Cablegate: Ambassador's Dinner with the Foreign Minister
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #1209/01 1090940
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O 180940Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2722
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RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 8569
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0594
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5820
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 4464
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 1505
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1643
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5089
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001209
NSC FOR PHU
DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS USTR
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/18/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR ECON TH
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S DINNER WITH THE FOREIGN MINISTER
BANGKOK 00001209 001.2 OF 002
Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) I attended a dinner last night hosted by Russian Ambassador Yevgeny Afanasiev in honor of the Foreign Minister. Also in attendance were the UK Ambassador, Quinton Quayle; Dr. Michael Williams, visiting UK Special Representative for the Middle East and Special Projects; and wives. In a free-flowing casual conversation, Noppadon gave some interesting insight into the workings of the Samak foreign policy dynamic, as well as some of the goals of the current government.
"I Report to Thaksin"
2. (C) In a discussion of the foreign policy structures and mechanisms of our governments, Amb. Quayle asked the FM how much direction he took from Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Mingkwan, since nominally the Foreign Minister reports to the DPM. Noppadon laughed, stating that although he and Mingkwan are longtime friends, he does not take any direction from the DPM. ""I am fortunate. I am pretty independent in my work. I don't have to take instruction from anyone, and I only report to Mr. Thaksin."" When he saw the stunned silence around the table, he quickly added ""and, of course, the Prime Minister. But that goes without saying.""
3. (C) The Foreign Minister said that his recent trip to Washington was invaluable. He had excellent meetings with the Secretary and NSA Hadley. He also especially appreciated his meeting with the Attorney General. Noppadon also said that the recent investment roadshow visit to the U.S. by RTG Finance Minister Surapong was part of Bangkok's effort to make itself more attractive to the global community. Both the Russian and UK ambassadors noted that the positive actions toward foreign investment were much appreciated, particularly in contrast to the coup government. I noted, however, that the USG Deputy USTR had hoped to meet on April 21 with DPM Mingkwan, but had been turned down. I added that I had tried for over two months to set up an appointment with Minister Surapong, but to no avail. The RTG's refusal to meet with high-level trade-related visitors could not be seen as a positive signal at all, particularly those visiting from Thailand's largest export market. Noppadon said that he would work with his colleagues to ensure such meetings could be scheduled in the future.
Amending the Constitution
4. (C) Noppadon said one of the key goals for this administration was amending the constitution, particularly in order to eliminate the onerous penalties associated with campaign violations. As currently written, the constitution calls for the dissolution of a party if one of its executives is found guilty of violating the election law or Election Commission regulations. Ambassador Quayle remarked that the penalty was excessive and anti-democratic. It was analogous to Queen Elizabeth's order that Mary, Queen of Scots would be punished for anyone claiming to act on her behalf in an attempt to overthrow the monarchy. I asked the Foreign Minister if it wouldn't be politically difficult to amend the constitution, since it was the first constitution (out of 17) that had been passed in a referendum. He responded that the reason the public voted for the constitution was simply to remove the coup-installed government. Moreover, the PPP was elected on its transparent campaign pledge to amend the constitution, so the government already had the approval it needed to move forward with the amendments.
5. (C) He said that the PPP hoped to introduce amendments within the next week that would return the constitution to a version identical or very similar to the popular 1997 constitution. He anticipated that the government had the votes in both houses to be able to pass the amendments with the required simple majority. If so, the amendments would be retroactive, and therefore eliminate the threat of party dissolution, even if the Supreme Court or Constitutional Court ruled against the defendants in the electoral fraud cases currently before them.
6. (C) Noppadon expressed pride in the fact that he was not a member of ""the Bangkok elite."" He stated that he was from a poor family in the countryside of Thailand that sent him to live with monks in a temple in Bangkok when he was eleven years old. He worked for the monks for the next eight years, until he passed the law school entry examination on his own for Thamasat University. He graduated, and then went to work for Baker and McKenzie for three years. When he was 24 years old, he received a scholarship offer from the UK, as well as a Fulbright grant. Since the British offer was open-ended, and the Fulbright was only a year in duration, he went to England, where he graduated from Oxford law.
7. (C) Noppadon certainly embodies the free-wheeling nature of the Samak cabinet. As the government approaches its three-month mark, its players have yet to gel into a team. Ministers act with little coordination, either laterally or with the Prime Minister. Similarly, the Prime Minister's public comments often are at odds with the policy statements of his own cabinet and party. This apparently hands-off management style is going to make the advancement of our own foreign policy and economic interests tactically difficult, even when we are on the same page as the Samak government.