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Cablegate: Fm Defends His Meeting with Livni

VZCZCXRO8198
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHMK #0968 2971431
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 241431Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7336
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 000968

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL IS BA
SUBJECT: FM DEFENDS HIS MEETING WITH LIVNI

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Bahrain's Foreign Minister has defended himself against sharp domestic criticism of his meeting in New York with Israel's Foreign Minister. End summary.

2.(C) Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa returned to Bahrain from the UNGA to considerable media and opposition criticism of his meeting in New York with Israeli FM Livni. Members of parliament, chiefly from the Salafist Al-Asala society, denounced the meeting, which came just as MPs were preparing for the opening of parliament on October 17.

3.(SBU) Sheikh Khalid responded unapologetically to his critics. In local media, he confirmed that the meeting took place, and that it occurred in the context of the UNGA and preparations for the upcoming international conference. He argued that Bahrain is a member of the Arab League committee charged with preparing for peace talks, and that talking to all parties, including Israel, is consistent with the position of the Arab League.

4.(C) Sheikh Khalid's parliamentary critics are calling on him to answer their questions in parliament. The Minister, speaking on October 21 to a delegation from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said that he will insist upon appearing personally, rather than simply responding to questions in writing. He plans to remind MPs of the Arab League's collective decision to engage with Israel within the context of the Arab peace initiative, as well as the fact that his contact with Livni was an act of support for Abu Mazen. He noted that other Arab ministers and heads of state had not come in for the same criticism for meeting with Livni. Sheikh Khalid said that the outcry only began after a Hizbollah newspaper in Lebanon picked up the story; he speculated that Iran was to blame for singling him out for criticism.

5.(C) During his hour-long discussion with the AJC delegation, Sheikh Khalid stressed the importance of maintaining communication and not wasting "the opportunity we have before us." He believed that the Arab - Israeli conflict must be settled by the Arabs and Israelis themselves; Iran should not have a place at the table. He added that the more the Arabs procrastinate, the more influence Iran can wield and the more trouble it can cause.

6.(C) Returning to his meeting with Livni, Sheikh Khalid reiterated its consistency with the Arab League position and the need to shore up President Abbas against the challenge presented by Hamas. He said that talking to Israel does not equal normalization, as his critics charge. Bahrain is committed to peace, but the Arab states need to see meaningful steps from Israel, which he suggested could come in the form of easing checkpoint restrictions and reconsidering excavation near the Haram al-Sharif. The FM said that he believes that Palestinian refugees should return to a Palestinian state, not to Israel proper and suggested that the GCC would respond to a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal with a "Marshall Plan for Palestine." In the end, he said that the settlement must be hammered out between the Palestinians and Israelis, and that the other Arab states will accept whatever accord they reach.

7.(C) Comment: Bahrain's parliamentarians are exploiting this issue for political gain. Islamists on both sides of the aisle (Sunni and Shi'a) see an opportunity to burnish their populist credentials at the expense of the government. Sheikh Khalid is having none of it. He has come out swinging and told us that he relishes the chance to take on his critics in public: "We need to help Abu Mazen and I don't have to apologize to anyone for that." ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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