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Cablegate: Lebanon: With Welch, Jumblatt and Company Discuss

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OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0548/01 1131401
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 221401Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1606
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 1172
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2159
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2444
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 000548

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA, NEA/IPA, PRM/FO, AND PM/FO
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER
TREASURY FOR U/S LEVEY
DEPT PASS TO EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR KJUS MASS IR AR SY IS LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: WITH WELCH, JUMBLATT AND COMPANY DISCUSS
POLITICAL OPTIONS


BEIRUT 00000548 001.2 OF 004


Classified By: CDA Michele J. Sison for reasons section
1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) U.S. support for Lebanon, the April 22 Friends of
Lebanon ministerial, the Special Tribunal, concerns about
renewed regional conflict, the upcoming U.S. presidential
election, and March 14's next steps dominated NEA Assistant
Secretary David Welch's discussion with key March 14 leaders
at an April 17 dinner hosted by Walid Jumblatt. Welch gave
assurances that the U.S. would support whichever decision the
majority made to resolve the ongoing political impasse,
including the election of a president by simple majority
vote. It was clear, however, that his interlocutors remain
ambivalent on how to proceed, particularly without the input
of their still absent majority leader, Saad Hariri. End
summary.

2. (C) Druze leader Walid Jumblatt hosted a dinner in honor
of visiting NEA A/S David Welch on April 17, which included
Telecom Minister Marwan Hamadeh, Social Affairs Minister
Nayla Mouawad, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, Nassib
Lahoud, Ghattas Khoury (representing Saad Hariri), and March
14 MPs Wael Abu Four, Henri Helou and Faysel Sayegh. Charge,
NEA Staff Assistant, DCM, Pol/Econ Chief, and Senior LES
Political Advisor also attended on the U.S. side.

HOW THE U.S. CAN HELP
---------------------

3. (C) Jumblatt praised the joint statement by President Bush
and the Pope calling for an independent and sovereign
Lebanon. Asked by A/S Welch what else the U.S. could do to
support Lebanon, Jumblatt asked for U.S. assistance in
procuring used fighter jets and Puma helicopters from the
U.A.E. He also urged disbursement of Paris III funds without
conditions, adding that it was ridiculous to condition the
disbursement on economic reforms such as privatization and
administrative reforms when the current political situation
precluded such changes and while Hizballah is receiving
"tons" of money from its backers. He stressed the GOL needed
to receive assistance that does not requirement parliamentary
approval, a reference to the difficulties faced in dealing
with loan assistance versus grant aid.. Hamadeh noted that
the IMF had given Lebanon a favorable review, which could
persuade countries to give more money.

4. (C) Jumblatt and Lahoud both urged U.S. assistance in
pushing the Saudis to follow through with their promised USD
1 billion to support Lebanon's Central Bank reserves. Lahoud
warned that, in addition to a political and economic crisis,
Lebanon also was facing a social crisis due to the rising
prices of food and oil. "We need to ensure some social
spending by the GOL," he stressed. A/S Welch agreed, urging
March 14 to come up with a platform to address social needs.
A/S Welch responded that the U.S. was working on a robust
package of military assistance, and agreed future financial
assistance should not need GOL action.

HELPING THE DISPLACED
---------------------

5. (C) Mouawad stressed that financial support for persons
displaced during Lebanon's 15-year civil war also was needed
to close this important chapter of Lebanon's history. This
issue was especially urgent for Christians displaced from the
Chouf Mountain area (Jumblatt's home turf), in order to strip
MichQ Aoun of his Christian support. The Christian vote is
up for grabs in 2009, Lahoud warned, while Hamadeh added that
March 14 was beginning to win against the Aoun camp and
aiding the displaced would help.

6. (C) Mouawad, noting that Iran and Qatar had sponsored
entire villages in the south, and that Iranian money was now
infiltrating the north as well, said the Saudis should
provide USD 200 to 300 million to help accelerate the process
of reconstructing the Christian villages in the Chouf. Both
she and Jumblatt agreed that reconstruction of the Nahr
al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp should be carried out in
parallel.

7. (C) Jumblatt also stressed the importance of developing
Tripoli, in north Lebanon, to prevent the expansion of Sunni
extremism in that region. Hizballah is spending a lot of
money in these Sunni areas, Mouawad noted, but praised Saad
Hariri for securing strong Sunni support for the Lebanese
Armed Forces during the Nahar al-Barid fighting.

CONCERNS ABOUT SPECIAL TRIBUNAL
-------------------------------

8. (C) Jumblatt expressed serious concern that the Special
Tribunal was not progressing quickly enough, as well as
concern about Hizballah and Syria's campaign to release the
four generals arrested in 2005 in connection with the Hariri
assassination. He strongly criticized Prosecutor General
Said Mirza's "incompetence," calling him a weak person unfit
for his job. Moreover, he said, the Lebanese judges are weak
and do not have the "guts" for confrontation. If one or two
of the generals are released, he warned, it will affect the
credibility of the tribunal. Jumblatt also was concerned
that the Russians might play an unhelpful role in the
Security Council. Responding to Hamadeh's comment that the
Canadian Ambassador had reassured him about the excellent
credentials of UNIIIC Commissioner Bellemare, Jumblatt
reacted negatively, saying, "this is what they told us about
Brammertz."

9. (C) A/S Welch, noting that he would see Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov in Kuwait, reported on his meeting the
week before with Bellemare and noted that the U.S. was in the
process of institutionalizing its relationship with UNIIIC to
provide better and faster assistance. Furthermore, the U.S.
had doubled its contribution to ensure the Tribunal's
financial requirements were met, and Congress fully supports
the Tribunal as well, he noted. While Bellemare did not
discuss in Washington the content of his investigation --
which A/S Welch deemed correct so as not to politicize the
Tribunal -- A/S Welch found him "convincing and serious."
Extending UNIIIC's mandate was useful because it would
prolong Chapter 7 authority, which would "cause Bashar to
choke." UNIIIC was conducting a complex investigation and
needed time to run its course.

FRIENDS OF LEBANON
------------------

10. (C) Hamadeh said if the GOL was invited to attend the
4/22 meeting on Lebanon in Kuwait it would help further the
legitimacy of the GOL. The French, he claimed, are
attempting to find ways to get back on the local scene,
arguing that their role should be confined to keeping the
Arab League initiative focused on the presidency first,
followed by cabinet formation and the electoral law. Hamadeh
told this to FM Kouchner and Presidential Advisor Levitte
during his recent trip to Paris. Berri's efforts to focus on
the electoral law were an attempt to dislocate March 14,
Hamadeh said. The Europeans, he contended, will play a
greater role after July 1 when France takes over the EU
presidency.

11. (C) Jumblatt praised Saudi King Abdullah, noting his
trong support for March 14, but added that effortsshould be
made with Kuwait and the U.A.E., whose level of
representation at the Arab League summit in Damascus was "not
good," to bring them in line with Saudi Arabian solidarity on
Lebanon. Jumblatt recognized "it is a long process but we
are determined." However, he deplored that French President
Chirac is no longer in power, hinting that the current French
administration does not support March 14 as much as the
previous administration.

SEEKING U.S. APPROVAL FOR
SIMPLE MAJORITY ELECTION
-------------------------

12. (C) A/S Welch, noting that the Arab League summit in
Damascus was a failure, said the U.S. shared March 14's
concerns, adding that it supported the Arab League
initiative, beginning with the election of a president.Mouawad asked whether the U.S. would support a preident
elected by simple majority. A/S Welch replied that the U.S.
would support whatever the majority decided to do, but that
it did not appear that March 14 was united on this issue.
However, March 14 was the democratic majority, and if it
opted to proceed with a simple majority election, the U.S.
would be "at the forefront of international support."

13. (C) A/S Welch commended March 14 for its efforts to unify
and crystallize its program, remarking that what he saw now
was a more confident coalition. Aoun was "tanking" and March
14 should help him "tank," he said. Furthermore, now that
Lebanon had regained its rightful role vis-a-vis Syria, March
14 should take advantage of the support of the international
community to assert its own initiatives. "Don't let others
take the initiative," he stressed, adding that the principle
of "elect a president now" was a good one. "Don't relinquish
the principle that the majority rules."

14. (C) Both Jumblatt and Hamadeh stressed that it was
necessary to have the Patriarch and consensus candidate
Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Michel Sleiman (the presumed
president-elect) on board. Hamadeh noted that March 14 had
been helped by Michel Murr's recent defection from the Aoun
camp. Mouawad, however, again stressed that going forward
with the presidential election would require strong support
for Lebanon's currency and a "massive" international
recognition of the newly elected president. (Note: Despite
A/S Welch's assurances that the U.S. would support March 14
should it decide to proceed with a simple majority election,
we heard after the dinner that Mouawad and several others
were still not satisfied. End note.)

15. (C) Lebanon is the "cutting edge of democracy" in the
Middle East, A/S Welch said, and the U.S. believes in March
14's cause. But it is easier for the U.S. to support you if
you develop a message and platform that earns the people's
support; by turning the tables on the opposition in terms of
who takes the initiative, you will develop a credible
political track. "We move, you move," Jumblatt paraphrased.

CONCERNS ABOUT U.S. ELECTION
----------------------------

16. (C) Lahoud commented that both the Democratic and
Republican parties should have the same position on Lebanon:
supporting Lebanon's democracy, sovereignty and independence.
The pro-Syrian opposition was banking on a change in U.S.
policy or its commitment to Lebanon, he said. A/S Welch
responded that U.S. support for Lebanon was bipartisan, and
that its policy would not change with the U.S. presidential
election, citing democratic criticism of former President
Carter's meetings with Hamas and Syrian officials. Iran,
Iraq, the Palestinian question and Lebanon are the top U.S.
foreign policy priorities, he said, and this is unlikely to
change. He dismissed suggestions that the U.S. would
negotiate a Syrian track with Israel that would compromise
Lebanon. The U.S. is by far the greatest defender of
security and freedom in the Middle East, he reminded his
hosts.

CONCERNS ABOUT REGIONAL WAR
---------------------------

17. (C) Responding to concerns about a new conflict with
Israel, especially in anticipation of Hizballah retaliation
for the February 12 assassination of Imad Mugniyeh, A/S Welch
said he did not believe the Israelis intended to start
something in Lebanon, although they probably would respond if
provoked. Israeli overflights were intended to ensure that
Hizballah did not attempt something, he said. Jumblatt
suggested that the German border project along the northern
Syrian border could be expanded, if it were functioning, but
unfortunately the various security forces were not
coordinating well. Khoury noted that smugglers were able to
enter Lebanon via normal routes, paying off border officials
to bring their goods in.

18. (C) Mouawad lamented the fact that the Europeans were
being "held hostage" by their UNIFIL presence in south
Lebanon, and that UNIFIL was ineffective in preventing
Hizballah from carrying on its activities. We are facing a
state within a state, Lahoud agreed.


WAITING FOR SAAD
----------------

19. Jumblatt and others were critical of Saad Hariri's long
absence, blaming him for March 14's lack of progress on
developing unified positions, especially on whether to
proceed with the presidential election.

20. (U) A/S Welch has not had the opportunity to clear this
cable.
SISON

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