Cablegate: Lebanon: Saad Calls Arab League Meetings "Useless"
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
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O 261313Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1126
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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SUBJECT: LEBANON: SAAD CALLS ARAB LEAGUE MEETINGS "USELESS"
REF: A. BEIRUT 296
B. BEIRUT 292
C. BEIRUT 286
BEIRUT 00000302 001.2 OF 003
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Michele J. Sison for Reasons: Sec
tion 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) On February 25, Majority leader Saad Hariri called
the February 24-25 round of Arab League meetings "useless."
Michel Aoun continued to insist on a blocking third in the
cabinet, and Syria does not want the presidential election to
take place. Hizballah, meanwhile, was escalating its
activities. Saad pressed for more U.S. and UNRWA assistance
in rebuilding Palestinian refugee camps to root out
terrorism, and reiterated his calls for more sophisticated
U.S. military equipment. End summary.
2. (C) Charge Sison, accompanied by Pol/Econ Chief, met with
majority leader Saad Hariri, along with advisors Ghattas
Khoury and Nader Hariri and notetaker Nadine Chehab, on
February 25, immediately following a separate meeting with
Arab League SYG Amr Moussa (Ref A).
ARAB LEAGUE MEETINGS "USELESS"
3. (C) Saad called the February 24-25 round of Arab League
meetings "useless." Aoun was still focused on becoming
president himself, and the opposition continued to insist on
a blocking third in the cabinet, mainly to enable it to block
any decisions on the Special Tribunal. There had, however,
been some agreemnt on the electoral law, i.e., to use the
1960 lw as a basis for discussion, but disagreements
rmained on districting. Saad saw no point in continuing to
talk to Aoun or even Parliament Speaker Berri, other than to
help ease Sunni-Shia tensions.
4. (C) In separate conversations with the Charge, Druse
leader Walid Jumblatt and Telecom Minister Marwan Hamadeh
each called the summit a "total failure." Using almost
identical language, they each said, "We want a president, but
not at any price," and, "Amr Moussa's goal seems to be the
summit, not Lebanon." In a separate meeting with Pol/Econ
Chief on February 27, March 14 SYG Fares Suaid also said Amr
Moussa was looking for a diplomatic victory for the Damascus
summit. In Suaid's view, Moussa, afraid of being labeled
pro-American, accepted the opposition's draft points and was
focusing on the details in an attempt to paint to the problem
as an internal Lebanese one, rather than admit that Syria was
the real problem. The real issue at stake, Suaid said, was
5. (C) The Syrians do not want a president, Saad continued.
The Asad regime is more concerned with the Lebanon file than
the March 27-29 Arab League summit, he explained, because it
views Lebanon as Syria's arena for its fight with Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel is content with keeping the Asad regime
in power. The U.S. needs a Syria policy, he added; "You
have ten times more evidence against Syria than you did
against Saddem Hussein! He further warned that Syria might
decide to follow Turkey's example of entering northern Iraq
by engaging in cross-border operations in Lebanon. Syria's
agenda is to regain control of Lebanon via Hizballah, he
said; it is their "force majeure" and it will happen in the
6. (C) Commenting on his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and the
UAE, Saad said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed were "pretty
solid vis-a-vis Lebanon" and were trying to help. Everyone
in the Arab world is concerned about where we are going, Saad
said, adding, what pressure can be exerted on Syria?
7. (C) Saad planned to travel to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt
and possibly Morocco before the Arab League summit in
Damascus to seek more support for Lebanon. He believed the
Egyptians would follow the Saudi lead in deciding whether to
attend the summit, but cited Libya and Qatar as problematic,
saying the U.S. should push the Qataris. The Kuwaitis
"probably will be solid," he said, but he still "had a
question mark" about the Jordanians' position. Saad also
said he planned to travel to Turkey soon. (Note: Saad
departed for Saudi Arabia on February 26. End note.)
8. (C) Saad dismissed press reports claiming the Saudi's were
withdrawing $4.8 billion in investments from Lebanon. If
anything, the Saudis may have decided not to pursue potential
real estate deals, Nader suggested.
HIZBALLAH WILL RETALIATE
FOR MUGHNIEH ASSASSINATION
9. (C) Saad said he did not know how much the assassination
of Hizballah military leader Imad Mughnieh would affect
Syrian-Iranian relations, but he did believe Hizballah would
take some sort of retaliatory action against Israel.
Hizballah had been sending him messages to this effect, in
addition to escalating its public rhetoric. Furthermore,
recent statements by IRGC and Iranian leaders revealed how
involved they are with Hizballah, as well as Al-Qaeda, which
was responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers attack. The
Iranians and Syrians are deeply involved with Al-Qaeda, he
repeated, asking, why are the Syrians investigating who
killed Mughnieh, but not how he was killed on Syrian soil?
10. (C) Meanwhile, Hizballah was entering people's homes in
Lebanon, nearly causing security incidents and forcing Saad
to bring all of "our people of the Future Movement" to
control the clashes. Showing the Charge pictures, Saad said
that Future Movement headquarters had been hit by over 300
bullets in a February 11 incident that had not been reported
in the media. Hizballah is preparing something, Saad warned.
Noting that the Iranian Ambassador had canceled a scheduled
meeting with him a few weeks ago after Saad attacked Iran in
a speech, Saad said he would make another speech soon that
would be equally tough on Iran.
RAMI MAKLOUF DESIGNATION
11. (C) Saad asked whether the recent U.S. Treasury
designation of Rami Maklouf had resulted in any actions yet,
adding that Maklouf had financial transactions in Romania and
the Cayman Islands. A lot of Hizballah funding comes from
Africa, carried in cash by people who are 90 percent Shia, he
said, promising to provide the Embassy with names.
PROVIDING ASSISTANCE TO NORTH
LEBANON, PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
12. (C) The conversation then turned to Saad's recent trip to
north Lebanon, where he announced a $52 million grant to help
build schools for 10,000 students in Tripoli and another
8,000 in Akkar, where there were no public schools. The
money would also go towards a university in Akkar, which
would be a "serious" religious university belonging to Dar
al-Fatwa (the residence of Sunni Grand Mufti Mohamad
Qabbani). Saad said he also was providing 10,000 meals a day
to Palestinians displaced from the Nahr al-Barid camp
following last summer's conflict.
13. (C) Saad acknowledged that the "scarecrow" of "tawteen"
(Palestinian settlement) was always there. Lebanon could not
afford to settle the Palestinian refugees on its soil. It's
a delicate balance, he said. Israel recognizes Lebanon's
demographic problem, and in 2000 then Israeli PM Barak agreed
with President Clinton and Yasser Arafat that Lebanon's
refugees would be the first to return to their homeland. But
now President Bush's statement in Israel has "ticked everyone
off," he said.
14. (C) I believe we must rebuild the camps, he continued, to
give people hope and prevent them from becoming breeding
grounds for terrorists. But this stirs up negative reactions
from the Christians. The U.S. and UNRWA could do a lot more
to help if they put some "heavy" money into it, he said. The
Charge noted that she had discussed recently with UNRWA
Director Richard Cook the political impact of this issue.
Saad said UNRWA must be more "forward-leaning," using its
legal authority under UNSCR 194. It's the only way to fight
terrorism, he said. Two to three hundred million dollars is
all that is needed. PLO Executive Representative in Lebanon
Abbas Zaki, with funding from Abu Mazen, was doing a great
job trying to reestablish the Fatah movement inside the
camps, to avoid the Hamas situation whereby the IRGC entered
CALLING FOR COBRAS
15. (C) The Nahr al-Barid conflict would have been less of a
mess, he added, if the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had had
more sophisticated weaponry, such as Cobra attack
helicopters, which were still needed. The PFLP-GC camp in
Qousaya was boosting its arsenal, with the Syrians providing
all kinds of weaponry, either to destabilize the Biqa, or in
preparation for an attack from Israel. Qousaya was up on a
hill, Saad explained, and can only be attacked by air. We
have the pilots, but need helicopters and training, he said.
The U.S. has talked a lot about this, but so far has only
approved light weapons, even for control of the 450 km
border. Furthermore, we have police stations that have no
cars, he complained. If we'd had better equipment before the
2006 war, we wouldn't be where we are today. Saad also said
the Internal Security Forces (ISF) needed closed circuit
televisions, which would cost between $25 - 40 million.
16. (C) The Charge pointed to the recent visit of USD/P
Edelman -- the first high-level U.S. visit since she assumed
charge -- as evidence that the U.S. was serious about helping
the Lebanese Armed Forces with equipment and training. In
addition, 300 police cars provided by the U.S. would arrive
next month, she said, and would be turned over to the ISF.