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Cablegate: Lebanon: Presidential Candidates: Views On Key

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TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: VIEWS ON KEY
ISSUES

REF: IIR 6 857 0083 07 TRANSLATION OF AL-JAISH
INTERVIEW WITH MICHEL SLEIMAN

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) What are the views of the candidates for president
on issues such as Hizballah, Syria, UN resolutions, the
Special Tribunal for Lebanon and revising Lebanon's election
law? To answer that, embassy prepared the following summary
of key candidates' views based on a review of source material
including presidential platforms for the few candidates who
have issued them, previous speeches and private
conversations. All candidates say they would pursue
normalization of relations with Syria and the disarmament of
Hizballah. They make the statements required of Lebanese
politicians about countering Israeli aggression. March 14
candidates emphasize the validity of choosing a president
with an absolute majority vote, the need for democracy and
sovereignty, and their commitment to international
resolutions. Opposition candidates emphasize the need to
include the opposition in government and to cooperate more
with Hizballah and Syria. Consensus candidates typically
attempt to express views in the middle. End summary.

MARCH 14 CANDIDATES
-------------------

2. (SBU) NASSIB LAHOUD: Former MP Nassib Lahoud announced
his candidacy in mid-September, arguing that only a March 14
president (elected if necessary with an absolute majority)
could lead to a democratic, modern, and independent nation
and represent all Lebanese. He has close family and business
ties with the Saudis, and speaks fondly of his stint as
Ambassador to the United States. Lahoud promised to purse an
"honorable internal compromise" based on the Taif Agreement,
national dialogue, and Arab solidarity. He pledged to
initiate a process to bring Hizballah,s arms into a state
security framework with prevent hostilities with Israel,
combat terrorism, and forestall economic deterioration and
migration. Lahoud is the only candidate not to link the
disarmament of Hizballah to the return of Shebaa Farms. He
called for normalizing relations with Syria with: an exchange
of ambassadors; pledges of mutual non-interference; closure
of illegal border crossings; demarcation of the border; and
the return of Lebanese prisoners. Lahoud considers UNSCR
1701 "a comprehensive and appropriate framework" for putting
an end to Israeli aggression, freeing Lebanese prisoners from
Israeli jails, and regaining Shebaa farms."
(www.nassiblahoud.org, Arabic only)

3. (SBU) BOUTROS HARB: March 14 MP Boutros Harb announced
his program in late August. While he will participate in a
vote with an absolute majority, he will only stand as a
candidate if he can gain the support of two-thirds of the
deputies; he believes the president must not exclude national
leaders despite fundamental differences, and he argues that
any president selected through an international or domestic
political deal will not be effective. Harb said he would
resume the 2006 National Dialogue and outlined a six-year
plan to unite political factions. He envisioned
incorporating Hizballah's arms into the army and forming a
national security strategy to resist Israel. He called for
"Lebanese-Syrian reconciliation" based on non-interference in
domestic affairs, the establishment of diplomatic ties, and
demarcation and control of the border. In addition, Harb
said Israel should place Shebaa farms under UN control and
free Lebanese prisoners. He opposes naturalizing Palestinian
refugees and endorsed bringing the camps under state control.
Harb underscored his commitment to all UN resolutions
(including 1559 and 1701) and the deployment of UNIFIL in
southern Lebanon, and called the Special Tribunal a tool for
achieving justice. (No web site, written platform was sent to
NEA/ELA.)

OPPOSITION CANDIDATES
---------------------

4. (SBU) MICHEL AOUN: General Michel Aoun announced his
candidacy in March 2007. The media viewed his October 2006
speech commemorating his 1990 military removal from the
office of Prime Minister as his presidential platform. Aoun
argued then that the Siniora government is illegitimate; he
called for formation of a national unity government, passage
of a new electoral law, and appointment of a constitutional

BEIRUT 00001664 002 OF 003


council prior to the election of a new president. A new
government could overturn the decrees issued by the
"illegitimate" Siniora government, including the one calling
for the establishment of the Special Tribunal. He has
suggested he would hold politicians accountable for misusing
public funds. Aoun considered his memorandum of
understanding with Hizballah as a springboard for dialogue
and the resolution of national disputes, and argued that
Hizballah will give up its arms upon formation of a national
security strategy. He opposed nationalizing Palestinians and
called for disarming the camps and placing them under state
control.

5. (SBU) Aoun said he would pursue "balanced" diplomatic ties
with Syria based on institutional relationships, and would
encourage Damascus to feel secure and to profit from Lebanese
independence; he asked Israel to acknowledge that Shebaa is
Lebanese and to free Lebanese prisoners. Aoun asked Israel
to cease its violations of Lebanese airspace and waters, to
withdraw from occupied Shebaa Farms and Ghajjar, and to
release Lebanese prisoners allegedly held in Syria. While he
called for an investigation to reveal the truth about the
assassinations and bombings directed at politicians and
journalists, Aoun stopped short of recognizing the Special
Tribunal. Aoun employs a council of economic advisors who
would focus on improving Lebanon's competitiveness rather
than on reducing national debt. (See www.tayyar.org, and a
translation of Aoun's 2006 speech sent to NEA/ELA.)

6. (SBU) JEAN OBEID: Former MP and Foreign Minister Jean
Obeid has not announced his candidacy or spoken publicly
about his vision for Lebanon, but has argued for including
the opposition in the government. His personal ties to
former Syrian President Hafez Assad and his work as Syrian
and Arab affairs advisor to Lebanese Presidents Sarkis and
Amine Gemayel indicate he would pursue a closer relationship
with Syria. As Foreign Minister, Obeid was a hard-line
advocate for a comprehensive Arab peace agreement with
Israel, the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese and Syrian
territories, and the return of Palestinians to their own
state based in Jerusalem. Obeid has said he would bring
Hizballah into the state, but did not describe a mechanism to
do so. In private conversations, he supported the UNSCRs and
the Special Tribunal. (No web site or written platform
available.)

CONSENSUS CANDIDATES
--------------------

7. (SBU) ROBERT GHANEM: Biqa' MP and March 14 latecomer
(though he now claims not to represent March 14) Robert
Ghanem in mid-August reissued a platform prepared in 2004.
He proposed a comprehensive "salvation plan" for national
unity, dialogue, and the transition to a civil rather than a
sectarian state. His proposed strategic defense council
would devise a national defense strategy, decide how to
respond to any Israeli aggression, and bring Hizballah's arms
under state control. Ghanem argued that a Lebanese-Syrian
diplomatic relationship based on sovereignty, equality,
justice, and institutions would help Lebanon reclaim Shebaa
farms and demarcate the border. He reiterated his commitment
to UN and Arab League resolutions, but condemned the UN
creation -- rather than the Lebanese creation -- of the
Special Tribunal as divisive. (www.robertghanem.com)

8. (SBU) MICHEL SLEIMAN: Lebanese Armed Forces Commander
Michel Sleiman told the press his current military position
bars him from candidacy and that an interim military
government would be ineffective, but privately said he would
serve in the event of a deadlock. Sleiman in May asked U.S.
officials to push March 14 to compromise in order to
forestall violence. Promoted ahead of his peers by Syrian
military officers, Sleiman's emphasis on army unity and
neutrality in March 2005 permitted the demonstrations of the
Cedar Revolution, but in January 2007 nearly allowed
sectarian riots to spin out of control. In a February 2007
"Al-Jaish" interview, he emphasized the need for national
consensus and inclusion of all sects in a legitimate
government. Sleiman said arms must be under the exclusive
control of the government, expressed gratitude for foreign
military support and the desire to cooperate in the global
war on terror, and criticized the government for not
procuring modern weaponry. Sleiman has said the military's
staff and budget are inadequate, indicating he would increase
both. (Ref)

BEIRUT 00001664 003 OF 003

9. (SBU) CHARLES RIZK: Minister of Justice Rizk has not
announced his candidacy but has publicly stated his desire to
be president. Included in the cabinet as a confidante of
President Emile Lahoud and careful not to criticize the
opposition, since the July 2006 war he stopped his regular
meetings with Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah
and is perceived as being closer to March 14 than March 8.
He was instrumental in the creation of the Special Tribunal,
and has said the next president must implement the Tribunal.
In a September "Monday Morning" article he outlined the key
issues the next president will face. Rizk supported creation
of an election law reconciling political choice with
confessional affiliation, and a governing process in which a
confessionally inclusive absolute majority can implement
decisions. Rizk called for finding a strategy to incorporate
Hizballah's arms into the government and control the
Palestinian camps. He charged the next president with
revitalizing the economy to bring back the Lebanese diaspora.
(No website or platform available.)

10. (SBU) RIAD SALAMEH: While no party has called Central
Bank of Lebanon (CBL) Governor Riad Salameh its candidate, he
has repeatedly expressed interest in the position. In
January former French President Chirac used the Paris III
donor conference to raise Salameh's profile, in February
Salameh in speeches and an interview with "La Revue du Liban"
expressed interest in the presidency, and this summer Salameh
used comments about his strategy in the event of a second
government to draw attention to his leadership. These
comments were well received by the banking and business
communities. Salameh emphasized his impartial leadership at
the CBL as a model for political leaders, and he argued that
the government must reach consensus before it acts, even in
urgent economic reforms. Salameh emphasized the need to
strengthen constitutional institutions. Under Salameh the
CBL and Lebanese banks have developed close ties with their
Syrian counterparts, and Salameh's deputies travel frequently
to Syria for consultations, indicating he could pursue a
closer relationship as president. He has not publicly
announced a security policy. (No website or platform
available.)
FELTMAN

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