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Cablegate: Lebanon: Pm Siniora Plans Counter-Punch (But,

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O 161653Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5109
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0103
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 03 BEIRUT 002672

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/SINGH/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2016
TAGS: IS LE MOPS PGOV PREL PTER SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: PM SINIORA PLANS COUNTER-PUNCH (BUT,
ALAS, NOT A KNOCK-OUT ONE) TO NASRALLAH

Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (b).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) In a 8/16 meeting with the Ambassador, PM Siniora
stated that his number one goal at this point is to get the
LAF into south Lebanon as quickly as possible. This will be
a significant achievement. He discounted much of Hassan
Nasrallah's recent "victory" rhetoric as simply that, and
planned to address the Lebanese nation this evening to
explain the peace, and exactly what the country stands to
gain with implementation of UNSCR 1701. Siniora acknowledged
that he's walking a tightrope with Hizballah, but he
projected confidence that his approach will succeed in the
long run. The Prime Minister once again asked the U.S. and
the international community to give him tangible results to
win the battle for Lebanese hearts and minds, and
specifically, the rapid opening of the country's airport and
seaports. He said that he sought German help on ports and
borders (but did not specify what exactly he requested or was
offered). He seeks international recognition that Shebaa
will be addressed. Finally, accepting our criticism that the
GOL appeared to abdicate initial reconstruction to Hizballah,
PM Siniora is placing Lebanon's reconstruction effort under
the leadership of Ghassan Taher, a trusted (Shia) colleague
of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. End summary.

2. (SBU) Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met with the
Ambassador and poloff at the Grand Serail on August 16.
Senior advisors Mohammad Chatta and Rola Nouraddine also
attended the meeting. The Prime Minister was in better
spirits than we have experienced lately. He expressed
confidence that things were going relatively well. A number
of Government Ministers, including Minister of Economy and
Trade Sami Haddad and Minister of Finance Jihad Azour, were
departing his office as we arrived.

PRIMARY MISSION: LAF DEPLOYMENT
--------------------------------

3. (C/NF) PM Siniora emphasized that most of his energy now
is directed toward moving the LAF quickly into positions in
the south, because this action, he believes will demonstrate
to the people of Lebanon that a sea change has occurred. He
stated that if the Army could establish its authority in
heretofore denied territory, Hizballah would have no option
but to fall back. In his analysis, Hizballah could not
afford a clash with Lebanese troops.

4. (C/NF) Referring to his almost constant communication
with Speaker Nabih Berri, he stated that Hizballah had
already committed itself to two necessary steps: it would
turn over all of its fixed bases to the LAF, and it would
have no "conspicuous, apparent presence" in south Lebanon
once the army deployed. Siniora also said he had extracted a
promise that no area of south Lebanon would be "out of
bounds" for the LAF. (Note: For several years, UNIFIL had
not been permitted to enter nor overfly certain Hizballah
"training areas" in the UNIFIL area of responsibility. End
note.)

5. (C/NF) Speaking metaphorically, Siniora said, "If I
don't go to the south, Nasrallah will believe I am leaving
the south for him." Siniora assured the Ambassador that his
Government was asking more from Hizballah than what most
observers believed. He indicated that Lebanon's army will be
taking the first steps toward deployment "within a very few
days" and that full deployment would be completed within
three weeks. He said that he expected to secure cabinet
approval later that evening for the LAF deployment, something
Siniora described as a historic opportunity he did not wish
to miss.

CLARIFICATION REQUESTED
-----------------------

6. (C/NF) PM Siniora complained about two issues: the
mixed message he says is being put out by the UN and the lack
of attention being paid to Shebaa. Siniora maintained that
Geir Pedersen, Personal Representative of the UN SYG in
Lebanon, had delivered a muddled message to Hizballah
representatives that, according to Siniora, they "shouldn't
worry" about disarmament until "the second phase." If this

BEIRUT 00002672 002 OF 003


was accurate, and Siniora admitted it was second-hand
information, the Prime Minister said it was making his
difficult discussions with Nabih Berri that much tougher.

7. (C/NF) Siniora also asked exactly when the international
community was going to address Shebaa in a manner that would
allow his Government to use the issue as a battering ram
against Nasrallah. He reiterated that if the international
community, perhaps in the UN SYG's address scheduled for this
Friday, would affirm that it viewed Shebaa as a legitimate
issue, it would give Siniora and his pro-reform Ministers an
instrument they need to crystallize the argument that it was
the Government of Lebanon that achieved recognition of Shebaa
through negotiations on the resolution 1701 -- and not
Hizballah. The Prime Minister strongly stated, "With this
issue, I can finally take Hizballah's weapons."

8. (C/NF) PM Siniora also addressed the deployment of
"UNIFIL-plus," describing it as the essential element in
empowering the LAF in its difficult mission. Describing his
concept of the impending operations in the south, PM Siniora
said UNIFIL should not be overly "pro-active," but should
supply those capabilities the Lebanese force still lacked,
especially in the fields of intelligence, communications, and
transport. Once again, the Prime Minister voiced profound
confidence in the commitment, ability, and loyalty of his
army, but said they still required the added capabilities of
a modern army. He re-emphasized that the first elements to
enter former Hizballah positions and collect arms would be
the LAF, not the multi-national elements of UNIFIL plus.

THWARTING NASRALLAH'S ATTEMPTED COUP D'ETAT
-------------------------------------------

9. (C/NF) PM Siniora made clear his awareness that Hassan
Nasrallah was attempting to achieve in the post-conflict
phase what Hizballah could not achieve in the war, namely a
virtual coup d'etat of the Government by assuming
governmental responsibilities and authorities. Siniora was
convening a session of his Council of Ministers that evening
and said he would also address the nation in a televised
speech. He intended to clearly explain what Lebanon achieved
and what it suffered. Siniora said he planned to compare the
costs suffered by both Lebanon and Israel -- and to make the
point that if this is what "victory" looks like, who needs it.

10. (C/NF) From his remarks, it was clear that PM Siniora
considers Hassan Nasrallah's claims of victory to be absurd,
and almost obscene considering the loss of innocent life.
Siniora said that the people of Lebanon may still be in shock
at the violence of the conflict, but they are intelligent
enough to understand the high price Nasrallah forced them to
pay.

11. (C/NF) The Prime Minister emphasized that his goal
tonight was to describe his vision of an "inclusive" state,
where an empowered government fulfilled its responsibilities
to all its citizens in all the country's regions.

RECONSTRUCTION
--------------

12. (C/NF) Faced with the enormity of the imminent
reconstruction of the country, PM Siniora acknowledged that
his office has too few resources to manage every aspect of
what appears will be a multi-billion effort. With regard to
the significant sums of aid being pledged, especially by Arab
states, PM Siniora indicated he would allow the donating
states to execute various projects, as long as they adhered
to the Government's overall plan.

13. (C/NF) He confided that in the next few days, he would
appoint Ghassan Taher, a well-respected project manager who
had previously worked closely with former Prime Minister
Rafiq Hariri, in addition to possessing government experience
in the airline sector. In Siniora's view, Ghassan Taher, a
Shia from south Lebanon, would be accepted by both government
ministers and Lebanon's sectarian communities. He also
stated that Taher would be assisted in his work by the
Minister of Finance and Minister of Economy and Trade.
(Note: Our FSN staff describes Taher in glowing terms. End
note.)

14. (C/NF) Siniora said he doesn't want all the promised

BEIRUT 00002672 003 OF 003


aid to be forced through the "cube" of government, indicating
that market forces and the international aid community may
provide better efficiencies and be more agile.

BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- A SYMBOL
----------------------------------------

15. (C/NF) The Prime Minister ended the meeting with a
renewed appeal to expedite the re-opening of Beirut
International Airport, as well as the country's seaports. He
argued that not only were these avenues of commerce
critically important for economic recovery and the
reconstruction effort, but also served as a symbol of
national sovereignty.

16. (C/NF) He insisted that U.S. concerns about Hizballah's
long-standing control of the airport were being addressed as
he spoke. He asked the Ambassador to discuss the particulars
with Minister of Interior Ahmed Fatfat, but that the
principal improvement involved replacement of
Hizballah-influenced elements of the LAF stationed at the
airport with more independent (and Sunni dominated) ISF
personnel.

17. (C/NF) In a brief meeting with Minister Fatfat
afterwards, the Interior Minister confirmed that ISF General
Yassir Mahmoud (Druze -- someone Walid Jumblatt told us
separately could be trusted) had been selected by ISF
Commander General Rifi to serve as the "president of a
committee" that will supervise the security of the Beirut
airport. That committee took up position today. Fatfat also
indicated that Cabinet approval was not needed because the
applicable Ministries of Finance, Public Works, and Defense,
had already authorized the appointment. Minister Fatfat said
these changes were being implemented immediately, with 120 of
an eventual 400 new ISF personnel already stationed at the
facility.

18. (C/NF) The PM expressed deep impatience with the
Ambassador's suggestion that the airport be opened to
passenger traffic in stages, with a possible interim step
being an air bridge to Amman as security procedures were put
in place. The blockade on the airport, Siniora insisted,
must be lifted entirely, in order to empower the government
and restore a symbol of Lebanon's sovereignty. The
Ambassador asked Siniora about requesting UNIFIL or
international assistance to help ensure proper security.
Siniora said that he had already talked with the German
Foreign Minister about this, and the Germans were positively
inclined to help. (The PM interrupted the meeting to ask an
aide to place a call to the Germans.) But Siniora, with a
line of people waiting to see him, did not go into details on
exactly what the Germans might provide. Walking the
Ambassador to the door, he complained that Israel still does
not understand that its measures hurt the GOL much more than
they hurt Hizballah. Hizballah can still sneak people across
the Syrian border, whereas the March 14 politicians have to
beg for spots on French or American helicopters, reinforcing
the impression of collusion and impotence.
FELTMAN

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