Before the Christian Wedding: Aoun and Geagea on WikiLeaks

Samir Geagea (C-L) welcomes Michel Aoun (C-R) to his headquarters in Maarab, north-east of Beirut, on January 18, 2016. Aldo Ayoub, Lebanese Forces, AFP

Samir Geagea (C-L) welcomes Michel Aoun (C-R) to his headquarters in Maarab, north-east of Beirut, on January 18, 2016. Aldo Ayoub / Lebanese Forces / AFP

This is the 12th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

Samir Geagea’s endorsement of Michel Aoun as the Lebanese Forces’ official candidate is Lebanon’s political development of the month – arguably the year. And while Lebanon’s biggest parties are yet to take the final stance on the issue, I thought it would be nice to look at the evolution of the Geagea-Aoun ties from a different point of view, via the WikiLeaks cables.

This post is a compilation of WikiLeaks cables where Aoun discusses Geagea, and Geagea discusses Aoun (there are far more cables of Geagea discussing Aoun for the simple fact that Geagea speaks to the American ambassador a lot more than Aoun). I have only kept the Aoun-Geagea parts of the cables (that I found by searching “Aoun Geagea” and then looking at the most 160 relevant results) and you can check the full cables by looking them up (using their canonical ID) on WikiLeaks.

If you think that it is useless to look at more than 30 outdated WikiLeaks cables where Geagea says that Aoun is arming the FPM and Aoun says that he was not March 8 and was forced to go there, let me correct you with one quote:

But, Geagea warned, if he has to choose between backing a weak figure like Robert Ghanem to preserve March 14 unity or preserving his Christian credibility by breaking with Hariri over a bad presidential choice, he will chose the latter. Geagea said that he would have no choice but to build an alliance with Aoun“- November 9, 2007.

Perhaps Hariri should have paid more attention to what his main Christian ally was telling the American ambassador…

FOCUS ON THE DATES – I organized the cables by chronological order. Enjoy.

LEBANON: JA’JA’ BRINGS IDEAS DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN
2007 January 18, 16:57 (Thursday)
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5. (C) One thing that would break the Christians and March 14 would be a compromise in the presidency, Geagea said adamantly. Why, he asked, should there be a compromise in the presidency, rather than a compromise speaker or prime minister? Geagea had given some thought to allowing Aoun to become president, but said that there is no way to know which way Aoun would go after reaching that overriding goal. He said that Aoun obviously prefers chaos to losing the presidency, and that he might push for violence without clearly understanding the results. Saying that he had been approached with the idea of allowing Aoun the presidency by both Jumblatt and Hariri, he had made it clear that he would not support it, and was assured that it would not be proposed by either without further discussion with Geagea. In this light he pointed out that paradoxically, Amal and Hizballah are currently “allies in non-violence.”

10. (C) Geagea reported that he is not talking to Aoun or his followers — he says that Aoun has no advisors, only followers — very much lately. This is because Aoun’s situation has become critical and Geagea does not wish to resuscitate Aoun’s declining political fortunes. Geagea believes that Aoun will find someone to run in the Metn by-election against former President Amine Gemayel, although it is difficult to see how Gemayel could lose. Aoun really believes that his candidate will win, which is further proof that his poor judgment carries a high risk for the country. As for Speaker Berri, he is “shy” and won’t meet, even declining a ceremonial visit by Geagea on the recent Muslim Eid holiday. Berri said he was not receiving visitors.

LEBANON: LEBANESE FORCES’ GEAGEA BELIEVES CIVIL WAR IS CLOSE
2007 February 12, 17:01 (Monday)
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9. (C) According to Geagea, Aoun can now go in either of two directions: one is to dialogue without street action; the other is to arm his people. Syria is telling Aoun that they could provide him the arms and officers to train and fight alongside his people. Aoun is inclined to stick to the first choice of dialogue, but will ask the GOL for a license for his supporters to carry arms. Aoun is said to have gathered his people after January 23 and to have told them they did not do their job adequately in rallying the masses. He then replaced a few of his top lieutenants, moving out some and putting in their places former military officers. Geagea described Aoun as uncompromising, uwilling to listen BEIRUT 00000229 003 OF 003 to his close advisors, and acting only on what he thinks will take him closer to his goal of becoming president. Aoun finds himself in the midst of his own Greek tragedy: he knows he will not become the next president, and yet is spending all his efforts in trying to reverse the current situation in a last-ditch effort to become president.

LEBANON:SAMIR GEAGEA ON THE TRIBUNAL, BOLSTERING MARCH 14, AND PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
2007 April 27, 15:06 (Friday)
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9. (C) Geagea argued in favor of his getting together with Michel Aoun to discuss presidential candidates. Geagea noted that Aoun’s participation is perferable because, despite his waning popularity, Aoun will still have at least 20 percent support after the presidential election. Certain groups around Aoun will never support March 14 or the Lebanese Forces. He commented that the other sects could not oppose any candidate supported by both Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the LF, the two dominant Christian groups. Geagea said his own people and Aoun’s maintain contact at a low level. He believes that some of the FPM members are not happy with Aoun’s policies. Both the Ambassador and Geagea agreed that Aoun is probably not getting from his own team a true picture of his diminished support. Geagea agreed that the chance for success in getting Aoun to pick another presidential candidate other than himself, in agreement with the LF, might be slim, but it is worth trying.

GEAGEA’S PLAN FOR SELECTING THE PRESIDENT

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10. (C) Geagea noted that while Maronite Patriarch Sfeir is likely to push for presidential elections, the Patriarch will not name his preferred choice nor help negotiate on candidates among the factions. Geagea plans to select one or two candidates * preferably people both he and Aoun can agree on * and then quietly vet the names with the Patriarch. Once Patriarch Sfeir knows (and approves) of the

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candidate, Sfeir will become even more vocal in calling for presidential elections, unofficially signaling his support. Geagea thinks this will have the dual effect of getting the Patriarch’s “unofficial” blessing for the March 14 candidate and, if Aoun is still allied with the opposition, embarrass Aoun. After Geagea has vetted candidates with the Patriarch he will discuss them with his 14 March allies, who will be unlikely to go against a candidate supported by the Patriarch.

10. (C) Geagea does not expect to implement his plan anytime soon because he wants to give Aoun time to switch alliances or negotiate candidates with Geagea before March 14 enters into its candidate selection process. He noted that, for now at least, it is unlikely Aoun would be willing to break with Hizballah and ally with March 14. Perhaps closer to the elections ) as Aoun realizes he will lose more credibility and support if he opposes presidential elections as Geagea expects the opposition to do – he may decide to join the majority as a last chance to maintain some political influence.

LEBANON: GEAGEA FOCUSES ON ELECTIONS WITH A/S WELCH
2007 May 17, 16:52 (Thursday)
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3. (C) Geagea has tried to discuss presidential candidates with Christian politician General Michel Aoun on several occasions, but the General refuses to engage in any dialogue that does not have him as the only potential candidate. The General, as president, is an “impossible” outcome for Geagea. He plans to continue pushing Aoun to agree on a (non-Aoun) candidate. Geagea commented that Aoun’s public attacks against him and Druze leader Walid Junblatt have become less frequent. He believes that Aoun’s criticism drew attention to Geagea’s prominent position in the March 14 coalition and debunked Aoun’s claim that March 14 Christians are subservient to the coalition’s Muslims (a rallying cry Aoun has used to scare Christians to his side). Asked about Aoun’s seemingly large financial base, Geagea claimed he has heard rumors of Qatari funding for the General’s nascent “Orange TV” station.

LEBANON: GEAGEA OUTLINES MARCH 14 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION STRATEGY
2007 August 6, 05:21 (Monday)
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4.(C) Under this scenario, there would be three declared candidates: two from March 14 and General Michel Aoun, the candidate of the March 8 opposition. Geagea urged that the U.S. treat all candidates, including Aoun, equally. For example, any USG official who comes to Lebanon during the election period should meet all three. Stressing the importance of not cold-shouldering Aoun, Geagea said this was the way for the U.S. to acknowledge that pluralistic democracy in Lebanon was functioning as it should. While it was important for the U.S. to publicly support Aoun’s candidacy, privately it could pressure Aounist MP’s by suggesting, for example, that they might be placed on the U.S. visa ban list. The U.S. should concentrate on building momentum for elections, leaving it up to March 14 MPs to ensure that a candidate committed to March 14 policies emerges as the winner.

LEBANON: GEAGEA CHARTS MARCH 14 ELECTION COURSE, HINTS AT DANGERS AHEAD
2007 August 31, 15:30 (Friday)
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5. (C) Terming Hizballah “the master of the game,” Geagea asserted that armed Hizballah members and their supporters were preparing for armed clashes should they see that March 14 is determined to proceed with the election with only a simple majority. Furthermore, according to Geagea, opposition candidate Michel Aoun’s supporters all over Lebanon were preparing themselves for confrontation, with about 1000 receiving military training in the Biqa’–a dangerous development, as it would be the first time Aounists resorted to arms.

SAMIR GEAGEA ON AOUN’S ARMS, PRESIDENCY
2007 September 18, 12:48 (Tuesday)
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3. (S) Geagea said that Hizballah is being careful to avoid direct military support to Aoun, which, if discovered, would discredit Aoun with the Christians and Hizballah (with its claims that its arms are directed against Israel only) more generally. Instead, Hizballah is providing arms to Franjieh. Franjieh then opens his arsenals to Aoun, making the arms transfers, if leaked, appear to be one Christian opposition leader helping another with personal protection. One of the main recipient of the arms from Franjieh is MP Selim Aoun, an Aoun bloc MP on Ily Skaff’s Zahleh list. Selim Aoun is charged with distributing the arms to others in the Aoun camp and has established strategically located cells of 50-70 fighters each. Franjieh is providing some of the training facilities and has recently opened Marada offices far beyond its Zghorta headquarters in order to serve as rallying and training points as well as safehouses. Zahar al-Khatib plays a key training role of Aounist fighters, again in order to keep Hizballah somewhat at arms distance from Aoun.

LEBANON: GEAGEA: WHAT IS HARIRI COOKING UP?
2007 September 30, 12:07 (Sunday)
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3. (C) Geagea explained Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader General Michel Aoun’s recent about-face (reftel) as an effort to win new allies after his first strategy, wearing his opponents down by force and threats of chaos, failed. Moral in Aoun’s circle is down, he said. Recognizing the writing on the wall, i.e., that Amal, Hizballah, and perhaps even Syria are looking for a consensus candidate for the presidency, Aoun realizes that to salvage any chance he has of becoming that candidate, he has to mend fences with March 14. He is therefore opening up “tous azimuts” — or in all directions. Aoun will only accept a candidate other than himself if he realizes he has no hope and March 8 is unwilling to go the route of chaos (i.e., a vacuum or two government scenario).

5. (C) Geagea dismissed the Ambassador’s last concern, noting that building bridges had never been Aoun’s forte; on the contrary, his constantly shifting alliances only revealed that he is willing to negotiate with the devil to achieve his personal ambitions. Geagea agreed, however, that over half of Lebanese Forces Christians would (despite decades of antipathy) like to see a reconciliation with the FPM as a way to build Christian strength and solidarity.

7. (C) Geagea, pondering for a moment with his chin resting in his hand, stated, “this is bizarre.” Why did Aoun see UN Envoy for Lebanon Geir Pederson three times this week? he asked aloud. The Ambassador responded that, according to Pederson, Aoun was “in love” with March 14. It’s the only way we can change him, Geagea countered, otherwise he will “float again.” As he had always told Saad Hariri, getting Aoun’s agreement on a consensus candidate would be a good thing for March 14.

13. (C) Moving to a one-on-one conversation with the Ambassador while pacing in his driveway, Geagea said that the real problem is that both Hariri (who genuinely wants Nassib Lahoud) and Syria (who hopes for LAF Commander Michel Sleiman as president) have zeroed in on Robert Ghanem as their fall-back choice. Both Hariri and Syria want a weak president, easily manipulated, and they will end up sharing Ghanem between them, Geagea said. Ghanem has no significant Christian support, meaning that independent Christians will once again feel cheated out of an office that is their right. This sense of alienation will drive them back into the arms of Michel Aoun, and the resurgent Aoun will humiliate and marginalize March 14 Christians, who will have gained nothing from their alliance with Hariri. Geagea admitted that his outreach to Aoun was in part designed to create a unified Christian veto against Ghanem.

LEBANON: GEAGEA SUSPECTS A EUROPEAN PUSH FOR SLEIMAN
2007 October 23, 07:06 (Tuesday)
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6. (C) Geagea acknowledged that there is movement within the Aoun camp, with Michel Aoun reportedly “perplexed” (a word Geagea also used in describing others). Geagea reported that at the meeting with the EU foreign ministers at the French residence, Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun appeared desperate for his own candidacy, speaking little and in a restrained voice. Given Geagea and Aoun’s shared disinterest in Sleiman, the possibility of Sleiman as the European choice prompted Geagea to dispatch LF vice-president George Adwan to meet Aoun the day after the meeting with the FMs. (Note: While Geagea has in the past several weeks used intermediaries to pursue contact with Aoun, sending Adwan is a marked rise in rank. End note.)

7. (C) Geagea maintained that Aoun still harbors hopes. He said that Aoun needed to be told directly that he will not be the next president, and that Aoun’s advisors will never do this. Geagea dismissed the oft-repeated rumor on the Beirut political gossip circuit that he had actually offered Aoun the possibility of naming the candidates, with March 14 electing one of Aoun’s choices (as long as it precluded Aoun himself). What he actually offered, Geagea said, was the possibility to Aoun that the two of them decide together who would be acceptable candidates. Parliament would elect a president off of a list determined by Geagea and Aoun, who represent an estimated 90 percent of Lebanon’s Christians. But Aoun refused to go along with this suggestion.

LEBANON: AOUN, CLAIMING THE ABILITY TO BOSS NASRALLAH AROUND, RELUCTANT TO DISCUSS FALL-BACK TO PRESIDENCY
2007 October 26, 14:05 (Friday)
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9. (C) Aoun predicted that these Aoun-March 14 contacts would not produce results. He expressed a willingness to deal constructively with Saad Hariri, but only after Saad “shows that he’s serious.” Describing at length a series of BEIRUT 00001678 003.2 OF 005 half-hearted and aborted attempts at an Aoun-Hariri face-to-face meeting, Aoun pronounced that Hariri “doesn’t know what he wants. When he does, he knows where I am.” As for Walid Jumblatt, Aoun said that he would not see him until he toned down his anti-Hizballah rhetoric. If Aoun saw Jumblatt now, he would harm his position in the Shia community and gain nothing in return. Moreover, Aoun said, “I am still waiting” for Jumblatt to visit him after Aoun’s May 2005 return from exile. “Let him come see me,” Aoun concluded. As for Samir Geagea, Aoun gave a wordless dismissive flick of the hand. The meeting earlier in the week with former President Amine Gemayel “was not serious.”

LEBANON: GEAGEA WARNS OF DANGEROUS GAMES, AND IS PLAYING ONE OF HIS OWN
2007 November 9, 14:21 (Friday)
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16. (C) Geagea said Aoun had called him the previous Saturday suggesting a meeting, to which Geagea replied he was welcome any time (i.e., at Geagea’s residence in Maarab). Aoun reportedly didn’t accept, suggesting the Patriarch’s residence in Bkirke instead. Geagea agreed, but then Aoun did an about-face and insisted on his residence in Rabieh. Suleiman Franjieh, meanwhile, told Geagea the week before that he was ready to meet at Bkirke, presumably as a knee-jerk reaction to Aoun’s meeting with March 14 MP Samir Geagea, his cousin and arch-rival. Franjieh then suddenly changed his mind, due, Geagea guessed, to Syrian opposition.

17. (C) Does Aoun recognize that he won’t be president, the Ambassador asked. Yes and no, Geagea replied; “he will fight until the end.” Then he risks losing everything, the Ambassador pointed out. That’s your calculation, Geagea responded, Aoun doesn’t calculate.

19. (C) But, Geagea warned, if he has to choose between backing a weak figure like Robert Ghanem to preserve March 14 unity or preserving his Christian credibility by breaking with Hariri over a bad presidential choice, he will chose the latter. Geagea said that he would have no choice but to build an alliance with Aoun, lest all of his followers shift to Aoun on their own. “You have to work on Saad,” Geagea said. “Convince him that he can’t ignore his Christian partners,” persuade him that, in the Sunni struggle against Hizballah, Hariri will need the Christians on his side. “Thank God for Walid,” Geagea commented, referring to Jumblatt remaining steadfast in his support of a strong, credible President. Geagea lamented that Hariri is so ready to abandon the “half plus one” electoral strategy, when that may be the only option to get a strong candidate with Christian credibility who is not Michel Aoun.

LEBANON: AOUN CLAIMS TO DROP OUT OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE
2007 November 10, 10:24 (Saturday)
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6. (C) Aoun, claiming he was more March 14 than many from March 14, said he did not need to defend himself. I want to be neutral, he claimed, saying he was not March 8; they forced him there. He had tried to build national support by finding a way to rein in Hizballah, but his attempts were misunderstood and now seemed like a bad move. Maybe I didn’t convince people, he said, if so, I assume the responsibility. Let Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt figure out to make Lebanon free and independent, he said, predicting that, with Aoun out of the picture, Hariri would need a minimum of understanding with Hizballah to avoid a confrontation.

LEBANON: GEAGEA AGAINST LAF COMMANDER SLEIMAN FOR PRESIDENT
2007 November 26, 16:45 (Monday)
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8. (C) In response to the Ambassador’s inquiry, Geagea said that head of Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun would not be able to discredit a president elected by a half plus one majority because such a president would be a strong president, assuming that the U.S. got the Arab and European states behind him so strongly that Syria and its allies would accept him as inevitable. In fact, Geagea added, a strong candidate would split Aoun’s bloc because its members place a high priority on getting a president in Baabda and some MPs could abandon Aoun to win favor with whomever is in power. If Aoun sees that March 14 is serious, he would be more concerned about securing his own role and that of his bloc in the cabinet, than about denouncing the president, surmised Geagea.

LEBANON: GEAGEA PUTTING THE BRAKES ON SLEIMAN PRESIDENCY?
2007 November 30, 07:58 (Friday)
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4. (C) Saad is naive, Geagea complained; he thinks if someone is friendly toward his family, they’re a good choice. If that better gets along with Hizballah, even better. Saad doesn’t want problems with Hizballah, he just wants to keep things as they are. You can’t play politics with this! Geagea exclaimed. Although Geagea agreed that electing Sleiman would diminish Aoun’s support, he warned that Sleiman would be too busy focusing on Christian-Christian relations to deal with important issues like border control and Hizballah’s arms. We want a commander who doesn’t meddle with us, he insisted, not someone who will use his position to build a political movement that will compete against us by bringing Aoun supporters on board.

LEBANON: WITH A/S WELCH, GEAGEA PRESSES HALF PLUS ONE
2007 December 17, 18:21 (Monday)
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14. (C) Geagea noted, however, that it was important to respect Sleiman, and therefore wait until after December 31 to pursue a half plus one majority. He said that March 14 leaders should communicate with Sleiman so that he understands that he cannot become president after that point. The next step, he continued, would be to elect a half plus one president and immediately move him into the presidential residence at Baabda. Such a move would prove invaluable in terms of securing Christian public opinion for March 14 and usurping public opinion from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. Geagea believed the Patriarch would welcome the new president and a majority of the population would follow suit.

LEBANON: GEAGEA PLEASED WITH 2/14 RALLY, PLEADS PLIGHT OF CHRISTIANS
2008 February 15, 18:47 (Friday)
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6. (C) Asked whether the Arab League initiative would succeed, Geagea responded with a short, “No.” Syria does not want a presidential election, he added. This was clear from Amr Moussa’s last meeting when Hariri asked whether, if March 14 accepted a 10/10/10 cabinet, the opposition would agree to holding the election. This surprised Aoun, whose answer was no, Geagea claimed, prompting Moussa to ask Aoun how he could say no when Berri had said yes. Berri and Aoun then spoke privately, after which Aoun said “maybe” if additional conditions on cabinet portfolios were agreed. Aoun’s position is rigid, Geagea agreed; it is not based on strategic calculations but rather on one his desire to be president.

LEBANON: GEAGEA PROPOSES REVAMPING GOVERNMENT WITH CHRISTIAN MINISTERS
2008 March 4, 16:13 (Tuesday)
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6. (C) Revisiting Moussa’s most recent attempt at negotiations, Geagea said electoral reform remains an obstacle, even within March 14. Geagea is calling for proportional representation, a system he argues would advantage March 14 Christians and break Hizballah strongholds. Moreover, he added, proportional representation would divide Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun’s opposition bloc by at least 50 percent. Another advantage could be the election of March 14 Shia MPs, he posited. However, he acknowledged, some of Saad Hariri’s MPs may lose and Jumblatt would need convincing, and requested that the U.S. urge them to support proportional representation.

LEBANON: WITH A/S WELCH, GEAGEA ADVOCATES EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
2008 April 22, 13:58 (Tuesday)
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12. (C) Third, March 14 should convince members of the Armenian Tashnaq party to break its alliance with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. Geagea remarked that Aoun is in deep trouble because of internal dissent in his party and he is trying to do whatever he can to divert attention away from his problems. Geagea suggested that the Armenian Tashnaq are a way to counter Aoun, adding that since MP Michel Murr’s split with Aoun, it will be easier to move Tashnaq from Aoun. Nevertheless, Geagea predicted, it will not be simple because Tashnaq inexplicably clings to Aoun. Geagea quoted the Tashnaq as saying that “elections-wise, we are allied with Murr, and politically, we support Aoun.”

LEBANON: AOUN WILL GO TO DOHA; INSISTS ON NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT
2008 May 15, 19:35 (Thursday)
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2. (C) Charge Sison, accompanied by A/DCM and DATT, met with Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun at his office in Rabieh on May 15. Aoun confirmed that he would attend the National Dialogue meeting beginning May 16 in Doha, although he expressed unspecified concerns with the draft Arab League communique. Absence is never justified, he stated. Aoun further said that he did not like the formula of the Dialogue (involving the 14 top political leaders — the same formula used in the 2006 Dialogue), elaborating that he believed the number should either be increased or decreased. He complained that Christian leaders such as Phalange leader Amine Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Boutros Harb had little representation in parliament, and there should not be a majority of insignificant leaders present with only a few powerful opposition leaders. All the participants should have equal political weight, he argued. Nasrallah would not go to Doha, though he probably would send a representative, Aoun said. He was unsure whether Speaker Nabih Berri would attend, though Berri’s advisor later confirmed that Berri was going.

LEBANON: GEAGEA TELLS S/P GORDON MAINTAINING MARCH 14 MOMENTUM CRUCIAL AFTER DOHA
2008 June 4, 17:33 (Wednesday)
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5. (C) Geagea emphasized that PM Siniora really needs to appoint ministers that will solidify March 14 support, especially among Christians. Geagea said selecting “popular” Christians who will be seen as strong proponents for the Christian community is important. He pointed out that under the 16-11-3 cabinet agreed at Doha, (Ref A), the majority will get sixteen out of the thirty cabinet positions. Geagea asked, “why not make the selection of these cabinet positions count?” Geagea said now is the time to counter opposition MP Michel Aoun and his image as the “defender of the Christians,” and Siniora’s selection of strong Christians for the cabinet is the best place to start.

LEBANON: GEAGEA SAYS HIZBALLAH AND SYRIA DO NOT WANT FIGHTING IN THE NORTH
2008 July 2, 16:27 (Wednesday)
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10. (C) Recognizing that Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun cannot “truly be broken” until the next parliamentary elections, Geagea was adamant that March 14 and President Michel Sleiman stop consulting with the opposition on the cabinet formation. Geagea, noting that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora fully agreed with him as of ten days ago, advocated that the majority move ahead with forming the cabinet, to include Aoun, without running every proposal by him.

LEBANON: GEAGEA WARNS DAS HALE THAT ISRAEL IS STRENGHENING HIZBALLAH, DESCRIBES MARCH 14 DIVISIONS
2008 September 2, 09:56 (Tuesday)
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13. (C) At the close of the meeting, DAS Hale asked Geagea about General Michel Aoun’s popularity in Lebanon, and the nature of his relationship with Hizballah. Geagea said that Aoun is not as popular as one might think, that his popularity had actually reached a low. Nonetheless, he said Aoun will always have a base of supporters who will stay with him regardless of how he performs. Geagea said he thought Aoun was firmly allied with Hizballah. “I thought at first it was tactical, just to get the presidency, but now he is totally there.”

LEBANON: WITH DAS HALE, GEAGEA WORRIED ABOUT SYRIAN TROOPS AT BORDER
2008 October 8, 11:00 (Wednesday)
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8. (C) Geagea reported that his efforts at Christian reconciliation, following his September 21 rally and public apology, were being stymied by former minister and MP and Christian rival Suleiman Franjieh. According to Geagea, Franjieh insisted that the reconciliation talks include his ally, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. Scoffing, Geagea reported that he refused the request, saying, “Even Aoun does not want to be there!” He suspected that Franjieh requested Aoun’s presence to ensure there would be “another heavyweight” in the room.

LEBANON: GEAGEA REJECTS TALKS WITH ISRAEL, PUSHES FOR SHEBA’A WITHDRAWAL
2008 November 24, 16:37 (Monday)
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6. (C) Geagea said the university and professional association elections, while not a perfectly reliable representation of electoral trends, were still a valid indicator, and March 14 was doing well in them. He thought March 14 was making gains in public opinion, partly because Aoun was making speeches the Lebanese people could not understand, and making trips to Iran and Syria the Lebanese people do not like. Nevertheless, Geagea said his March 14 allies were causing problems. He alleged that Saad Hariri depended heavily on cash handouts to win influence which the public sees as bribery. Geagea also worried Hariri was too confident about his prospects in Tripoli, which Geagea said was “not locked up.”

LEBANON: GEAGEA DESCRIBES SLOW BUT STEADY PROGRESS
2008 December 30, 10:22 (Tuesday)
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3. (C) Geagea averred that rival Christian leader and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Michel Aoun’s November trip to Damascus had sapped his popular support. “Aoun is weak. The Christians can’t digest his embrace of Syria, especially his returning from Damascus empty-handed.” Geagea speculated that Aoun may believe the Syrians will help him win Christian seats in the south (Note: Aoun is allied with Amal in the South. End note.) by pressing Hizballah and Shi’a Speaker of Parliament and Amal party leader Nabih Berri to include FPM candidates on their slates in districts such as Zahleh and Marjayoun. “But I don’t understand this trip to Damascus, and I don’t understand why Hizballah isn’t giving him better guidance. They’re smarter than he is.”

LEBANON: GEAGEA SEES “MONKEYNESS” HURTING ELECTION CAMPAIGNING
2009 January 29, 15:59 (Thursday)
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4. (C) Admitting that the March 14 alliance was struggling to agree on hich candidates would run in each district (Ref A) Geagea insisted that their rival Aoun has “more problems.” In Zgharta, he illustrated, Franjieh formed his own list at the exclusion of any Aoun candidate, yet Fares Karam, an Aounie, reportedly is insisting on running. Aoun does not have any candidates in Akkar, Geagea said, and is competing with the SSNP for a slot on the list in Koura (Ref B).

5. (C) Aoun’s son-in-law, Telecommunications Minister Gebran Bassil, has still not decided whether he will run in Batroun, Geagea relayed, where independent candidates might take votes away from Bassil. Geagea said that in Batroun, the population equally divides its support among LF, Aoun, and MP Boutros Harb of March 14. Geagea described Jbeil district as supportive of President Michel Sleiman, rather than Aoun.

6. (C) Geagea said that independent candidates in Kesarwan — “those monkeys” — threatened both his and Aoun’s popularity. He criticized Mansour Ilbon for publicly attacking the LF and Kataeb, and said that Farid Haikal el Khazen was confusing because he is “pro-Syrian, anti-Aoun, and wants to be independent.”

7. (C) Geagea remarked that March 14 does not have a credible candidate to run against Agriculture Minister Elie Skaff in Zahle, who is allied with Aoun. Zahle MP Nicholas Fattoush, elected in 2005 on March 14’s list, was again a possibility for March 14, Geagea said, but he was “not liked” in his own district.

LEBANON: AOUN SETTING THE STAGE TO CHALLENGE ELECTION RESULTS?
2009 January 29, 15:27 (Thursday)
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7. (C) Aoun said that despite a “rather negative” relationship with independent Christian leader Michel Murr, he believed he might be able to come to some sort of limited agreement with the Murr family on parliamentary seats in the heavily Christian Metn district. He based this belief on a special bond he said he had formed with Murr’s son Elias, the current Defense Minister, when, according to Aoun, he “saved Elias from being executed by Samir Geagea.” (Note: Elias Murr was reportedly with Lebanese Forces leader Elie Hobeika in 1986, when LF rival Geagea sent fighters against Hobeika for participating in tripartite talks in Damascus with the Amal militia and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Aoun sent troops in to assist Hobeika and Murr. End note.) As a result, said Aoun, “we cannot be enemies.” While he stressed any accord would be very limited in scope, Aoun believed he could come to an agreement with Elias Murr.

LEBANON: MARCH 14 LOOKING STRONGER; OPTIMISTIC ABOUT ELECTIONS
2009 February 26, 17:32 (Thursday)
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12. (C) Geagea assessed that Syria and Iran were behind the BEIRUT 00000233 003 OF 004 recent souring of relations among Lebanese leaders. He accused Aoun of fomenting Christian fears of Sunni extremism, and generalizing the fear to the Sunni sect as a whole, in an attempt to sway Christian votes away from March 14.

LEBANON: GEAGEA STATES CONCERN ABOUT VIOLENCE TO AA/S FELTMAN AND NSC SR DIRECTOR SHAPIRO
2009 March 11, 16:03 (Wednesday)
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9. (C) Geagea also urged a solution to the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Syria. A A/S Feltman acknowledged that, of Geagea’s listed concerns, detainees was the only issue the U.S. envoys had not raised in Syria. Feltman asked Geagea whether movement on Lebanese detainees in Syria would be a victory for Christian opposition MP Michel Aoun, particularly before June elections. Geagea said Aoun, in fact, was “on the defensive” on the detainee issue, and positive steps by the Syrians would not benefit him. The transfer should occur between the Lebanese and Syrian governments, Geagea stressed.

LEBANON: GEAGEA ON GHAJAR, GENERALS, AND POST-ELECTION SCENARIOS
2009 May 5, 18:06 (Tuesday)
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8. (C) Geagea presented the Ambassador with the somewhat surprising prediction that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and his Change and Reform Bloc would win only 12-15 seats in the new parliament (compared to 21 currently), and therefore should not play a large role in any government formed. The Ambassador followed up, asking how March 14 would do in specific primarily-Christian districts. Geagea claimed March 14 would take three or four seats in the Metn (out of eight), as well as in Zahle (out of seven). He called Jbeil a “disaster,” implying that his alliance would lose all three seats because of independent Nazem Khoury’s refusal to run with March 14 SYG Fares Souaid. He believed FPM’s Gebran Bassil would definitely lose in Batroun, giving both the Christian seats there to March 14. He acknowledged that March 14 would lose seats compared to its 2005 numbers in Baabda, Zgharta, and Koura, but thought independents in Keserwan might take two seats. “We have made a lot of mistakes in preparing the elections, but I have never been worried,” he said. (Comment: Just in the districts BEIRUT 00000501 003 OF 004 mentioned — which exclude districts such as Jezzine, where Aoun will definitely win seats — using Geagea’s very optimistic estimates, Aoun’s bloc would win 14 seats. Most pollsters believe Aoun’s bloc will easily win more than 20 seats, and Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Party — which sits in Hizballah’s parliamentary bloc — will take at least two formerly March 14 seats in Zgharta. End comment.)

LEBANON: WITH DAS HALE, GEAGEA FEARS HIZBALLAH WILL USE VIOLENCE TO GET VETO POWER
2009 May 11, 06:40 (Monday)
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7. (C) Geagea predicted that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s decision to form a list in Jezzine that will compete against his March 8 ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, cost him Shia votes in Baabda and Jbeil. According to Geagea, the emergence of competing lists was a failure on Hizballah’s part to mediate between its Christian ally, Aoun, and its Shia ally, Berri. Geagea relayed that he recently joked with Hizballah MP Mohammed Raad, asking him if he was ready to “give Aoun to March 14.” Raad reportedly laughed and answered in the affirmative.

LEBANON: NASRALLAH SPEECHES COULD HELP MARCH 14 GEAGEA SAYS
2009 May 19, 16:03 (Tuesday)
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6. (C) Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun had also lost support as a result of Nasrallah’s speech, in Geagea’s opinion. Nasrallah’s speech had raised fears in Christian communities, some of which were overrun by Hizballah fighters in May 2008. Christian concerns, as a result of these speeches, would affect elections, Geagea said. Aoun’s statements and gestures proved he was “losing and nervous,” Geagea assessed. Although Aoun did not have the means for violence in the case of an unfavorable electoral outcome for the opposition, his allies did, Geagea opined.

LEBANON: GEAGEA ON ELECTIONS, SECURITY, AND CABINET FORMATION
2009 June 10, 12:34 (Wednesday)
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3. (C) Noting that Christian voters determined the results of the elections, Geagea opined on what caused the Christian voters to sway towards March 14. He explained that there are a plethora of factors that could have caused this phenomenon to occur, but believed that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun made a strategic mistake by aligning with Hizballah. Historically, the Christians have been aligned with the state, noted Geagea, explaining that Aoun’s decision to ally with Hizballah instead of with President Sleiman or the Patriarch caused March 8 to lose the majority in the elections.

GOVERNMENT FORMATION DEADLOCKED OR DEAD END?
2009 August 21, 17:14 (Friday)
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4. (C) Geagea dismissed the possibility that President Michel Sleiman would possess the key to unblock the situation. “It will come from Riyadh,” he assessed. He urged that the U.S. to push the Saudis to talk to Syria, “but don’t let them in (to Lebanon’s internal affairs).” Geagea was unsure whether Hizballah was actively directing Aoun to play the role of the spoiler. “We don’t know if they are encouraging him, but for sure they are having fun with (the process),” he assessed in support of his conviction that Hizballah and Iran were satisfied with Aoun’s latest antics. “They get what they want, but without consequences,” he judged.

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