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Cablegate: Lebanon: Saad Hariri Not yet Decided On Prime

VZCZCXRO2785
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0761/01 1451725
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 241725Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2024
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2382
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2689
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 000761

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/23/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR ASEC UNSC EAIR SA IR LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: SAAD HARIRI NOT YET DECIDED ON PRIME
MINISTER, DISILLUSIONED WITH INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

REF: A. BEIRUT 759
B. BEIRUT 758

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

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) A somber and defeatist-sounding March 14 leader Saad
Hariri did not appear to have decided whether he would become
prime minister in the next cabinet. Citing the election of a
president as the only victory emerging from Doha, he
complained about the lack of response from the international
community in the wake of Hizballah's takeover of much of
downtown Beirut. He again pressed for accelerated military
and financial assistance, stressing the need for items like
Cobra attack helicopters to enable the Lebanese Armed Forces
(LAF) to stand up to Hizballah. End summary.

2. (C) CDA Sison, accompanied by Pol/Econ Chief, met with
majority leader Saad Hariri at his office in Qoreitem on May
24, less than 24 hours before Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)
Commander General Michel Sleiman was scheduled to be elected
president. Hariri advisors Ghattas Khoury and Nader Hariri
and notetaker Nadine Chehab also attended the meeting.

3. (C) The Charge opened the meeting stressing that the
majority was facing a marathon rather than a sprint, although
both the immediate tactical decisions and longer term
strategic decisions were key to winning the 2009
parliamentary elections. As Khoury and Nader Hariri had
stated before Saad entered the room, Saad's Future Movement
and March 14 had some tough challenges ahead, as they seek to
solidify political support, recover from the humiliation
suffered heaped upon the Sunnis by Hizballah, and form a
cabinet capable of responding to the people's needs. Saad
acknowledged that the majority was in a marathon race.

4. (C) The Charge also relayed her discussion with Sleiman
the evening before (Ref B), in which she had stressed the
need to implement the Doha agreement in its entirety,
including addressing the issue of the relationship between
the state and Hizballah. Although the U.S. would not enter
into the name game, she had stressed to Sleiman the need to
keep the LAF in good hands to ensure that the current
ambitious U.S.-LAF program of training and equipment remained
on track.

DOHA: WE DID WHAT WAS
NECESSARY TO SAVE LEBANON
-------------------------

5. (C) Saad was in his deepest defeatist mode, fiddling
incessantly with his prayer beads and repeatedly expressing
his disillusionment with the international community. "When
we were under fire, everyone was in a coma," he said; "We had
to do what we did to save Lebanon." The Sunnis were
"heartbroken," Saad continued (Khoury used the word "raped"),
and he refused to give them any more "false expectations."

6. (C) Note: Before Saad joined the meeting, Khoury called
the Doha agreement "decent" and the best possible under the
circumstances. He agreed with the Charge that March 14 had
secured a success in ensuring that the word "resistance" did
not make it into the final text. Khoury further noted that
Saad was "adamant" that what Hizballah did in Beirut would
not pass lightly, and that Saad had conveyed this to General
Sleiman. End note.

7. (C) The only victory from Doha was that Lebanon would
finally elect a president, Saad continued. But Sleiman now
has a big problem: whereas he once was "well-liked" by all
the Lebanese, now, after his recent inaction facing
Hizballah, he was now "well-hated." (Comment: A plethora of
Lebanese flags and posters of Sleiman have sprung up
throughout Beirut over the past few days as part of a
coordinated LAF PR campaign. End comment.)

KEEPING MUM ON WHO
WILL BE PRIME MINISTER

BEIRUT 00000761 002 OF 002


----------------------

8. (C) Saad did not appear to have decided on who would be
the next prime minister, merely stating that it was "up to
me." (Note: Before Saad entered, Nader told us the Saudis
would respect whichever decision Saad makes. However, we
have heard from several contacts that the Saudis told Saad
current PM Fouad Siniora should remain as prime minister.
End note.) "We'll do what we have to do to keep the country
stable," Saad added, agreeing with the Charge that the next
10 months would be critical in the lead-up to the spring 2009
parliamentary elections.

9. (C) Before Saad joined the meeting, Nader acknowledged
that Doha was only "round one" and that the majority had a
long way to go. Khoury added that the majority needed to do
what was best for the Lebanese people over the next 10
months, addressing social issues to which PM Siniora had not
been sensitive, citing Economic Minister Sami Haddad attempt
to raise the price of bread as a key example. Siniora is
stubborn, Khoury said, and difficult to work with. Khoury
expected that, as had happened with late PM Rafiq Hariri,
ultimately the cabinet would be comprised of a "clear slate"
of leaders not involved in the current wrangling over cabinet
seats.

SEND COBRAS NOW!
----------------

10. (C) Saad complained about remarks made by the USG about
Hizballah losing support, saying, "This doesn't help us."
What we need is accelerated military and Paris III
assistance, he said, rather than mere words. The Charge
noted that the U.S. already had committed over $300 million
in U.S. military training and equipment assistance to the LAF
and was looking at ways to further support the LAF. Saad
dismissed this, countering that Iran and Syria are providing
much more than $300 million to Hizballah. He noted that he
would see Iranian FM Mottaki during his visit for Sleiman's
swearing in, but would "avoid" Syrian FM Moallem.

11. (C) "We need Cobra attack helicopters!" he said, if we
are to face down Hizballah. "The U.S. has no sense of
urgency," he complained, while we are living here in the
middle of a storm." The Charge noted this week's delivery of
U.S. ammunition to the LAF, as well as the body armor
shipment received earlier in the month.

COMMENT
-------

12. (C) Saad appeared genuinely torn as to what to do about
the prime ministership. Even his advisors, before Saad
entered the room, seemed in the dark, telling the Charge,
"You tell us" who will be prime minister. Although defeatist
in attitude, he also appeared resolved to attack the
political challenges leading up to the 2009 parliamentary
elections and fully cognizant of the uphill battles ahead.
SISON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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