Cablegate: Saudis Unsurprised by Sharif's Return; Concerned with Maintaining Stability in Pakistan

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O 120631Z SEP 07

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 JEDDAH 000392



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2027


1. (S) SUMMARY. In Ambassador Fraker's September 11 meeting with Prince Muqrin, Head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Muqrin reiterated the SAG's commitment to accepting Sharif while in exile but added that Sharif had not heeded Saad Al-Hariri's warning not to return to Pakistan. (NOTE: A source at the Pakistani Embassy in Riyadh maintains that the SAG assisted in Sharif's return as a favor to Musharraf. END NOTE) He stated that the SAG would restrict Sharif's movement until after the November Presidential elections to mitigate the potential for rioting in Pakistan. He believes that the situation will remain tense in the lead up to the elections. Prince Muqrin also said that while the King considers both Sharif and Musharraf friends, he considers Musharraf the better person to handle anti-terror issues. It is clear from Muqrin's private remarks to the Ambassador and the SAG's public remarks to the press, that maintaining stability in Pakistan is a strategic interest.

-------------- MEDIA COVERAGE

2. (U) Saudi, English, and Arabic language newspapers featured prominently on September 11 front page articles on Sharif's September 10 deportation from Pakistan to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The media reported that four hours after Pakistani authorities arrested and charged Sharif with corruption and money-laundering, they took him to another plane to return him to Jeddah. (NOTE: We do not have confirmation as to whether it was a Saudi or commercial plane. END NOTE.)

3. (U) Upon Sharif's return, Prince Muqrin and other Saudi officials received him at the airport. The press quoted a diplomatic source as stating that Sharif returned to his former home -- Suroor Palace -- where he spent most of his time in exile. The Director General of the Foreign Ministry's office in Mecca, Muhammed ibn Ahmed Tayeb, a good contact of Consulate General Jeddah, reiterated to Arab News the SAG's commitment to ensuring stability in Pakistan and highlighted the strength of Saudi-Pakistani relations.
However, the Saudi Ambassador to Islamabad, Ali Awad Assiri, was quoted as saying that ""No Saudi diplomat participated in the negotiations at the airport.""

----------------- OFFICIAL RESPONSE

4. (S) During Ambassador Fraker's meeting with Prince Muqrin, the Prince first summarized the ten-year agreement, brokered by Rafiq Hariri, under which Sharif would live in Saudi Arabia and refrain from participating in Pakistani politics. He added that there was a verbal agreement that after five years, they would hold negotiations to consider reducing that ten year period. Prince Muqrin described how Saad Al-Hariri warned Sharif not to return to Pakistan, but how Sharif disregarded the warning and went anyway. Prince Muqrin stated that Saudi Arabia is committed to accepting Sharif during his exile from Pakistan and that he made this clear to Musharraf on his recent visit to Pakistan where he also met with the Chief Justice and Prime Minister.

5. (S) Regarding Sharif's return, the Prince himself met with Sharif when he arrived in Jeddah. According to Muqrin, Sharif thought he might be arrested, but the Prince gave him two options -- he could either stay at a palace that had been prepared for him, or at his home. He opted to go to his home. He stated that there will be some restrictions on Sharif's activities for a short while, at least through the November elections, to reduce the likelihood of inciting rioting among his supporters in Pakistan. Prince Muqrin also stated that by accepting Sharif into Saudi Arabia in 1995, King Abdullah literally saved the former Pakistani Primer Minister's life. He said Sharif will remain in Saudi Arabia until after the Pakistani elections in November.

6. (S) Prince Muqrin speculated that there is probably an agreement between Sharif and the Pakistani Chief Justice, adding that if the Chief Justice grants Sharif the right to return to Pakistan and Sharif wins, the Chief Justice will
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become President. Prince Muqrin stated that he is almost certain the Chief Justice will side with Sharif, noting that he believes the run-up to the November election will be tense.

7. (S) The Prince explained that, as in Lebanon, the Pakistani constitution requires individuals working within the government to be outside government for two years prior to becoming President. Therefore, a constitutional change would be required for Musharraf to become President. The Prince explained that King Abdullah views both Sharif and Musharraf as friends, but that he believes that the two together do not equate to Pakistani security. The King feels that Musharraf is the best person to address anti-terrorism issues within Pakistan. He joked that the best way to ensure someone loses an election in Pakistan is for the U.S. to support him, warning that if the U.S. supports Sharif, he will be finished politically. He also said that he thought there would be a deal between Bhutto and Sharif, but that they were still negotiating key points.

8. (S) Following up on his September 10 conversation with PolOff (reftel), Second Secretary at the Pakistani Embassy, Syed Zahir Raza (strictly protect) insisted to PolOff on September 11 that the Saudis intervened in Sharif's return to Pakistan as a favor to President Musharraf. He also noted that he had heard that the Saudis paid for Sharif's commercial flight to Jeddah. He noted that the Pakistani Ambassador, who was in Jeddah at the time of Sharif's return, met with him, but could not provide the details of that meeting.

9. (S) COMMENT. It is clear that Saudi Arabia has a strategic interest in facilitating stability in Pakistan. While the SAG denies involvement in negotiating Sharif's return, their unusual public involvement suggests otherwise. It is not their modus operandi, in particular regarding the Chief of Intelligence, to intervene openly. In light of the growing security and military cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, it is clearly in their best interests to do what they can to prevent destabilization in Pakistan and to ensure that Musharraf remains focused on anti-terror efforts. END COMMENT. FRAKER "

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