Cablegate: Senator Kerry's Meeting with Qatar's Amir
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FM AMEMBASSY DOHA
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INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L DOHA 000070
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2020
TAGS: PREL KWBG KPAL IR QA
SUBJECT: SENATOR KERRY'S MEETING WITH QATAR'S AMIR
Classified By: Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron, for reasons 1.4 (b, d).
(C) KEY POINTS
-- The Amir of Qatar urged the U.S. in his February 14
meeting with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to do everything in
its power to find a lasting solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Amir said the best way to
begin is by moving first on the Syrian track.
-- In Qatar's view, now is the time to reach out to
Damascus. The Syrian Government can help Arab extremists
make tough choices, but only if the U.S., whose involvement
is essential, demonstrates to Syria early on a willingness to
address the return of the Golan Heights and supports Turkey's
mediation efforts between Israel and Syria.
-- According to the Amir, Hamas will accept the 1967 border
with Israel, but will not say it publicly so as to lose
popular Palestinian support.
-- The Egyptians' goal, according to the Amir, is to stay in
the game and maintain their relationship with the U.S., which
is built around brokering regional peace, for as long as
-- The Amir recommended that the U.S. and Qatar establish a
small bilateral committee to discuss how to advance regional
peace. Qatar can help move Hamas, because Qatar does not
"play in their internal politics." That does not mean Qatar
shares Hamas' ideology, stressed the Amir.
-- On Iran, the Amir said President Ahmadinejad is strong
because he is uncorrupted. The Amir also advised the U.S. to
continue ts efforts to open a dialogue with the Iranian
End Key Points.
1. (C) Senator Joh Kerry (D-MA), the Chairman of the Senate
Foreig Relations Committee(SFRC), joined by Ambassador,P/E
Chief, and SFRC staff member Dr. Jonah Blank met February 14
with the Amir of Qatar, Hamad bn Khalifa Al Thani. The
meeting took place at Waba Palace, the residence of the
Amir, and the Amir began the meeting by pointing out that the
comfortable chairs on which the U.S. party was seated were
made in Syria.
IMPORTANCE OF THE SYRIAN TRACK
2. (C) This opening led Senator Kerry to remark that he had
held great discussions with Syria's President, Bashar
Al-Asad, when he met him in Damascus some months ago. The
Amir said President Asad is committed to "big change," but
Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri's death and complications
resulting from Syria's alleged involvement in it had brought
about "complications" for Asad. The Amir added that "Bashar
is still young and can grow."
3. (C) Senator Kerry said he took away from his visit to
Damascus that Asad wants change. The Amir added that the
Syrian President also wants peace with Israel and that the
arrival of a U.S. Ambassador in Damascus would help in this
regard. Senator Kerry said he had wanted a U.S. Ambassador
in Syria a year ago, but agreed that the naming of an
Ambassador is a positive development.
4. (C) The Amir cautioned that the Syrians will not accept
everything the U.S. proposes, stressing that the Israeli
occupation of the Golan Heights continues and that the return
of this land to Syria is paramount for Damascus. The Amir
observed that the "Syrians have lost confidence in the U.S.
and that the Israelis now have the upper hand in the region
because of the support of the United States." The Israeli
leaders need to represent the people of Israel, who
themselves do not trust Arabs. The Amir said this is
understandable and "we can't blame them" because the Israelis
have been "under threat" for a long time.
5. (C) What has changed, continued the Amir, is that Arabs
"for sure" now want two states -- Israel and Palestine. When
you consider that many in the region perceive that Hizballah
drove Israel out of Lebanon and Hamas kicked them (at least
initially) out "of the small piece of land called Gaza," it
is actually surprising that the Israelis still want peace.
The region, however, is still "far away" from peace,
concluded the Amir.
6. (C) Senator Kerry responded that in his long experience
with the region, it was not unusual for people to take
positions adverse to their own interests. Yasser Arafat went
from living as a terrorist in Tunisia to signing an agreement
with Israel on the White House lawn. The transformation of
Arafat is an example of how actors in the region need to take
risks if we are to move forward in advancing regional peace.
Turning the conversation back to Syria, Chairman Kerry
pointed out that Syria's facilitation of arms to Hizballah
and its turning a blind eye to missile upgrades in Lebanon do
not represent risk-taking in the promotion of peace.
7. (C) The Amir pointed out that any progress toward regional
peace had come about due to American involvement. He implied
that it would take U.S. intervention on the Syrian-Israeli
track to address these issues and asked Senator Kerry what he
would have Damascus do.
8. (C) The Chairman responded that President Asad needs to
make a bolder move and take risks. He observed that if the
Syrian President wants peace and economic development for his
country, he needs to be more statesman-like, which would in
turn help Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu engage him.
9. (C) The Amir agreed with Senator Kerry's assessment of
Asad's aims and said he is ready for peace, but asked if the
Israelis are ready. Would Israel accept to resume Turkey's
mediation between Syria and Israel? Would the U.S. play a
role in advancing the Syria track?
10. (C) If we can get Abu Mazen back to the negotiating
table, we can engage on border issues -- including Israel's
borders with Syria, advised Senator Kerry. Abu Mazen right
now is not strong enough, though, to make necessary
compromises with Israel because the Palestinian people have
wanted him to stick to his guns on a settlement freeze and
the Goldstone Report. The Chairman added that Netanyahu also
needs to compromise and work the return of the Golan Heights
into a formula for peace.
11. (C) The Amir encouraged the U.S. to work the Golan
Heights issue first. He stressed that Syrians are very
different from Iranians in "mentality," and said the Syrians
turned to Iran for support only because they had nowhere else
to go. Now is the time, the Amir told Senator Kerry, to
reach out to Damascus.
PARAMETERS FOR DISCUSSION
12. (C) Senator Kerry responded that the U.S. is prepared to
play a strong role in bringing about peace in the region.
President Obama, said the Chairman, understands that he
personally must engage and do so strongly. The Senator told
the Amir that in his speech to the U.S.-Islamic Forum the
previous evening, the Senator had focused on former President
Clinton's parameters for peace and the 2002 Arab League peace
initiative. Now, said the Senator, is the time to put those
back on the table and resume talking, with the U.S. acting as
a legitimate agent of peace. Chairman Kerry told the Amir he
is convinced that we can see great progress in the coming
year by moving swiftly from proximity talks, to direct talks
between the parties and ending with final status discussions.
13. (C) To be successful, continued Senator Kerry, we must
begin by agreeing at the outset the amount of land each side
(Israelis and Palestinians) will obtain in the end and use
that understanding to draw the borders. If both sides make
good compromises, we can address the settlement issues in the
context of giving something up so that the borders, when
drawn, contain the agreed-upon amounts of land for both
sides. The Amir agreed with the Senator's assessment and
complimented President Obama for being the first U.S.
President to take on the Middle East conflict in the first
year of his term.
14. (C) Continuing the presentation of his ideas on the
parameters of peace between Israel and the Palestinians,
Senator Kerry noted that one of the biggest problems for
Israel is the potential return of 5-6 million Palestinian
refugees. The parties broached the return issue in
discussions at Taba and agreed that the right of Palestinian
return would be subject to later negotiation, pointed out the
Chairman. If we can proceed from that point on the right of
return, the Senator believes there is an "artful way" to
frame the negotiations on borders, land swaps, and Jerusalem
as a shared capital.
15. (C) Any negotiation has its limits, added Senator Kerry,
and we know for the Palestinians that control of Al-Aqsa
mosque and the establishment of some kind of capital for the
Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not negotiable. For the
Israelis, the Senator continued, Israel's character as a
Jewish state is not open for negotiation. The
non-militarization of an eventual Palestinian state and its
borders can nonetheless be resolved through negotiation.
16. (C) The Amir underscored that Abu Mazen needs Arab
support to make the above happen. Hamas "for sure," he said,
will accept the 1967 border but will not say it publicly so
as to lose popular Palestinian support.
DEALING WITH THE EXTREMISTS
17. (C) Senator Kerry told the Amir he knew Qatar could help
the U.S. but asked how we deal with those who advocate
violence. The Amir said the short answer is to work the
Syrian track, which means pushing for Israel's return of the
Golan Heights to Syria. The Amir said return of the Golan is
important not just to Syria but also to Hizballah and Iran.
The U.S. must bear in mind that Misha'al, a leader of Hamas
based in Damascus, has drawn the conclusion that the Oslo
accords were bad for Arafat. He lost the support of his own
people and died living under Israeli siege. The Syrians can
help Misha'al and others make tough choices, but only if the
U.S. demonstrates to Syria early on a willingness to address
the Golan. Senator Kerry responded that the U.S. would
accept a legitimate discussion of the Golan Heights.
18. (C) What is more, said the Amir, the U.S. needs to
support Turkey's mediation between Israel and Syria. It is
important that the U.S. encourage Israel to understand that
that resolving the status of the Golan Heights is very
important to the United States.
19. (C) Senator Kerry asked the Amir if Hamas is under
pressure given the circumstances in Gaza. The Amir answered
by saying that Hamas needs Iranian support. He added that
the biggest misconception in the region is that the Syrians,
who host Hamas leaders in Damascus, go to Iran because they
like the Iranians. This is wrong. Syria goes to those who
will not shun them.
ROLE OF EGYPT
20. (C) Returning to the pressure Hamas is facing, Senator
Kerry observed that economic development in the West Bank is
taking place, but not in Gaza. The Palestinian
reconciliation that would make possible developmental
assistance in Gaza has not happened. The Egyptians have not
delivered, said Senator Kerry.
21. (C) The Amir said the Egyptians' goal is to stay in the
game and maintain their relationship with the U.S., which is
built around brokering Middle East peace, for as long as
possible. According to the Amir, Fatah and Hamas agreed on a
memorandum of understanding, but the Egyptians wanted it
changed. The Amir remarked that he has a feeling he knows
which capital (Cairo) is the source of reports that Gaza is
under pressure. He said the economic pressure in Gaza on
families is not what it was. He offered as an example that
Qatar Charity recently offered a family in Gaza 500 USD, but
the family declined the gift saying its members had enough to
get by and suggested another family that was in more dire
need of assistance. The Amir said the notion that a family
would turn down money is new.
22. (C) The Amir told Senator Kerry that everyone knows
"Egypt has a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood. Okay, we
understand. But Egypt should not expect the world to take
external actions that would help it internally."
23. (C) Asked his advice for President Obama, the Amir
recommended the establishment of a small U.S.-Qatar committee
to discuss how to proceed. Qatar is close to Hamas,
emphasized the Amir, because "we don't play in their internal
politics." That does not mean we share their ideology or do
not disagree with them. "I can remember many arguments with
them (Hamas) on the 1967 border with Israel." The Amir noted
that he had mediated with Hamas previously at the U.S.
request, namely when he urged Hamas at the previous
Administration's request to participate in Palestinian
24. (C) Returning to the leadership of Hamas, Senator Kerry
asked the Amir for his insights into how the leadership, with
leaders sitting in both Gaza and Syria, makes decisions. The
Amir said the impression that Misha'al sits in Damascus and
others take orders from him is wrong. Several key players
within Hamas are involved in decisions. They have
differences over policy, but "the bottom line is that they
all want the Palestinians to take their rights from Israel."
25. (C) Senator Kerry observed that the international
community is moving toward imposing additional economic
sanctions on Iran. Understanding and respecting that Qatar
needs to balance its relationships with regional powers,
including Iran, the Chairman asked the Amir for his
perspective on where we are going on Iran.
26. (C) The Amir answered by affirming that his first
obligation is to defend the interests of Qatar. Due to the
natural gas field Iran shares with Qatar, Qatar will not
"provoke a fight" with Iran. He added that in the history of
the two countries, "Iran has not bothered us." That said,
the Amir noted that Iran is an important country in the
Middle East. He faulted the U.S. for "making the mistake of
speaking up for protesters" after the disputed Iranian
27. (C) The Iranian regime is strong, continued the Amir,
because President Ahmadinejad is uncorrupted. "That is the
secret to his success." Khatami is also not corrupted, but
as a reformer he is in a weak position. Rafsanjani, on the
other hand, is corrupt.
28. (C) Senator Kerry lamented that every communication the
current Administration has attempted to the Government of
Iran has gone back channel and been met with no response.
There have been non-U.S. initiatives, too. Again, no
success. The Chairman observed that the Iranians are scared
to talk. The Supreme Ayatollah had met with Russian President
Putin, but seems not inclined to meet with other political
leaders. Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk
29. (C) Your instinct is right, replied the Amir. The U.S.
needs to talk directly with senior Iranian officials. The
Amir then asked, "What if I talk to the Iranian President.
What would you have me say?"
30. (C) Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious
discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a
relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance
with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those
interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and
illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that
Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that
tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
31. (C) The Amir responded that you cannot blame them for
having that attitude, and Senator Kerry agreed, adding that
the U.S. has a very different posture in the post-Cold War
world of today. Iran has ambitions; I know this from other
regional leaders, said the Senator. These are the first
words that come out of their mouths.
32. (C) Iran wants to be a "big power," agreed the Amir, but
what sort? He reminded Senator Kerry the U.S. should not
forget that Iranians are Persian and the U.S. needs to
approach them in that framework.
33. (C) Senator Kerry stressed that the U.S. "would love to
have that dialogue." The U.S. respects Iranian civilization
-- talent, art, culture, etc. It is crazy to continue on
this collision course. The region needs schools and jobs,
emphasized the Chairman, not another war. The Amir agreed
that "demographics are a big worry." Not just for the
countries in the region but for the U.S. too.
34. (C) Many scientific and technological transformations are
underway, noted the Senator, "but Iran misinterprets the road
to being a great power and the degree to which the
international community is concerned about Iran's acquisition
of nuclear weapons." We are at a "fork in the road," and
Iran must choose between confrontation or building
partnerships. If the latter, we can open up new
opportunities for cooperation in the sciences, technology,
education, robotics, energy and other ongoing
35. (C) Going back to the speech he had delivered in Doha the
previous evening, Senator Kerry told the Amir that 17 former
U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense had come out in favor
of eliminating nuclear weapons. Every stop closer to
realizing that goal is a sign of progress, but "no one
believes Iranian nukes get us closer to that goal."
36. (C) Senator Kerry reported that leaders of regional Arab
countries tell me they want nuclear weapons if the Iranians
have them. The Amir responded that he did not believe they
were serious, but are saying this to put additional pressure
37. (C) The Chairman noted that the disputed Iranian
presidential elections may have derailed U.S. efforts to have
serious dialogue with Tehran. The Amir agreed, offering that
the Israelis are also using Iran's quest for nuclear weapons
as a diversion from settling matters with the Palestinians.
The historical backdrop of Arab-Persian relations does not
help, the Amir added.
38. (C) The Amir advised the U.S. to continue trying to open
a dialogue with the Iranian leadership. He also told Senator
Kerry the U.S. needs to tell the Israelis they are causing
the U.S. to lose the hearts and minds of Muslims. There was
a time, such as during the Suez Canal crisis, when the Arabs
loved the Americans and disliked the British and French, he
39. (C) Senator Kerry asked the Amir how the U.S. goes about
changing its reputation. The Amir said first and foremost
the U.S. must do everything in its power to find a lasting
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the best
way to begin is by moving first on the Syrian track.
40. (C) The Chairman of the SFRC said he expects a genuine
effort by the President this year on an agreement and
expressed his hope that Iranian issues would not complicate
matters. The Amir agreed, adding that China likes the
distraction for the U.S. as its forces fight in Iraq and
41. (C) Senator Kerry concurred, noting that China is lending
the U.S. money and expanding its influence at U.S. expense.
He added that he ran against President George W. Bush saying
the war with Iraq was the wrong war in the wrong place and
42. (C) The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on
30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you
100 words. Trust only one of the 100.
43. (U) CODEL Kerry has cleared this message.