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Cablegate: Quint Policy Planning Talks Focus On Regional

DE RUEHEG #2503/01 3501425
R 151425Z DEC 08

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 07 CAIRO 002503



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/20/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey
Reasons: 1.4 (B) and (D)

1. (C) Summary. The November 18 "Quint" consultations with
policy planners from Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt (host)
and the U.S. yielded a comprehensive dialogue on a range of
regional issues, including Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, piracy off
the Horn of Africa, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Iraqi delegation indicated its desire to align itself
with moderates in the region and expressed broad agreement
with the other participants on key issues, including the
importance of reaching a peace agreement between Israel and
the Palestinians and continuing support for President Abbas.
Iraq,s presentation on internal progress and pleas for
political and economic assistance were generally
well-received, though the Saudis said nothing during this
part of the discussion. The Egyptians argued strongly that
the Annapolis Process be maintained for the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and were especially forthcoming
in highlighting concerns regarding Iran; the other
delegations largely concurred. All participants expressed
enthusiasm for continuing to meet in this format, and the
Jordanians offered to host the next session sometime this
spring. End summary.

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2. (U) Delegations

Egypt: MFA Chief of Cabinet Wafa Bassim; Assistant Minister
for Arab Affairs Abdel Rahman Salah; MFA director for Policy
Planning Mohammad Zorqani; Senior Advisor and Spokesman
Hossam Zaki; Deputy Assistant Minister for Arab Affairs
Abdelhameed Marzouk; MFA Cabinet Staff

Iraq: MFA Director of Policy Planning Mohammad Hakim; Advisor
to Vice President Mahdi Fareed Yassin; Charge d'Affaires Saad

Jordan: MFA Director of Policy Planning Omar Nahar; Embassy

Saudi Arabia: MFA Director of Policy Planning Prince Ahmed
bin Saud bin Khaled; Embassy Staff

United States: Director of Policy Planning Dr. David Gordon;
Ambassador Margaret Scobey; Principal Deputy for Near East
Affairs Jeffrey Feltman; Director for Egypt and Levant
Affairs Nicole Shampaine; Policy Planning Staff Member Ash
Jain; Embassy First Secretary Greg LoGerfo (notetaker;
Embassy Second Secretary Todd Watkins (notetaker)

3. (C) Overall Regional Perspectives

Director of Policy Planning Dr. David Gordon described key
trends and challenges as outlined by the National
Intelligence Council,s "Global Trends 2025" report (which
has since been made public). He described a world trending
toward multi-polarity, with rising economic powers gaining
relative influence, but where the U.S. will likely retain
primacy, especially in terms of military power. Dr. Gordon
outlined the growing competition for resources, where
securing access to reliable sources of energy, water, and
food will gain increasing prominence. In addition, while the
appeal of terror will likely decline in the coming years, for
active terror groups the challenge of weapons and technology
proliferation will become even more acute.

4. (C) Middle East challenges: Dr. Gordon described three key
challenges likely to face the Middle East in the years ahead:
(i) economic integration, and whether the Middle East will
use its status as a financial "pole of power" to promote
higher economic growth, diversification, and integration into
the global economy; (ii) Iran,s quest for a nuclear weapons
capability, which would have immense regional political
consequences and impact regional power projection, and (iii)
continued stability in Iraq. A successful Iraq could have
dramatic consequences as a hedge against extremism and a
force for moderation, tolerance and democratic governance.
If the Arab world and others (e.g. Turkey) continue to
integrate Iraq we could drastically enhance prospects for
success. However, if Iraq fails, the negative impact will be
as dramatic, with major spillover effects on regional states.

5. (C) USG transition: Asked to comment on the U.S.
presidential transition, Dr. Gordon said that there will
likely be changes in our approach to the region, but key U.S.
interests will likely remain unchanged. The U.S. will remain
committed to the President's two-state solution for the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict; our goal is to pass to the next
administration the Annapolis Process intact and with positive
momentum. The November 8-9 meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh
(which included the Israelis, Palestinians and Quartet) were
geared toward that end. Dr. Gordon noted that the Arab Peace
Initiative (API) will likely remain an important element in
the process. On Iran, the new administration may approach
Tehran in a different manner, but opposition to Iran's intent
to develop a nuclear weapons capacity will likely remain
firm. On Iraq, Dr. Gordon assessed that the next
administration will maintain the focus on building a stable
Iraq, in the context of a mutually-agreeable withdrawal of
USG forces based on the reality on the ground.

6. (C) Egypt,s regional assessment: Assistant Foreign
Minister for Arab Affairs Abdul-Rahman Salah characterized
the regional situation as one of "imminent threats." He
stated that the world may be gravitating toward
"multi-polarity," but the U.S. will continue to play a
special role in the region on the major issues. Salah said
that all participants in the discussion ("not just Israel")
have a special relationship with the U.S., and seek greater
policy consultation with the U.S. (adding that Egypt's
recommendations in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003
were ignored). Salah assessed that moderates in the region
have been on the defensive over the past several years, due
to the Israeli-Palestinian and Iraq issues. Settlement of the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains critical. He said that
the GOE agrees on the need for economic development and
democratic reforms, but regional crises abound. He argued
that the U.S. will need to step up its pace of regional
involvement. In addition, he said that Egypt hopes the new
administration will be more active in "educating Congress and
the American public" on Egypt's role as a moderate regional

7. (C) Jordan: MFA Director of Policy Planning Omar Nahar
urged the new administration to "listen to its friends" in
the region, and work with its allies to deliver something
"tangible" to the people of the Arab world. He stressed that
the USG maintain "continuity" on key regional issues,
especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "We cannot
afford to wait one year, or even six months. Everyone knows
the issues. We need quick engagement." Nahar agreed that
the world is trending towards multi-polarity but noted the
rise of non-state actors, especially in the Middle East. The
U.S. has a special role to confront this trend, Nahar argued.

8. (C) Saudi Arabia,s regional outlook: MFA Director for
Policy Planning Prince Ahmed bin Saud bin Khaled agreed on
the need for the USG to support moderates against extremists,
noting the rise of Hizballah in Lebanon as a primary example,
as well as Hamas. Saudi Arabia will continue to take the
initiative on intra-Arab and intra-Muslim conflicts when
possible, such as the Mecca Agreement (Palestinians), and
similar efforts with Somalia and Afghanistan. He agreed that
the USG should remain actively engaged on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Gordon commented that
Saudi Arabia's intra-faith dialogues have been an important
part of efforts to counter extremism.

9. (C) Iraq,s perspective: MFA Director of Policy Planning
Mohammad Al Hakim stressed the centrality of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argued that economic issues
will become paramount in the region; the Arab world has
fallen behind on job creation, education and development.
Leaders need to focus on what is best for their people, or
terrorists will remain empowered. Political issues on a
local, personal level, need to be resolved. Iraq seeks to
move toward moderation, Hakim said. Iraqi delegation member
Farid Yassin commented that economic solutions need be to be
internal decisions; he noted the severe problem of
underemployment in the Arab world.

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

10. (C) Egypt,s assessment: MFA Senior Cabinet Advisor and
Spokesman Hossam Zaki emphatically urged the incoming
administration to maintain the Annapolis Process. "It is
important to bear in mind that peace is more important than
process. In the 1990s the focus was on process. Meetings
became an end in themselves. It was a strenuous effort with
no real results. The failure of Camp David in 2000 was a
prime example," Zaki said.

11. (C) In addition to maintaining Annapolis, the new
administration should move to alleviate the humanitarian
situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and confront Israeli
settlement activity, which if unchecked would threaten the
implementation of a two-state solution. The system of
roadblocks and checkpoints also remains a serious problem,
said Zaki.

12. (C) Responding to Zaki,s comment that more attention
needs to be paid to the UNSCRs on the Arab-Israeli Conflict,
PDAS Feltman responded that the "land for peace" formula,
articulated at the Madrid talks in 1991, has guided our
approach. The situation is challenging but not impossible.
Feltman noted we have supported Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations and efforts of both sides to confront terror,
and we have supported efforts for improved conditions on the
ground, with mixed results. He also reminded the group the
USG has also worked with Arab states to improve the regional
atmosphere, noting that the two-state solution is now the
regional political consensus.

13. (C) Zaki argued that if the humanitarian situation for
the Palestinians were "bearable," it would allow for a
Palestinian constituency that supports negotiations with
Israel. If, on the other hand, it becomes "unbearable," and
on a downward trajectory, support for peace talks will
dwindle, and Hamas, and eventually Al Qaeda, will ascend. In
this context, Zaki said that the issue of Palestinian
prisoners (which he estimated to be 11,000) has affected tens
of thousands of their family members for the last 20 years.
This mitigates strongly against Palestinian public support
for negotiations, he said.

14. (C) Zaki said that if Israeli FM Livni is elected, he
expects Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will continue. But
he expressed deep concern about election of a different
Israeli prime minister, and suggested that meeting
participants consider how to deal with this "contingency."
Dr. Gordon noted that the Arab Peace Initiative (API) has
been cited twice by Israeli President Peres, and said that he
expects the API will remain an important element in any
future discussions. Zaki agreed that the API is "gaining
momentum" but said the USG must understand that the API is
"not to be altered," and is a clearly delineated bargain of
Arab recognition of Israel in return for Palestinian

15. (C) Jordanian view: Delegation head Nahar agreed that the
focus should be on facilitating peace rather than on
establishment of a new, complex process. Arab states should
support Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and insist that any
agreement be consistent with UNSCRs 247 and 338. Nahar,
Zaki, Saudi Prince Khaled and Iraqi delegation leader Hakim
all stressed the need to support PA President Abbas, both in
the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the
ongoing intra-Palestinian political impasse.

16. (C) Iraqi view: The Iraqi delegation reiterated the
importance of continuing peace talks and extending support
for President Abbas. Hakim added that Iraq knows first-hand
the damage inflicted by suicide bombers, and suggested that
Arabs need to be more sensitive to Israeli concerns on this
issue. At the same time, there is not enough attention paid
to quality of life issues for the Palestinians and
consequences stemming from "denial of their rights under
Israeli occupation."


17. (C) Zaki said that the Egyptians remain committed to
Palestinian unity, but that the situation is "very
complicated." It has been three months of difficult work.
If the Palestinians remain divided, Zaki assessed, it will
not be conducive to Israeli-Palestinian peace. He said that
the Egyptian approach is designed for conciliation; "we don't
want mere quiet between belligerents. So it is designed to
support, or at least not obstruct, (Israeli-Palestinian)
peace efforts."


18. (C) Iraqi outlook: Hakim said that the GOI was developing
security forces, as well as judges and police. The GOI has
taken action to assert itself successfully in areas such as
Mosul, Diyalah, and Basrah. Internal provincial elections
will be held at the end of January; these will be critical in
identifying the strength of various political parties.
Kirkuk, due to its multi-ethnicity, remains an issue, Hakim
said. U.N. envoy di Mastura has presented a proposal, of
which the Iraqi Parliament approved a modified version.

19. (C) Economic reconstruction: The GOI has drastically
reduced the percentage of GDP spent on the military, from a
high of approximately 65 percent in 2003. Iraq is focusing
on rebuilding its infrastructure, but needs help from Arab
states, especially on oil production and electricity
infrastructure. Iraq still imports oil products as well as
food, but Hakim said the GOI expects to be self-sufficient in
these areas, and economically independent, in a few years.

20. (C) Hakim said that the growing size of the Iraqi
government and bureaucracy is problematic. The private
sector remains weak; as a result Iraqis seek employment in
the public sector. With 22 universities graduating thousands
of students a year, demand exceeds the supply of good jobs.
The GOI is focusing on developing provinces and
decentralizing some decision-making; "Baghdad is not always
right," Hakim acknowledged.

21. (C) Hakim said that Iraq is multiethnic and diverse, but
has an abundance of human and natural resources; the GOI is
trying to take the country in a new direction. "We are now
walking, but not yet able to run," he said. The friendship
of the United States is critical for Iraq and other regional
states; Hakim said that Iran's role in the region is also
"very important." Iraq has borders with six neighbors and
has "positive and negative" aspects of its relations with all
of them.

22. (C) Farid Yassin commented that the GOI, Coalition
Provincial Authority, U.S. and U.N. had all made mistakes
over the past five years. He contended that the United
Nation's electoral framework for Iraq was flawed, and had
resulted in Iraqis voting based on ethnic identities, as
opposed to issues. The GOI is working to repair this
problem, Yasin said. Egyptian delegation leader Bassim
agreed that Iraqi electoral politics seemed to be moving away
from sectarianism, and said that Egypt "will do what Iraq
asks" to help on this issue.

23. (C) Plea for Arab engagement: Explaining that Iraqi
special forces had made real progress in countering terrorist
groups, Yassin implored Iraq,s Arab neighbors to do more to
help Iraq. "Please engage with Iraq, we really need you," he
said. Yassin specified that Saudi assistance on agriculture
would be welcomed, although the Saudis did not respond.
Given the importance of greater Sunni political
representation, Yassin also suggested the need for Arab
states to encourage active Sunni participation in the
upcoming provincial elections.

24. (C) Hakim said that he was optimistic that the U.S.-Iraqi
Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement would be approved by the
Iraqi Parliament on the basis of a "yes or no" vote. Dr.
Gordon said that the SOFA was a critical document that
represented the healthy assertion of Iraqi sovereignty and a
repudiation of negative Iranian influence in Iraq, given that
Tehran had made defeat of the SOFA a major strategic goal.
It is very important that Arab states support Iraq's
ratification and implementation of the agreement, said
Gordon. Suggesting that he agreed, Hakim thanked the U.S.
for its explanation of why the SOFA was so important to both

25. (C) The Egyptian and Jordanian delegations expressed
support for the GOI. The Egyptians pointed to increasing
GOI-GOE cooperation, ongoing consultations on debt relief,
and the plan to return an ambassador to Baghdad. Bassim said
she would lead the Egyptian delegation to the upcoming
GOE-GOI strategic discussions. She said Iraq can constitute
"a promise or a threat" to Egypt and the region, and the GOE
remains concerned about the potential for division. It is
very important that regional partners and the U.S. stay
focused and coordinated, noted Bassim. Jordan,s Nahar
welcomed "such candid talk" from the Iraqi delegation. All
delegations agreed that cross-border movement of extremists
into Iraq is a problem, but equally concerning is the
potential for an increase of outbound extremists as the Iraqi
security situation improves.

26. (C) Note: The Saudi delegation declined to comment during
the Iraq portion of the discussions, ignoring two direct
opportunities to do so. End note.


27. (C) Egyptian MFA Deputy Assistant Minister for Arab
Affairs Ayman Zeineldeen assessed the situation as markedly
improved since the May crisis. However, given Lebanon's
connection to other regional dynamics, the chance of a
flare-up remains. The Egyptians do not believe there will be
a clear winner in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Christians will likely comprise the swing vote. Hizballah
will retain its supply lines but appears to be politically
constrained from using force internally. Zeineldeen also
opined that Syrian behavior had improved, but that a
fundamental change in Syria's approach to Lebanon will take
more time.

28. (C) PDAS Feltman said that the USG goal is full
implementation of UNSC 1701. Since the Doha agreement we
have seen reinvigoration of state institutions. This is a
positive development, as moderates can better compete through
the institution of the state, where they are strong. By
contrast, Hizbollah proved in May that it can control the
street through force. The USG will increase total assistance
to 1.3 billion dollars. We believe a normal Lebanon-Syria
diplomatic relationship is possible, but we remain concerned
about Syria's intentions. The Qusayeh military base in the
Beqaa Valley is an arms smuggling transit point and is linked
to Damascus, for example. The USG agrees that the Christians
will likely be the swing voters in the parliamentary
elections. Feltman and Zeineldeen agreed that Hizballah will
likely remain quiet in the run-up to the elections, but it is
unclear how they would react to a significant electoral
defeat or if they would foresee a probable electoral defeat.

29. (C) Egyptian MFA Senior Advisor Zaki said that supporting
the Lebanese military is critical. "We need to know that the
army can function," he emphasized. Zaki claimed the
Egyptians are "constantly" urging the Israelis not to
interfere in the internal Lebanese political situation. He
strongly urged that the Taif Accord of 1989 remain in place
to ensure 50-50 Christian-Muslim representation. Zaki said
he has heard that ideas for modification of Taif have been
floated, based on different proportions for the three groups
(but that would increase Shia power), but that Egypt does not
favor this change.

30. (C) Feltman responded that the USG view is that the
Lebanese themselves can choose to modify Taif, but that we
are not pushing this option. The USG is fully committed to
supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces, and we appreciate
Egypt's help on this. Perhaps resolution of Shebaa Farms
would politically weaken Hizballah, but how would the
Lebanese state move to consolidate its power following such
an agreement? The Lebanese should explain how they would
capitalize on this, and first seek assurances from Syria that
it would demarcate its border with Lebanon. Zeineldeen
commented that Syria has stated publicly that Shebaa is
Lebanese territory and this should be used as a basis to push
for border demarcation. Even if Shebaa was resolved, Feltman
predicted that Hizballah would no doubt find an alternative
grievance related to Israel as a pretext to maintaining its
arms; in fact Hizballah recently raised the issue of seven
Lebanese villages currently located in Israel that apparently
had been Lebanese prior to 1923.


31. (C) Bassim began by noting that Iran was the key to
future stability or instability in the region. Iran,s
"capability to penetrate into the neighborhood" posed real
concerns. Egyptian MFA Director of Policy Planning Zorqani
gave an overview of Iran and regional implications. He
argued that Iran has the full right for peaceful use of a
civilian nuclear program, but that Iran's lack of
transparency has led to a general lack of trust in the
region. He raised Israel's nuclear program and the well-worn
"double-standard" argument. Zorqani said that all diplomatic
levers, including sanctions, should be used with Tehran, but
warned that a military strike on Iran would have "grave
consequences" for an already volatile region. Pointing to
Iran,s "destabilizing and subversive" activities, he
suggested the need for a coordinated approach to deal with
Iran. He reiterated Egypt,s interest in pursuing a joint
P5 1/GCC 3 meeting and also called for regional security
arrangements that include all parties.

32. (C) Egyptian MFA Deputy Assistant Minister for Iran
Affairs Yousef Sharkawy said economic sanctions have put
Tehran into a constant "crisis mode." That said, he did not
foresee any threat to the position of Supreme Leader Ali
Khamenei, but rather to the contrary. He said President
Ahmadinejad had aggregated power to some extent, but Sharkawy
argued that no important decision can be made without
Khamenei's consent. Ahmadinejad appears to have the support
of Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard, and conservatives, and
as such is in a good position to remain president. Other
contenders include former President Mohammed Khatemi. Dr.
Gordon noted that the upcoming elections in Iran could
consolidate power at the top.

33. (C) Dr. Gordon agreed that Iran has legitimate
aspirations, but obtaining a nuclear weapon capability and
regional domination were not among them. The incoming
administration will not likely deviate from this, but may
engage with Tehran in a different manner. Tehran continues
to support Hizballah and Hamas, and is intent on derailing
Israeli-Syria talks (facilitated by Turkey). The Iranians
provide lethal support to resistance groups in Iraq and
Afghanistan. However, Tehran has had difficulties in Iraq
and with declining oil revenues, is facing serious economic
challenges. We believe that now is the time for the U.N.
coalition to increase the pressure, said Gordon.

34. (C) The Iraqi delegation stated that Iraq too has
concerns with Iran, particularly its support for militias and
"cross-border interventions." But Hakim said that the
reality is that Iran is a neighbor that the GCC states and
Iraq have lived with "for centuries." A nuclear-armed Iran
would be a regional threat, and Iraq does not want to see
this happen. Hakim argued that Iran will be deliberate and
patient, and seek to outlast the political will of the U.N.
sanctions regime. He suggested that bullying Iran is not a
solution; we should pursue dialogue instead. He disagreed
that Ahmadinejad was secure as president, and suggested that
Ali Larijani and former president Akbar Rafsanjani -- both
pragmatists in his view -- are legitimate contenders for the

35. (C) The Saudi Arabian delegation agreed that a nuclear
free zone in the Middle East was an important goal, and
concurred with the Egyptian objection of a "double standard"
for Israel. However, Prince Khaled was emphatic that Saudi
Arabia "does not want a problem on its eastern border." He
agreed that the international community should seek out all
diplomatic options to address Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but
the burden is on Iran to signal it is serious about changing
its posture. "Time is ticking. We do not see a new Iranian
president or political players anytime soon." Rafsanjani is
a "good man" but is not a decision maker. "We cannot play
games. This is very serious for us in the gulf and we are
considering contingency plans in case the oil market is
disrupted (by Iran)." The Jordanian delegation observed that
the U.S. and European "good-cop/bad-cop" approach is
appropriate, and that both roles are necessary.


36. (C) Egyptian Deputy Assistant Minster for South and East
Africa Abdelhameed Marzouk said that the GOE was concerned
about two inter-related issues, piracy near the Red Sea and
the situation on the ground in Somalia. Egypt was backing
all efforts for a comprehensive peace agreement between the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the opposition,
without exclusion, to achieve security and peace on land.
Egypt supports coordinated efforts to combat and face piracy
on the seas. Bassim said "a state of chaos" in Somalia led
to the "return of the phenomena of piracy." That said,
piracy is currently limited to the Indian Ocean, Gulf of
Aden, and the Somali coast, and had not yet entered the Red
Sea. Bassim noted the Red Sea riparian states, together with
the TFG and the Arab League, would meet on November 20 to
study the piracy issue; its roots, beneficiaries, and the
political, economic, and security impact (septel).

37. (C) Dr. Gordon agreed on the link between conditions in
Somalia and the rise in piracy. He said that the TFG 's
"limited ability" was "diminishing" and encouraged other
states to work with UN Special Envoy Ould-Abdallah to
encourage elements in Somalia, including the Islamists, to
join the political process, though Shebaab,s "extensive ties
to Al Qaeda" may warrant its exclusion. On the piracy angle,
Dr. Gordon said that the U.S. is interested in exploring
enhanced naval cooperation to resolve the problem. The
stakes for Egypt are particularly high because piracy could
affect the "credibility of the Suez Canal as a transport
route." Dr. Gordon asked if Egypt would be willing to take
custody of the pirates for trial. He said that it is not
clear whether the U.S. would have a legal basis on which to
try the pirates, unless they attacked U.S. persons, or a U.S.

38. (SBU) Saudi Prince Khaled said that the KSA, after the
Arab League ministerial, had offered to host a meeting of
Somali parties in Jeddah. He agreed that the Shebaab have
the same philosophy as Al Qaeda and should not be invited to
Jeddah. Saudi Arabia would take the U.S. offer to deepen
cooperation under consideration.


39. (SBU) All participants expressed enthusiasm for the Quint
dialogue, praising Bassim and her Egyptian colleagues for
organizing a successful meeting and indicated their desire to
continue to meet in this format in the future. Dr. Gordon
commented that the meeting "exceeded expectations."
Suggesting that it provided a useful mechanism for
consultation and an opportunity to discuss sensitive topics
in an informal setting, Jordanian delegation leader Nahar
offered to host the next meeting sometime this spring.

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