket veto on any parliamentary measure aimed at re-opening the boycott office, as it has done with many other parliamentary initiatives. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

0 11/28/2007 4679 PGOV,PREL,IS,BA FM CLASHES WITH MPS OVER LIVNI MEETING Bahrain's Foreign Minister defended his October meeting with Israeli FM Livni before MPs in a contentious session of the lower house. Islamist MPs called on the government to boycott the Annapolis conference and re-open the Arab boycott office. The GOB has so far offered no reaction; its delegation is in Annapolis and the FM reaffirmed the economic benefit of closing the boycott office in subsequent remarks to the press.
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11/28/2007 14:38 07MANAMA1070 Embassy Manama CONFIDENTIAL 07MANAMA922 VZCZCXRO8045PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUKDE RUEHMK #1070 3321438ZNY CCCCC ZZHP 281438Z NOV 07FM AMEMBASSY MANAMATO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7449INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITYRHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITYRUEADOE/USDOE WASHDC PRIORITYRHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITYRUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 001070 SIPDIS SIPDIS NEA/ARP, EEB/ESC/IEC/EPC COMMERCE FOR 4520/ITA/MAC/ONE/THOFFMAN E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/28/2017 TAGS: PGOV PREL IS BA

1.(C) Summary. Oil Minister Mirza told the Ambassador November 26 that although Bahrain had signed an MOU with Iran to ensure that negotiations remained on track, Bahrain continued to hope that a Qatari or Saudi alternative would emerge. However, Bahrain needed to continue moving forward to ensure it would be able to meet the gas crunch it expects to face in five-years-time. Mirza acknowledged U.S. concerns over any gas deal with Iran, but observed that it also served U.S. interests for Bahrain to avoid the popular instability that an energy crisis would bring. End Summary.

2.(C) Minister of Oil and Gas Dr. Abdul Hussein Ali Mirza November 26 confirmed to the Ambassador that Bahrain had signed an MOU with Iran during the November 17 visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The MOU stipulated that the two countries would work to conclude an agreement by the end of 2008 for Iran to provide gas to Bahrain. Mirza said this MOU was a general document, and that it did not address certain basic questions; e.g., would Iran sell gas directly to Bahrain, or to an international company that would then provide the gas to Bahrain? How would the project be financed?

3.(C) Mirza told the Ambassador he had raised his concern over well-known Iranian foot-dragging with newly-appointed Iranian counterpart Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari. "He said it would be different now. Iran wants to move quickly."

4.(C) Mirza reiterated that Bahrain would prefer to buy gas from Qatar or Saudi Arabia but that it could not stand still while hoping access to these sources would materialize. Bahrain's industrial expansion, land reclamation projects, and development of new municipalities all required power. However, Bahrain still hoped that its publicized talks with Iran would spur the Qataris or the Saudis to be receptive to Bahrain's proposals. "His Majesty the King has told GCC General Secretary General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah that Bahrain wants gas from the GCC."

5.(C) The Ambassador reminded Mirza that any future agreement between Bahrain and Iran would be scrutinized under the terms of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). The U.S. strongly disapproved of any investment in Iran's energy sector. Mirza acknowledged awareness of the ISA and U.S. concerns. Nevertheless, "Bahrain needs gas. There are others that we would prefer to get it from." Mirza then recalled that sporadic outages due to power transmission problems over the past summer had led to popular protests. The situation would have been more dire if there had been no power at all. "In five years, we won't have enough gas to supply the power we will need. The whole country could collapse. I don't think that would be in the interest of the U.S." ------- COMMENT -------

6.(C) While Bahrain's gas MOU with Iran falls short of a firm agreement, it is a further step in that direction. Officials note that the MOU's language is general and that it is essentially an agreement to keep talking. This may be true. (Emboffs have not seen the agreement.) However, it is also true that GOB officials assess that Bahrain will face a major gas crunch between 2012 and 2014. They further assess that a pipeline with Iran would take 3-4 years to build. Counting backward from 2012, and assuming a best-case, three-year project completion time-line, pipeline construction will need to commence not later than 2Q 2009 in order to see completion before 3Q 2012, when annual power consumption will peak. But before construction can begin, financing needs to be secured and project tendering completed. This highlights Bahrain's need to finalize an agreement in 2008. Barring tangible developments with Qatar or Saudi Arabia in coming months, circumstances may well dictate that Bahrain's gas agreement will be with Iran. End Comment. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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