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Cablegate: Lebanon: Geagea Drops by Again

VZCZCXRO2338
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0669/01 1332134
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 122134Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2271
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2575
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000669

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA
ALSO FOR A/S SILVERBERG AND PDAS WARLICK
USUN FOR KHALILZAD/WOLFF/KUMAR/PHEE
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/11/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR ASEC UNSC EAIR SA IR LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: GEAGEA DROPS BY AGAIN

REF: A. BEIRUT 654

B. BEIRUT 618
C. BEIRUT 663
D. BEIRUT 642

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, in a May 12
evening drop-by with Minister of Tourism Joseph Sarkis to the
Embassy, said that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was doing
"excellently." He said that March 14 leaders Saad Hariri and
Walid Jumblatt should stop pressuring Siniora to convene a
Cabinet meeting aimed at considering withdrawal of its
controversial decisions to transfer the head of airport
security and declare Hizballah's fiber optics network
illegal. Geagea said Siniora is resolute in upholding the
Cabinet's decisions. Geagea suggested that the Cabinet's
decisions be used as a bargaining chip in a National Dialogue
to get a firm commitment from the opposition to withdraw from
the streets and open the airport road.

2. (C) Geagea believes that the Qatari-led Arab League
delegation can be most helpful if it arrives in Beirut on May
14 to propose a substantive program, rather than to be in
listening-mode. Ultimately, a long-term strategy to defeating
Hizballah is necessary, Geagea stated. He told us that he is
working with Internal Security Forces (ISF) General Rifi
(allied with Saad Hariri) on buying ammunitions for his
militia and for Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party
fighters. End summary.

SINIORA DOING "EXCELLENTLY"
---------------------------

3. (C) Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea and Minister
of Tourism and loyal LF member Joseph Sarkis stopped by the
Embassy at 1800 on May 12 to report to the Charge, A/DCM,
Defense Attache, and PolOff on his day of meetings with key
political figures. Geagea declared at the outset that he had
visited Prime Minister Fouad Siniora earlier in the day at
1500, and "Siniora is doing excellently," which we note is an
improvement from the previous day (Ref A). Geagea explained
that the PM is isolated from the outside world since he is
holed up for security reasons at the Grand Serail.

CABINET IS CONSIDERING
WITHDRAWING ITS DECISIONS
-------------------------

4. (C) Geagea reported that he visited the PM to convince him
to convene the Cabinet in order to discuss withdrawing its
May 5 decisions to transfer the head of airport security and
declare Hizballah's fiber optics network illegal (Ref B).
Siniora rejected his appeal, Geagea relayed, and told him
that the Cabinet cannot withdraw its decisions without a
serious guarantee that the opposition will withdraw from the
streets and the airport road. Geagea said that Siniora was
threatening to resign precisely because he was opposed to
withdrawing the Cabinet's decisions. Moreover, Geagea said,
we as March 14 have already been humiliated enough.

5. (C) Concluding that Siniora would not budge, Geagea told
us that we should urge March 14 leaders Saad Hariri and Walid
Jumblatt to stop pushing Siniora. "The PM will not give
anything for free," Geagea stated, himself agreeing with the
PM. (Note: Jumblatt listed for us immediately before we saw
Geagea the March 14 leaders who were now advocating the
Cabinet withdraw its decisions, septel. End note.)

6. (C) Geagea told us he would support withdrawing the
decisions if it meant it would resolve the situation. (Note:
Unsurprisingly, Minister Sarkis said that if the Cabinet
met, he would vote against withdrawing the decisions. Two
Cabinet members had been out of the country for the last few
days preventing the Cabinet from having a quorum, but Acting
Foreign Minister Tareq Mitri returned today, May 12, while
Minister of Displaced Nehme Tohme's plans were not known to
the group. End note.)

BEIRUT 00000669 002 OF 002

7. (C) Geagea called at 2240 today to report that Saad was
leaning on him to influence his members of the Cabinet
(Minister Sarkis) to agree that the Cabinet should withdraw
its decisions. Geagea said he would continue to work on
Ghattas Khoury, senior advisor to Saad. He also noted that
Saad will soon be holding a press conference (NFI).

USING THE DECISIONS
AS A BARGAINING CHIP
--------------------

8. (C) Geagea wondered what the Arab League delegation,
headed by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad
bin Jassim, will bring when it is expected to arrive in
Beirut on Wednesday, May 14. "What are they proposing?" he
inquired, suggesting that March 14 use the possibility of
withdrawing the Cabinet's decisions as a bargaining chip in
the Arab League-sponsored talks or in the National Dialogue.

9. (C) Minister Sarkis proposed that March 14 work to return
the situation to as it was before the Cabinet made its
controversial decisions on May 5. He recommended that March
14 "trade" the withdrawal of its decisions in exchange for
the opposition pulling off the streets and opening the
airport road. Geagea noted that he believed Hizballah was
not satisfied with how the situation was playing out, and
that it feels obliged to act. No one knew whether the
opposition was willing to go to a National Dialogue absent a
withdrawal by the Cabinet of its decisions.

NEED A LONG-TERM STRATEGY
TO DEFEAT HIZBALLAH
-------------------------

10. (C) Geagea noted that the current situation is not
terrible, but that March 14 needed something significant to
"hold Hizballah back." He offered, "We could turn a defeat
into a victory." He told the Charge that the focus needs to
shift to a more long-term look at how to defeat Hizballah.

11. (C) Privately, Geagea followed up on his previous
requests for ammunition for his LF fighters (Ref D), and
informed the Charge that he had seen Internal Security Forces
(ISF) Director General Ashraf Rifi earlier in the day.
Geagea reported that he is working with Rifi on buying
ammunition at list price from other countries for himself and
Walid Jumblatt. (Comment: We visited Rifi at 1300 today,
May 12, and then saw him later in the afternoon at his close
friend Saad's residence, septel. It looks like Geagea is
moving along with his preparations to arm his fighters. End
comment.)

COMMENT
-------

12. (C) Geagea approached us to ask that we urge Saad and
Jumblatt to ease their pressure on Siniora to agree to
withdraw the Cabinet's decisions. While Siniora has been
resolute in upholding the Cabinet's decisions, to the point
of choosing to resign rather than concede on this issue, it
is interesting to note that we were told by several
interlocutors that Siniora had walked into the May 5 Cabinet
meeting believing the head of airport security Wafiq Chucair
should be investigated before a transfer decision was made.
Always thinking strategically, Geagea appeared indifferent as
to whether the Cabinet withdrew its decisions or not, and was
more interested in moving beyond the "issue of the day" so
that the bigger problems (Hizballah) can be tackled.

13. (C) We hear Saad Hariri and Geagea when they say that
they do not want the Arab League delegation to be in
"listening-mode" during their visit. We agree that the
delegation can be most helpful if it brings a serious program
to table. Geagea and Siniora have started thinking along
these lines by suggesting that the Cabinet's decisions be
discussed in a National Dialogue. To make this visit
effective, we suggest the delegation draws up a firm program
prior to its arrival. End comment.
SISON

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