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Cablegate: Lebanon: Jumblatt Wary of Syrian Intentions,

VZCZCXRO4269
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #1075/01 2051516
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231516Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2549
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2636
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2908
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 001075

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/22/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR UNSC MARR MOPS SY LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: JUMBLATT WARY OF SYRIAN INTENTIONS,
VIEWS TRIBUNAL AS BIGGEST STICK

REF: BEIRUT 1068

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. William Grant for reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) Druze leader Walid Jumblatt remains skeptical of
Syrian intentions toward Lebanon and continues to press for
expedited action on the Special Tribunal as the only way to
pressure Damascus, especially in light of recent French
overtures toward Syria. Agreeing that released Lebanese
prisoner Samir Kantar, a fellow Druze, is "not a hero,"
Jumblatt explained his presence at Kantar's welcome home
ceremony in the Chouf as politically necessary. Jumblatt
praised majority leader Saad Hariri's recent trip to Iraq as
helpful in promoting better Sunni-Shia relations, reiterated
his support for army intelligence chief Georges Khoury as the
next commander, and stressed the need to overcome disputes
among March 14 Christians as key to ensuring the majority's
success in the 2009 parliamentary elections. End summary.

2. (C) On July 22, Charge Grant, accompanied by A/DCM and
Senior LES Political Advisor, met with Druze leader Walid
Jumblatt at his residence in Clemenceau. Druze MP Akram
Shehayyeb also attended part of the meeting.

SKEPTICAL OF SYRIAN INTENTIONS
------------------------------

3. (C) Commenting on Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem's visit
July 21 to Lebanon (reftel), Jumblatt said Moallem raised new
challenges when he said that "even if international forces
are deployed in the Sheba'a farms instead of the IDF, then we
will still consider the land occupied." This would further
complicate the issue of Sheba'a, Jumblatt warned. On
Sleiman's upcoming visit to Damascus, he said March 14 should
stand by Sleiman to strengthen his position and avoid
allowing him to fall into the trap of the expected Syrian
charm offensive and lobbying by pro-Syrian Lebanese officials
such as Michel Samaha. (Note: Sleiman's office issued a
statement saying he would not travel to Damascus as soon as
July 26, as reported in the media, but would wait until the
cabinet has completed the ministerial statement that it is
currently negotiating. End Note)

4. (C) Jumblatt did not believe Syria would establish
diplomatic relations with Lebanon or take action on Sheba'a
Farms until after the 2009 parliamentary elections, but would
continue instead to deliver "vague" promises. "If March 8
wins these elections, then we will not have diplomatic
relations with Syria," he predicted. He expressed support
for disbanding the Higher Syrian-Lebanese Council as well as
the subsequent treaties that were signed between Lebanon and
Syria, notably the ones related to security and foreign
relations. However, Jumblatt said PM Siniora asked to be
cautious on this front because abrogating these treaties
requires the endorsement of both parties.

"Thanks to Sarkozy, Bashar is no longer isolated"
--------------------------------

5. (C) Jumblatt criticized French President Sarkozy for
opening up to Syrian President Bashar Asad, saying, "Thanks
to Sarkozy, Bashar is no longer isolated." He feared Sarkozy
and Asad might strike a deal to stop the investigations into
the Hariri assassination or to divert its course, adding that
the "Syrians are excellent at bazaars." Jumblatt reiterated
his concerns about what he perceived as continuing delays in
the Tribunal, admitting, "I am obsessed by it." He warned
that action needed to be taken sooner rather than later
since, now that the opposition has a blocking third of the
cabinet, it will scrutinize every detail of the process,
tying March 14's efforts to move things forward.

6. (C) Jumblatt disclosed that Sarkozy had sent his aide
Claude Gueant to meet Saudi King Abdullah, whom Jumblatt
described as the only staunch supporter of March 14 in the
Arab world. Gueant reportedly told Abdullah that the Syrians
were not involved in the 1983 Drakkar bombing in Beirut that
killed 56 French servicemen, the same day the U.S. Marines
headquarters was bombed. Gueant's implication, Jumblatt
extrapolated, was that the Iranians were behind the attack,
and since Imad Mughnieh was an Iranian agent, the whole case
was "closed." This in turn would imply that the Iranians
were responsible for the assassination of former PM Rafiq
Hariri and others, further undermining the Tribunal, he
warned.

KANTAR WELCOME
POLITICALLY NECESSARY
---------------------

7. (C) Charge raised strong USG concern at the welcoming
reception given to freed prisoner Samir Qantar. Jumblatt
stressed that he did not attend the airport official
ceremony. He discounted his participation at the rally held
in Abey, Kantar's hometown in Jumblatt's Chouf Mountain
stronghold that gathered a mere 500 supporters, as necessary
for local political reasons. "I couldn't but assist," he
explained, adding, "I know he is not that much of a hero."
Jumblatt shrugged when asked whether he expected Kantar to
run for parliament, noting that Kantar had told al-Manar he
would not.

8. (C) Jumblatt criticized German Chancellor Merkel for
blaming Siniora for participating in the welcome ceremony
when it was a German who had brokered Kantar's release,
adding that Merkel should blame Israel for releasing Qantar
instead. He further criticized Israel for dealing with
Hizballah on the exchange, rather than the GOL.

CONCERNS FOR CHOUF
------------------

9. (C) Jumblatt said his current concern is to reduce tension
in the mountains between Shia and Druze. He said that a
field committee consisting of his MP, Shehayyeb and
Hizballah's head of security apparatus Wafiq Safa was formed
in order to fix any problems on the ground, a level of
contact with Hizballah he deemed "acceptable." He noted that
the Druze were still worried about Hizballah's continuing
development of its fiber optic network, adding that the new
Telecom Minister (and staunch Aounist) Gebran Bassil would do
nothing to challenge it.

10. (C) Jumblatt said he is still waiting for the day when he
will tour the Chouf and Aley areas along with Speaker Berri
and Hizballah to alleviate tensions. Rival Druze leader
Talal Arslan also would be acceptable, he said, but not Druze
hard-liners such as Wiam Wahab or members of the Syrian
Socialist National Party. He said he knew his overtures to
Arslan during the May events was not a popular gesture, but
one that he considered necessary to avoid a conflict with
Hizbbalh.

PRAISE FOR SAAD'S
TRIP TO IRAQ, SUNNI-
SHIA RECONCILIATION
--------------------

11. (C) Jumblatt praised Saad Hariri's recent trip to Iraq,
dubbing his meeting in Najaf with Shia religious leader Ali
Sistani a good step in reconciling Shia and Sunnis that
should be followed by further positive steps. Jumblatt
stated that Najaf, the Shia holy place in Iraq, should be
given greater influence in order to compete with Qom, to whom
Lebanon's Hizballah Shia looked. Jumblatt, noting that Saad
was coming for dinner that evening, said he did not know
whether Saad intended to meet with Hizballah SYG Nasrallah
soon.

12. (C) Jumblatt dismissed Saad's Shia advisors, Akab Saqr
and Bassem Saba, as "not serious." On the other hand, the
appointment of independent Shia Ibrahim Shamseddine, whom
Siniora had lobbied heavily for (and whom Jumblatt himself is
close to), as a minister could be an overture to the Shia in
the long term. He stressed that Shamseddine should remain
independent; if he is seen as being a member of March 14, "he
is over," Jumblatt warned. He also praised Shia such as Saud
Mawla ("my good friend") and Mohamad Matar, but again
stressed the need for them to work independent of March 14.

CRITICAL OF
SECURITY FORCES
---------------

13. (C) Jumblatt expressed his support for current Lebanese
Armed Forces (LAF) Director of Intelligence (G-2) George
Khoury as the next LAF Commander, noting that Hariri and
Siniora oppose his nomination. He warned that Hariri and
Siniora should be cautious in handling this matter because
Aoun could benefit politically if the position goes to a
Maronite appointed by Hariri (i.e., not Khoury) by accusing
the Sunnis of once again usurping Christian positions.

14. (C) Jumblatt said the LAF is exhausted and even UNIFIL
commander Graziano is complaining about the absence of the
LAF in the south. Jumblatt said he is working with the
acting LAF commander al-Masri to isolate the Chouf in the
region between Mashghara and Niha by blocking roads to
prevent Hizballah troops from entering this area;
subsequently, the LAF troops currently deployed in this area
could be moved the south.

15. (C) Jumblatt strongly deplored the corruption within the
ISF, complaining that ISF chief Ashraf Rifi is doing nothing,
while the role of Wissam Hassan, head of the ISF Intelligence
department, will be reviewed in the cabinet by Aoun's
ministers. Jumblatt praised newlyappointed Minister of the
Interior Ziyad Baroud ut questioned whether he would be able
to addres the corruption within the ministry.

MARCH 14 MUST OVERCOME
CHRISTIAN SQUABBLES
---------------------

16. (C) Jumblatt said the main purpose of his dinner with
Saad was to "reassemble" March 14 to gear up for the 2009
parliamentary elections. This will not be easy, he
predicted, especially following the difficult process of
cabinet formation that pit them against each other.

17. (C) Jumblatt said that he had had a "little dispute"
with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, notably over the
Greek-Catholic seat that was occupied by Nehmeh Tohme, close
to Jumblatt. Jumblatt said he had had to "sacrifice"
Minister Tohme to find a compromise between him and a
pro-Geagea candidate, with the result being the compromise
appointment of Raymond Audi, CEO of Audi bank, as Minister of
the Displaced.

18. (C) Jumblatt added that Geagea needs to understand that
the Christians are not split between the Lebanese Forces and
Michel Aoun; rather, some 30 percent of them are neither with
Geagea nor with Aoun. A major test would be in the Baabda
electoral district where, if March 14 is able to win 55
percent of the Christian votes, March 14 will win all six
seats in that district. However, Jumblatt warned, if imposes
his candidates in that district, March 14 will loose all six
seats.

COMMENT
-------

19. (C) Asked what the USG can do to support the majority,
Jumblatt's answer invariably is speed up the Tribunal. With
his domestic constituency always at the forefront of his
motivations, we are not surprised at Jumblatt's presence at
Kantar's welcoming home ceremony, nor of his moderated
approach to Hizballah, which we view primarily ashis way of
keeping his options open until he detrmines which way the
winds are blowing. We will continue to keep an eye on him,
but progress on the Tribunal will go a long way to ensuring
that he does not wander too far over to the dark side. End
comment.
GRANT

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