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Cablegate: March 14 Shoots Itself in Foot During Elysee Visit

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2023
TAGS: FR PREL PGOV KDEM PINS LE SY
SUBJECT: MARCH 14 SHOOTS ITSELF IN FOOT DURING ELYSEE VISIT

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathleen H. Allegrone, reas
ons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S) Summary: A March 14th delegation led by Lebanese MP
Marwan Hamadeh that met October 2 with senior French
officials may have done more harm than good, at least so far
as relations with the Elysee are concerned. "What world are
they living in?" Boris Boillon, Counselor for Middle East
Affairs at the Elysee, wondered as he listened to Hamadeh
express March 14th's concerns to French NSA-equivalent
Jean-David Levitte. Boillon's negative impression was sealed
when Hamadeh alluded to the possibility that the French and
Syrian armies were collaborating on a plan for the Syrian
re-occupation of Lebanon. Turning to Syria, Boillon
described several signs of possible progress by Syria,
including indications that Damascus will soon name an
ambassador to Beirut, and assurances from Qatar that Gilad
Shalit received a letter entrusted by his father to President
Sarkozy. End summary.

March 14 Makes a Hash of It
---------------------------

2. (S) PolMin/C and NEA Watcher met with Boris Boillon,
President Sarkozy's advisor for the Middle East and North
Africa, October 7 at the Elysee. Boillon provided a readout
on the October 2 meeting between MP Marwan Hamadeh, the head
of a March 14 delegation that included Suleiman Franjieh,
Dory Chamoun and Fares Sayed, and Jean-David Levitte,
President Sarkozy's NSA-equivalent. Recapping developments
over the last few months in Franco-Syrian relations, Boillon
said he and Levitte reassured Hamadeh that "everything we
have done is to ensure the security and independence of
Lebanon" and that the French have provided Damascus with a
clear road map, with benchmarks, for measuring Syrian
performance. They stressed that it was "out of the question"
for Syrian troops on the Lebanese border to violate Lebanon's
sovereignty, and said that if Damascus were to try anything
foolish it would face a "strong international coalition"
arrayed against it. Boillon recalled that during his visit
to Damascus, Sarkozy made clear to President Asad that France
would improve relations with Syria "step-by-step" but only so
long as Syria honored its commitments and respected two key
principles: the independence of Lebanon and the need for the
International Tribunal on the Hariri assassination. Finally,
in response to an apparent concern expressed by Hamadeh, the
two Frenchmen reassured him that the Elysee had no intention
of trying to reshape Lebanon's political leadership.

3. (S) While Hamadeh reportedly left reassured, the visit
seems to have further soured the Elysee on the March 14th
movement. Boillon, who met separately with the entire group,
expressed incredulity at the "stupid ideas" ("I'm sorry, but
there's no other word for them") which had seized the
delegation's imagination. Hamadeh apparently alluded at one
point to rumors that the French and Syrian armies are
collaborating on a plan for the Syrian military to reassert
control over Lebanon. "What world are they living in?
Either they're joking or they're truly crazy," Boillon
thought to himself at the time. Boillon accused March 14th
of living in a fantasy world fueled by a rumor-mongering
Lebanese press, much of which is sympathetic to the Lebanese
opposition. "Of course the opposition is going to claim that
France is backing them, that's part of the game," said
Boillon, who insisted that the March 14th leadership should
be smart enough not to believe such tripe. But the reality,
he lamented, is that March 14th is part and parcel of a
political culture mired in navel-gazing and paranoia.

Signs of Syrian Progress?
-------------------------

4. (S) On a more positive note, Boillon recounted several
encouraging signs with respect to Syrian behavior. First he
said that the French have received "proof," in the form of
assurances from the Qataris that the French have no reason to
question, that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit received
a letter entrusted by his father to President Sarkozy, and
that the Emir of Qatar later conveyed to Hamas politburo
chief Khalid Mishal. However, Boillon acknowledged that
negotiations for Shalit's release have stalled; he suggested
that Cairo was having difficulty finding a formula that would
satisfy Hamas and yet would not be exploited by Egypt's
Muslim Brotherhood. Second, Boillon said the French had
indications that later this month or in early November
Damascus would name its ambassador to Lebanon, thereby making
an exchange of ambassadors before the end of this year a
genuine possibility. Third, Boillon noted that the GOL and
the SARG had recently exchanged lists of prisoners as a first
step towards the possible release and repatriation of
Lebanese political prisoners held by Syria. Finally, Boillon
said that a joint GOL-SARG commission on border demarcation
had decided to move forward on mapping all areas of dispute
with the exception of the Sheba Farms.

No Informal Talks With Hamas
----------------------------

5. (S) Boillon (protect) dismissed a recent statement by FM
Kouchner in which Kouchner averred that France had no
official contacts with Hamas, but that the MFA received
information about Hamas from French NGOs active in Gaza. "He
should have simply said 'no official contacts and left it at
that' said Boillon. (Note: Kouchner's comments also earned a
stern rebuke on October 7 from his former NGO, Medecins Sans
Frontieres, which accused the FM of sowing confusion and
jeopardizing the security of NGO teams working with the
Palestinian population.)

Comment
-------

6. (S) Given the dramatic about-face in French policy towards
Syria since the end of the Chirac administration, March 14's
insecurity about the Elysee's thinking is understandable if
not inevitable. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that Hamadeh
struck so many wrong notes during his meeting with Levitte,
as his performance will not make it any easier for March 14
to find a receptive ear in Sarkozy's circle of advisors.
Fortunately, the delegation left a more favorable impression
at the MFA. Ludovic Pouille (MFA DAS-equivalent for the
Levant) told us that he found Hamadeh's message "better than
expected" and noted that the delegation took pains to avoid
any hint of disappointment with the sea change in French
policy and instead focused on depicting March 14 as a
confident, united movement destined to win next year's
parliamentary elections.

STAPLETON

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RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 1206
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS PRIORITY 0383
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA PRIORITY 0197
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

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