Cablegate: Government Leaders Emphasize Economic Reform With
DE RUEHLB #1247/01 3281119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241119Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6093
INFO RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 3705
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 3842
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 1501
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 3970
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 3558
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 4241
RHMCSUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
UNCLAS BEIRUT 001247
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM EAID PTER OREP LE
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT LEADERS EMPHASIZE ECONOMIC REFORM WITH
1. (SBU) Summary: On November 10, Prime Minister Saad
Hariri, President Michel Sleiman, Speaker of Parliament Nabih
Berri, and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora separately
told visiting Codel Price that they welcomed U.S.
congressional support to the Lebanese parliament and noted
the multitude of tasks, including economic reform, that faced
the new government. Hariri told the Codel that he would
immediately launch an economic reform plan focused on
lowering public debt and increasing foreign investment.
Berri welcomed parliamentary exchanges, and Sleiman expected
that Lebanese dynamism would ensure the country's economic
advancement and argued for solving the Palestinian-Israeli
issue. Siniora linked rising extremism in the Middle East to
a lack of job opportunities and said Lebanon needed to focus
on the implementation of already agreed-upon economic reform
laws. End Summary.
2. (SBU) As part of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP)
program, Codel Price, accompanied by Ambassador and poloffs,
met with key Lebanese leaders on November 10. Codel members
were HDP Chairman David Price (D-NC); Ranking Member, Rep.
David Dreier (R-CA); and Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA),
Keith Ellison (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Charles
3. (SBU) Members of Codel Price congratulated President
Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Parliament
Speaker Nabih Berri, and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora
on the previous day's formation of the new government and
expressed unwavering U.S. commitment to Lebanon. The Codel
also briefed their interlocutors on the House Democracy
Partnership (HDP) program and emphasized their desire to
continue working with Lebanon on the basis of
"bipartisanship, friendship, and support."
4. (SBU) Hariri declared that Lebanon needed "all the help it
could get" to enact "proper reforms" to ensure its democracy.
He noted that without checks and balances, Lebanon would
return to the "problems of the previous period" when control
was ceded to external powers. Building parliamentarians'
capacity strengthened their ability to oversee the work of
the executive, he assessed, adding that former Prime Minister
Fouad Siniora, now leader of the Future Movement
parliamentary bloc, would play an important mentoring role to
5. (SBU) Hariri said he planned "huge reforms" to grow
Lebanon's economy. Financial reform was key to energizing
the private sector and investment, he emphasized. The
Lebanese government had passed economic reform legislation in
2002, Hariri said, and now needed to focus on implementation.
Hariri reported that the opposition and the majority had
agreed on the need for reforms -- including privatization --
so he had a "free pass" to move forward. Hariri described
himself as "completely focused" on lowering the public debt
and described plans to increase foreign direct investment in
services, such as electricity, to improve those sectors.
Rep. Boustany urged Lebanon's accession to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) and underscored the U.S. Congress' desire
to help Lebanon reach its potential.
MUCH WORK AHEAD
6. (SBU) Rep. Price congratulated Parliamentary Speaker Nabih
Berri for getting parliament "up and running" again and
expressed HDP's desire to continue its work with the body.
He also told Berri that HDP hoped to collaborate with the
Lebanese parliament on establishing seminars for committee
leaders and a resource center for MPs. Berri expressed his
support for cooperation between the parliament and the U.S.
Congress, following the vote of confidence for the new
government. Parliament would need to address "everything,"
Berri assessed, including privatization, electricity, debt,
and the Palestinian issue.
SLEIMAN POINTS TO
7. (SBU) Lebanon has paid a high price in instability for the
common values it shared with the United States, such as
democracy, human rights, public freedoms, and fighting
fanaticism, President Michel Sleiman told Codel Price. Codel
members explained that Lebanon had been an obvious choice for
collaboration in the region, given those values. Sleiman
said that as army commander, he had felt strong U.S. support
during the 2007 Nahr al-Barid campaign and that American
support continued to help Lebanon maintain its "special role"
in the region.
8. (SBU) Sleiman argued that the key to preserving Lebanon's
"cherished values" was to find peace between Israel and the
Palestinians. The restitution of Palestinian rights was the
"most important" issue to the Lebanese because Lebanon could
not provide a decent life for them. Since the Palestinians
could cause internal "trouble," he said, solving the
Palestinian issue would put Lebanon's other problems "on
track." Sleiman noted that, for the first time, Lebanon had
a government of its "own volition," and he assured Codel
Price that he did not believe that U.S. engagement with Syria
would come at Lebanon's expense.
9. (SBU) Sleiman argued that Lebanon had gained the world's
confidence as the "Switzerland of the Orient" through its
ability to weather the financial downturn. The Lebanese
diaspora had also regained its confidence in the state,
feeding the economy as well, he said. Lebanon needed to
build its institutions and push economic, political,
judicial, and administrative reforms, and then it could
address its public debt, Sleiman said. Lebanese dynamism
could make the country a trade, commercial, agricultural, and
cultural center in the region, he believed.
SINIORA LINKS ECONOMY
10. (SBU) Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora observed that
Lebanon was at the "crossroads" with the "forces of
extremism" in the region. Without constructive action on the
many political and economic challenges facing the Arab world,
he feared, "forces of extremism" would note the "meager
results." Siniora assessed that unless the Arab world
created 100 million new jobs in the future to address its
population surge, extremists would exploit governments'
shortcomings. The priority of the new government, Siniora
confirmed, would be moving the backlog of over 100
parliamentary-approved laws through the cabinet, with special
focus on financial and administrative reform.
11. (U) Codel Price has cleared this cable.