The WikiLebanon Files

Berri and Hariri in WikiLeaks: Can You Trust Anyone in Lebanese Politics?

Berri Hariri

This is the 14th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

“How, Berri asked, can he trust Saad again.”

In case you missed it, Speaker Berri formally officially endorsed Saad Hariri’s official presidential candidate Sleiman Frangieh this March. The move – signaling an FM-Amal – rapprochement, is also probably leading Hezbollah to reconsider their position regarding the presidential election, meaning that the deadlock might very well end soon (or not. Most probably not). Which is why this month’s WikiLeaks cable is about a dialogue between Berri and Feltman on the ministerial resignations (remember when the five Shia ministers resigned?) that happened 10 years ago – the goal was to look for something interesting in WikiLeaks regarding the relationship between Hariri and Berri . In this cable – in which you’ll see the amazing maneuvering powers of Lebanon’s speaker of the parliament – Berri asks “how can he trust Saad again”. So as Berri becomes the first major politician outside the FM to endorse Hariri’s presidential candidate, the speaker’s rethorical question to Jeffrey Feltman in 2006 is more important than ever: Not only you can’t trust anyone in Lebanese politics, you also apparently can’t trust anyone saying they can’t trust anyone in Lebanese politics.

Enjoy the cable. It’s 10 years old, but still as relevant as ever. Some events might change but the maneuvering remains.

BERRI CLAIMS MARCH 14 PERFIDY, HINTS AT TIME BUT LITTLE FLEXIBILITY
2006 November 18, 15:15 (Saturday)
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B. STATE 184145 Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

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1. (S) In a 11/18 meeting with the Ambassador, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri portrayed himself as the only adult amidst squabbling, selfish children. He claimed success twice already in preventing street demonstrations. Yet his attempts to find a way out of Lebanon’s political mess was undermined when MP Saad Hariri and Prime Minister Fouad Sinora betrayed him — Hariri by backing out of a deal to trade approval of the special tribunal for a blocking minority in the cabinet, and Siniora by breaking a promise to wait three more days before tabling the tribunal documents before the cabinet. Berri claimed to remain personally opposed to street action, but, so far, the March 14 leaders had given him nothing workable to convince Hizballah and Michel Aoun to back down. He rejected a compromise proposed by Siniora (ref A) as too little, too late. Berri undermined his vow of support for the special tribunal by repeatedly noting Hizballah’s need to understand the details.

2. (S) After threatening that it is sometimes better to build a new house than fix an old one beyond repair, Berri’s own cabinet compromise sounded suspiciously similar to Berri’s opening position: a blocking minority in the current cabinet. Perhaps, Berri conceded, that blocking minority could offer guarantees not to trigger a cabinet collapse, if those squabbling children would agree to a larger understanding encompassing a broad range of issues ahead of time. Berri seemed to be hinting that more time was possible to broker a deal but that he had little flexibility to offer on substance. While expressing bitterness against Siniora in particular, Berri expressed solidarity with the PM regarding Lebanon’s Independence Day on November 22: if, as some predict, President Emile Lahoud blocks Siniora’s participation in the official commemoration, Berri, too, will stay away. Berri expressed delight over the possibility of visiting the United States (ref B) but, asking that any invitation be deferred for now, said that he needed to keep cooking in the Lebanon kitchen. End summary and comment.

THE FURY OF A SPEAKER SCORNED

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3. (S) Berri spent most of the unusually long meeting (75 minutes — keeping berobed Shia clerics cooling their heels in his waiting room) on a detailed, blow-by-blow, day-by-day, insult-by-insult review of the lead-up to the resignation of the five Shia ministers a week ago (11/11). As Berri’s account would tire even the most indefatigable readers of our cables, we will summarize it here: both Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora are not to be trusted. Both shamelessly betrayed the Speaker, who had always offered them the hand of genuine partnership. In Saad’s case, he offered a deal to Berri and Mohammed Raad (representing Hizballah) on the margins of the 11/9 consultations: if March 8 and Aoun will commit to the special tribunal, then March 14 will concede to the March 8-Aoun demand for a one-third-plus-one blocking minority in a reshaped cabinet. To Berri’s professed shock, by Saturday that deal was off the table, with Samir Ja’ja’, not Saad, conveying the bad news. How, Berri asked, can he trust Saad again. He is not serious; he is not mature. And, no, Hariri had not asked to visit Berri since Berri’s return from Teheran, although Berri will receive him if asked.

4. (S) Siniora’s sins seemed to loom larger in Berri’s mind. Siniora repeated his mistake of December 12, 2005. Then — the day of Gebran Tueni’s assassination and the cabinet discussion on whether to to ask the UN to set up a special tribunal — Berri had asked Siniora to postpone discussion from Monday to Thursday, so that he would have time to work the issue with “my allies” (i.e., Hizballah). Siniora refused, and Berri had no choice but to go along with the Shia cabinet walk-out that lasted seven weeks. This time, Siniora did not call Berri until 7 p.m. on Friday (11/10), ten hours after he first received the draft tribunal documents from UN envoy Geir Pedersen. Compounding his mistakes, the PM did not convey the texts to Berri until three hours later. Berri then extracted a promise from Siniora to delay the cabinet meetnig until the following Thursday (11/16), after Berri’s return from Teheran, so that

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Berri had time, again, to get Hizballah on board. Imagine the shock, Berri said, when he learned in the 11/11 consultative session that, despite his promise to Berri, Siniora had deviously proceeded to schedule the tribunal debate on Monday. While Siniora had asked to see Berri after Berri’s return, Berri said that he is refusing to give “that politically stupid man” an appointment.

HOPING, FOR A THIRD TIME, TO STOP STREET PROTESTS

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5. (S) What is sad, Berri said, is that he already prevented Hizballah and Aounist forces from launching massive street demonstrations twice in recent weeks: once on August 14 and once after Ramadan. Both times, Berri found an excuse that Hassan Nasrallah and Michel Aoun could not refuse, most recently in his post-Ramadan call for a round of consultations. Both Hizballah and Aoun were annoyed with him for his delaying tactics. Vowing that he remained opposed to street demonstrations, he said that, nevertheless, if Hizballah and Aoun insist on them, “then you will see Amal, too.” Now, with March 8-Aoun calling for street demonstrations and March 14 calling for counter demonstrations, Berri wants to find a way out. But no one on March 14 is giving him anything to work with. “Put something in my hand,” Berri said, something that he can sell to Hizballah and Aoun.

SINIORA’S COMPROMISE UNACCEPTABLE; HIZBALLAH, AOUN WANT ALL NEW CABINET

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6. (S) The Ambassador raised Siniora’s proposal for a 30-member cabinet. As explained in ref A, that proposal, by reserving two ministerial slots for “neutral” figures who would not vote in critical cases, denied the majority the two-thirds and the minority the blocking one-third-plus-one. Each side could claim victory, making it a reasonable compromise. Berri shook his head: it violates the Taif accord and the constitution to have two ministers who refrain from voting; it throws the whole confessional balance off kilter. Berri does not want to set the precedent of fiddling with Taif. Moreover, Hizballah and Michel Aoun have now raised the stakes, wanting Siniora thrown out and an entirely new cabinet formed. What might have been possible two weeks ago is no longer acceptable to Hizballah and Michel Aoun, who feel that they will prevail and do not need to settle for little. They want Siniora out altogether. Sometimes, Berri said, it is easier to build a new house than to try to restore an old house that is beyond repair.

BERRI TRIES TO PUT A SHINE ON MARCH 8-AOUN’S ORIGINAL DEMAND

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7. (S) Pressed by the Ambassador, Berri said that, given sufficient ammunition, he thought he could still sell the one-third-plus-one blocking minority to Hizballah and Aoun, despite their shared desire for much more. Berri argued that, in general, Lebanon’s cabinets operate by consensus anyway, so the majority would not behave much differently than it had from July 2005 until now under such a scenario. Disagreeing, the Ambassador asked why March 14 should surrender to having the threat of cabinet collapse (triggered when one-third-plus-one of the ministers of any cabinet submit their resignation) over their heads. That problem, Berri said, could be resolved: by agreeing ahead of time on major national issues — which Berri listed as UNSCR 1701 implementation, the special tribunal, an election law, and economic/institutional reform needed for Paris III to succeed — then the danger of a cabinet resignation will be avoided. Suggesting that he knows such an agreement would take a long time, Berri said that he could come up with “guarantees” to March 14 that the one-third-plus-one minority will not be used to trigger the cabinet collapse. As for the presidency, Berri said that he is more eager than anyone to kick Emile Lahoud out of Baabda Palace, “but you need to help us with the Syrians — get the Syrians to agree.”

ARE THE TRIBUNAL, 1701 THE REAL ISSUES?

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8. (S) The Ambassador said that he did not understand Berri’s position: if the cabinet would operate always by consensus and the blocking minority willingly gives up its BEIRUT 00003653 003 OF 004 right to topple the cabinet, then March 8-Aoun should settle for the Siniora compromise. The practical results would be the same, and the current turmoil would end, to everyone’s relief. There is no reason to frighten the population with talk of demosntrations. In considering Berri’s position, the Ambassador said that he could not help but conclude that the real motivation of March 8, probably scripted by Syria, was to prevent the tribunal and further implementation of UNSCR 1701. “Who said I oppose the tribunal?” Berri asked, describing himself as “the first” to back the concept. Expressing strong support for UNIFIL’s stabilizing role and economic benefits, he claimed to be one of the many proud fathers who lent genetic material to the birth of UNSCR 1701. Asked by the Ambassador how deep the Syrian opposition really is to the tribunal, Berri said that he does not, and will not, speak for Damascus. During what turned into a lengthy debate over the tribunal and his claims of support for it, Berri said repeatedly that, while Hizballah also supported the concept of the tribunal, it was only reasonable that Hizballah would want to study the details.

SHOWING SOLIDARITY WITH SINIORA ON INDEPENDENCE DAY

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9. (S) The Ambassador asked Berri whether he would participate in Lebanon’s official commemoration of Independence Day on November 22. Yes, Berri said, but only if Siniora were included. Despite being furious with Siniora (and scrupulously dodging the Ambassador’s questions about whether he considered Siniora to be a fully empowered sitting prime minister), Berri said that it is tradition for all three of Lebanon’s “presidents” to participate. Lebanon’s confessional balance requires it. If Lahoud, to reinforce his argument that Siniora’s cabinet is illegal, denies Siniora a place in the Baabda Palace receiving line, then Berri will boycott, too. But Berri did not expect Lahoud to “go that far.”

DEFERRING A WASHINGTON INVITATION

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10. (S) As the meeting came to a close as nervous aides entered the room with increasing frequency to tap their watches, the Ambassador told Berri that he concluded that the Speaker is looking for ways to buy more time, in hopes of avoiding street demonstrations. Berri nodded. Drawing on ref B, the Ambassador asked whether Berri would therefore find a trip to Washington to be tactically useful. If Berri wants, we can consider an invitation. Maybe the announcement of a trip to Washington could provide him the pretext to convince people to avoid the street, as people will want to hear about his U.S. consultations before plotting their next moves. Berri expressed delight with the idea but asked that any invitation be deferred for now. “Let’s keep this idea between you and me.” The time is not right, he said, claiming that he needed to “keep cooking in the Lebanese kitchen.”

COMMENT

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11. (S) To believe Berri’s feelings are as bruised by Hariri and Siniora’s betrayals as he claims, one would also be required to buy the argument that Berri trusted anyone but Berri in the first place. His refusal to receive Siniora is probably linked to Syria’s orders to discredit the PM more than to Berri’s hurt. (And we wonder if he will be able to maintain his Independence Day solidarity with Siniora, if Lahoud blocks Siniora’s participation in the official ceremonies.) Reading between the lines and monitoring his body language and public remarks, we believe that Berri has started to gain some traction in convincing Hizballah and Aoun — and perhaps Syria and Iran — to wait before blowing up Lebanon. But we do not see any flexibility on the substance of the political debate. His comments on needing a “new house” rather than a “restored house” correspond with other reports that Hizballah and Aoun are hardening their positions. On Berri’s part, we suspect that this is all bluffing in an attempt to make the “one-third-plus-one” blocking minority demand look reasonable. His comments about Hizballah’s need to study the details of the tribunal documents — when we know that Minister of Justice Charles Rizk has scrupulously kept Hizballah informed of each tribunal development — are ominous. While we don’t want to exaggerate the length of Berri’s leash tethering him to his

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more powerful Hizballah alies, we hope that the visible delight he expressed at the suggestion of an possible invitation to Washington will help bolster his resolve to seek a solution short of street demonstrations.

FELTMAN

Jean Obeid in WikiLeaks: Syria AND Saudi Arabia’s choice?

Obeid (L), meeting with speaker Nabih Berri (R). Image found on the internet

Obeid (L), meeting with speaker Nabih Berri (R). Image found on the internet

This is the 13th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

If the past two months in Lebanese politics have taught us anything, it’s that a 7 months-old trash crisis can have absolutely no impact on the country’s government while a diplomatic crisis between Saudi-Arabia and Iran can cause panic and chaos among the politicians and almost make them sleep in the Grand Serail in order to reach a solution.

Which is why this month’s WikiLeaks post isn’t about who the Lebanese want, or even who the Lebanese parties want (Aoun/Frangieh). This month’s WikiLeaks post is about who the regional countries prefer to be in Baabda palace. One of the names that keeps surfacing in Lebanese media is the name of Jean Obeid (if you have no idea who he is, it’s OK. Wikipedia shall enlighten you). So I went on WikiLeaks, and found out that not only he is a favorite of speaker Berri, but also Syria and Saudi Arabia. How that last sentence is even possible is beyond me, but if he can still gather regional support (the cables are a bit old and mostly from 2008) we should all keep in mind that his candidacy is as serious as Michel Aoun and Sleiman Frangieh’s one. On another note, Obeid seems to have had a French veto on his name (just like Frangieh), could have enjoyed the former Patriarch’s blessing, and could have also been a compromise candidate for Hariri in 2008 according to former minister Murr. Siniora even preferred him on Edde. So when it comes to favorites, I would say that Obeid has regional politics and  a deal on his side this time, and he might end up being a sudden / last minute serious threat to both the Frangieh and Aoun candidacies.

Enjoy the cables. I picked the most relevant ones and I’ve only kept the parts focused on Obeid and organized them by chronological order. The last two cables are meetings with Obeid, so I’ve copied them all: After all, it’s nice to know how Obeid maneuvers. He might be president one day, no matter how that seems unlikely (when you’ll read the cables you’ll understand that it’s not that unlikely after all), and according to his meetings with Jeffrey Feltman, he’s not a big fan of Michel Aoun. Perhaps it’s why Berri likes him so much after all?

Michel Aoun, he added, does not comprehend the mind of Christians. Samir Ja’ja’ does not comprehend the heart of Christians. President Lahoud is feeding the flames and creating walls, not bridges, between groups.” – spoken like a true candidate for the Lebanese presidency. Poetry.

LEBANON: MARONITE PATRIARCH, PREOCCUPIED WITH RISING TENSIONS, SEEKS “NEUTRAL” PRESIDENT
2006 November 7, 12:33 (Tuesday)
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The Patriarch then raised the name of Jean Obeid. He noted that Obeid would come to see him in two days. While Obeid had been “Damascus’ man” before last year, he had BEIRUT 00003568 003 OF 003 allegedly fallen out with Bashar al-Assad. When asked by the Ambassador whether he is sufficiently influential among Lebanese, Sfayr replied that Obeid remains close to Syrian “collaborators” in Lebanon. (Note: It was unclear whether Sfayr meant to suggest that he might support Obeid, a former Foreign Minister and Maronite MP from Tripoli, as a potential candidate, or just sharing gossip. We suspect the latter. We noted also that MP and clear presidential hopeful Boutros Harb may be trying to position himself as a neutral candidate, for example by skipping the most recent March 14 coordination meeting. Finally, Justice Minister Charles Rizk is a neutral candidate by default, having been appointed by and recently falling out with President Lahoud, and has been spreading word that he enjoys the Patriarch’s support. End note.)

OUTGOING FRENCH AMBASSADOR ON LEBANON DEVELOPMENTS
2007 August 6, 05:21 (Monday)
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13. (S) Describing a spectrum ranging from white (good) to black (bad), Emie said that, in his view, former MP Nassib Lahoud and current Minister of Justice Charles Rizk were “by far the best.” He lamented that Rizk and Kouchner had sparred over a lunch hosted by Siniora, when Rizk “was openly contemptuous” of some views of Kouchner that Emie described as “rather naive.” The fact that Rizk speaks “impeccable French” may help to rehabilitate him in French eyes. Nassib Lahoud and Rizk were both “presidential,” with “strategic vision.” At the black end of the scale, to the point of requiring French vetoes should they become serious candidates, Emie placed former Foreign Minister Jean Obeid (“corrupt and a ‘Syrian'”), former Foreign Minister Farez Bouez (“even dirtier than Obeid”), and former Health and Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh (who, as a personal friend of the Asad family, probably has no chance).

LEBANON: BERRI: FUTURE OF LEBANON DEPENDS ON CONSENSUS PRESIDENT
2007 August 30, 15:58 (Thursday)
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12. (C) The Speaker then wrote out the people he saw as candidates: Michel Aoun was the sole opposition candidate on his list. From March 14, he listed Boutros Harb, Nassib Lahoud, Nayla Mouawad, and Robert Ghanem. Of “neutral” candidates, he listed Fares Bouez, Jean Obeid, Charles Rizk, Michel Edde, Mikael Daher, and Joseph Torbely. Only later in the conversation did it occur to the Speaker (or to the others in the room) that no one had remembered to add Amine Gemayel to the list. Then, of the list of 12 candidates mentioned, Berri started crossing out names, one by one, explaining why this or that person would not be elected. This left him ultimately with four names that he considered to be realistic candidates: Nassib Lahoud, Boutros Harb, Robert Ghanem, and Jean Obeid. He promised that if the US could lead March 14 to accept the two-thirds quorum, he would secure the opposition’s consensus on the presidency, settling on one of those four names (which Obeid known to be Berri’s preference). The Ambassador kept pushing Berri about what was so dangerous about any of those four candidates. Berri did not answer the Ambassador’s question about why parliament could not simply meet and vote on those four names until a winner emerged.

LEBANON: SAUDI AMBASSADOR OPPOSED TO “HALF PLUS ONE” BUT SEEKS MARCH 14 PRESIDENT
2007 November 5, 04:52 (Monday)
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5. (S) At the same time, Saudi Arabia is adamantly opposed to March 14’s proposal to prevent an extension of the status quo by holding an absolute majority (“half plus one”) presidential election. Such an approach will also be destructive to Lebanon and will permit Syrian-backed thugs and gangs to wreck havoc. King Abdullah has instructed Saad Hariri not to move in the direction of absolute majority BEIRUT 00001724 002.2 OF 005 votin. A formula has to be found by which Lebanon avoid both catastrophes, a presidential void or a hal-plus-one presidency. While he believes that hi personal friend Jean Obeid would have been a god consensus choice, Khoja said that he now recogizes that neither March 14 leaders nor the Maronies accept Obeid. “I don’t know why,” oja said sadly; “Jean is good.” The Ambassador did not coment.

13. (C) In a separate meeting, the Ambassador briefed MP Walid Jumblatt about Khoja’s thinking. Jumblatt (who earlier in the week had hosted Khoja to dinner, when Khoja was still touting Jean Obeid as president) said that he liked the idea, as “we have to give them (the March 8 opposition) something.” From Jumblatt’s perspective, this accomplished three goals: First, March 14 secured the presidency for six years. Second, Hariri delayed taking the premiership pending a more favorable political and security climate. Third, the compromise March 14 would have to make regarding the PM was far less painful than making a compromise on the president, since the cabinet could always be changed and “improved” later. But Saad Hariri will have to be convinced, Jumblatt said, noting that he would not risk splitting March 14 if Hariri did not approve.

LEBANON: NEW YEAR’S EVE “YEAR IN REVIEW” WITH PM SINIORA
2007 December 31, 16:19 (Monday)
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14. (C) The Ambassador mentioned that, on December 30, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Elias Murr raised — with suitable alarm — the question of a Jean Obeid presidency should the Sleiman presidency be derailed by the methods outlined above. Murr said that he believes Obeid (who was always Nabih Berri’s preference) is now the real Syrian candidate. The Prime Minister confirmed this rumor and said he had heard it from Obeid himself, who declared that the Sleiman candidacy “was over.” In a side-bar conversation discouraging to all, meeting participants debated the merits of Michel Edde vs. Jean Obeid as a back-up candidate. Siniora said that “Edde is a very good liar, but one can find a way to get through to Obeid in the end. Of the two, Obeid is the least worst option.” Asked why Sleiman, once thought to be Syria’s candidate, is now apparently being blocked by Damascus, Siniora explained that it is because Sleiman is “entering through the March 14 gate” rather than via Damascus. By contrast, Obeid would come to the presidency via Damascus.

LEBANON: MURR, CONVINCED STREET VIOLENCE IS COMING, PLOTS ARMY REACTION
2008 January 5, 12:02 (Saturday)
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12. (C) Answering the Ambassador’s question about whether the pro-Syrian foot-dragging on Sleiman was intended to block him or just gain more concessions, Murr said that he was convinced the Syrians truly do not want Sleiman. Citing contacts of his father Michel (who has long maintained a close relationship with Syria), Murr said that he has increasing evidence that Syria’s Lebanese allies, surely reflecting Damascus’ thinking in his view, now want former Foreign Minister Jean Obeid as president. (PM Siniora, as noted ref a, has told us the same thing.) With more than 30 years of dealing with Obeid, Syria’s proxies in Lebanon find him more reliable and predictable than Sleiman. Moreover, Obeid has reportedly given Damascus a written commitment that, as president, he will find bureaucratic ways to thwart the tribunal, by starving it of resources, preventing the handover of suspects or witnesses or evidence, etc. “Obeid told the Syrians that the tribunal will come into effect when Rustom Ghazeleh is 80 years old.” 13. (C) The Obeid candidacy will remain hidden until the opportunity presents itself to elect him, Murr claimed. The fact that Obeid does not need a constitutional amendment helps pave the way, since March 8-Aoun would not have to recognize implicitly the authority of the cabinet (which must prepare a constitutional amendment) in electing Obeid. Even though the March 14 Christians and Walid Jumblatt are adamantly opposed to Obeid, Saad Hariri, eager to become PM, might be tempted, especially as Rafiq Hariri’s widow Nazek likes Obeid. Hariri, Berri, and Hizballah could muster sufficient votes to get Obeid elected, Murr speculated. Even Michel Aoun, if he sees he will never become president, would prefer Obeid to Sleiman, since Obeid would be unlikely to draw supporters away from Aoun’s orbit.

MGLE01: FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES NATIONAL DIALOGUE
2006 March 8, 16:30 (Wednesday)
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SUMMARY ——-

1. (C) Former Foreign Minister (and eternal presidential aspirant) Jean Obeid believes the national dialogue effort will founder unless regional assistance is provided on the two critical issues: the fate of President Lahoud, and disarming Hizballah. According to Obeid, Lahoud will not resign the presidency without acquiescence from the Syrian regime, and Hizballah has little room to maneuver on its arms without consulting Iran. Although the dialogue is a very real achievement and can be used as a platform to continue the consensus-building process, Obeid believes it cannot deliver unless Saudi Arabia and Egypt pressure Syria and the rest of the international community pressures Iran. In his view, the key to progress in Lebanon is the constitutional removal of Lahoud (and, presumably, Obeid’s own ascendency to Baabda Palace). End summary.

2. (C) Jean Obeid, who was Lebanon’s foreign minister in 2003-2004 during the last government of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, met the Ambassador and poloff on March 7 in his office. Obeid, a long-shot (except in his mind) candidate for president, worked closely with the Syrian regime during his time in office. But he is also generally regarded as an honest politician who has few enemies. Unlike many other Lebanese politicians, he does not attempt to hide his past affiliations with Syria, and in fact can be relied upon to give a fairly straight-forward analysis of their intentions, capabilities and weaknesses. Speaker (and national dialogue sponsor) Nabih Berri has previously mentioned Obeid as a presidential candidate, but this endorsement — which doesn’t exactly win Obeid many othe friends– is relatively isolated. Obeid does not enjoy a great deal of support in the Maronite community.

3. (C) In Obeid’s opinion, the national dialogue conference (currently on hold until Monday, March 13) is a useful step forward, but the 14 participants at the table understand that without regional assistance/acceptance on some issues, it will soon break up without solid agreements. He explained that the “international umbrella” offered by UNSCR 1559 has permitted the discussion of previously red-line issues, but what is actually needed at this point is indirect participation by either Saudi Arabia or Egypt to gain regional acceptance of dialogue solutions. Specifically, Obeid contended that the issue of Lahoud’s removal and selection of his successor could not be realized without the acquiescence of Syria — that is, the Asad regime would never allow Nasrallah to accept a candidate openly hostile to it. Likewise, he believes the issue of Hizballah’s arms is also controlled by a regional force, namely Iran. Although the open relatively open exchange of positions in the dialogue is a positive development, Obeid is convinced that by itself, the talks will likely break up in the coming week.

PUTTING PRESSURE ON SYRIA ————————-

4. (C) The former foreign minister argued these two issues (presidency and disarmament) had to be addressed in sequence. The primary objective, in his opinion, must be a change in the presidency — but to a president whose policies could be reliably predicted by both internal political forces and neighboring countries. Obeid said his long experience with the Syrian regime (he claimed to meet often with former Syrian Vice President Abdelhalim Khaddam and Bashar’s father, Hafez Asad) led him to believe that, even if Syria’s primary aim to reassert control over Lebanon is thwarted, the regime would never permit the selection of an anti-Syrian Lebanese president — they would unhesitatingly and rapidly create instability to prevent that development. But, according to Obeid, they are now under severe pressure and could be convinced to give up on Lahoud and accept a “neutral” president. He argued this is where President Mubarak and King Abdullah could play a decisive role and allow the dialogue to achieve its primary objective — the removal of Lahoud, and its liberating effect on Lebanon’s political and economic progress.

5. (C) Obeid is convinced that without the acquiescence of the Syrian regime, Lahoud will remain until the last day of his extended term. He stated, “Lahoud entered the (extended) presidency of his own accord, but he is not free to leave without Syria’s permission.” According to Obeid, even the Maronite patriarch could not convince Lahoud to resign, BEIRUT 00000714 002 OF 002 because without Syrian concurrence, Lahoud would be killed.

6. (C) Obeid maintained that Lahoud’s removal is the key to correcting Labanon’s instability. Obeid believes that Syria still wants to convince the Lebanese citizenry that their country is worse off without Syrian control, therefore, it is up to the US and France to convince Bashar Asad (through regional intermediaries) that it is better to allow Lebanon to stabilize, establish normal bi-lateral relations, and thereby earn improved relations with the international community. He concluded that, “…even though Lahoud is the worst president in Lebanon’s history, you must talk to his masters in Damascus (through Mubarak or Abdullah). The US and France should not base their policy on wishful thinking.”

NATIONAL DIALOGUE — A BEGINNING ——————————–

7. (C) The ever-hopeful presidential candidate stated that the opening of the national dialogue was in itself a considerable achievement. He described the “culture of divergence” that had been growing with each passing week as sectarian leaders attacked each other and issued ill-conceived ultimatums. That being the case, Obeid expressed mild surprise at the apparent civility of the current discussions and said that perhaps a new way of handling differences was slowly emerging. If nothing else, the dialogue had created a “new base” for handling divisive issues.

8. (C) The former minister reiterated that the dialogue still had a chance to accomplish its most important objective — a constitutional change in the presidency — if regional (i.e. Syrian) acceptance could be engineered.

DEALING WITH AOUN’S TARGET FIXATION ———————————–

9. (C) Obeid (with some obvious self-interest) argued that an Aoun presidency would not be a positive development. Aoun’s temperament, sense of entitlement, and lack of (civilian) leadership would inevitably produce tension and impede critically-needed progress. In Obeid’s opinion, Berri and Nasrallah could persuade the former general that he lacks the necessary support, but it would be a difficult task. Aoun understands that he will never have the support of Jumblatt, Ja’ja’, and probably Hariri and the Maronite patriarch. Therefore, if he can be convinced his other path (Shia support) is not available either, he would have to (“if reasonable”) accept the inevitable.

FELTMAN

LEBANON: EX-FOREIGN MINISTER POSITIONS HIMSELF AS CENTRIST FOR PRESIDENCY
2006 November 18, 17:01 (Saturday)
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SUMMARY ——-

1. (C) Ex-Foreign Minister and Presidential hopeful Jean Obeid attributes Lebanon’s problems to external forces and to the inadequacy of current leaders in Beirut and Damascus. Citing a Shia-Sunni conflict spanning the entire Muslim world, Obeid espouses a neutral Lebanese presidency allied with neither sect. Not coincidentally, this is the latest position emphasized by the Maronite Patriarch, with whom Obeid has been strengthening his relations recently in an attempt to overcome his pro-Syrian past and become that “neutral” candidate. End Summary.

2. (C) The Ambassador called November 15 on Jean Obeid, a former Maronite MP from Tripoli who served as Foreign Minister under the last Rafiq Hariri government. Obeid once boasted of close ties to the Syrian regime, but it appears that he may have fallen out of favor in Damascus for reasons that are unclear. He has made the best of this reversal of fortunes by positioning himself with the Maronite Patriarch and others as a “neutral” presidential contender. Obeid is the uncle of current Finance Minister Jihad Azour and a relative of American lebanese Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) President Salim Zeenni.

REGIONAL DIMENSIONS OF LEBANON’S CONFLICT

—————————————–

3. (C) Obeid’s message stressed the regional dimensions of the current Lebanese political crisis. Known as an “Arab nationalist,” he repeatedly pointed to the Sunni/Shia conflict raging “from Afghanistan to Mauritania.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions, and Syria’s greed for Lebanon all feed into Lebanese domestic political strife. “Some Lebanese are adding to the conflict,” he added. The question is how to isolate Lebanon from this vast conflict, not involve Lebanon in it. However, there is a lot of Sunni and Shia money flowing in from outside which fuels the sectarian conflict in Lebanon.

4. (C) In his new guise as a centrist, Obeid had criticism for all parties. “The minority has no patience and the majority has no modesty,” he said. Obeid criticized what he sees as the tendency of the majority — i.e., March 14 — to make decisions unilaterally without adequate consultation with other parties. Prime Minister Siniora, he said, does not spare the time to contact and consult other government figures, as compared with Rafiq Hariri, who was in frequent contact with officials at all levels including mayors. Obeid claimed to have told Siniora, “Don’t expect the U.S., France and Saudi Arabia to do your work for you” in settling issues with other Lebanese parties. Siniora will have to do more himself. As for the U.S. role, Obeid recommended that any initiatives or positions taken by the USG be presented as Lebanese policy, rather than USG policy.

5. (C) Obeid cited the cabinet’s November 13 approval of the Hariri assassination tribunal as another example of March 14 unilateralism. After months of preparation for the acceptance of the tribunal, he asked, why could the GOL not wait another few days before pushing the tribunal decision through? Additionally, it seems as if March 14 has already made up its mind about the tribunal’s verdict. Such a position would only corner “a violent regime,” he warned. “You must not give it pretexts every day.”

6. (C) If the majority needs a spirit of modesty and inclusiveness, he continued, the minority — i.e., Hizballah, Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, and other pro-Syrian groups — needs patience. “They don’t take into consideration that there was an election.” The minority’s backers, Iran and Syria, are becoming more strident in their demands, not more reasonable, and their relative power is increasing. Lebanon is heading toward more violence, he gloomily asserted.

7. (C) Lebanon needs to guide its Shia river into the BEIRUT 00003657 002 OF 002 Lebanese sea, he added. Hizballah is strong toward outside threats, like Israel, but weak or inept toward internal Lebanese parties.

EXCLUSION DESTABILIZES LEBANON

——————————

8. (C) Obeid turned on President Lahoud and his apparent position that Christians are part of a Christian-Shia axis confronting Sunni and Druze. While these alliances may shift, they are always bad for Lebanon. The Lebanese president, he said, should play the role of a bridge between confessional groups. If two out of Lebanon’s three largest groups line up against the other, there will be continuous war. Obeid praised the Patriarch’s position that the president must lead Lebanon’s Christians out of sectarian strife. The Patriarch does not want Christians to fight Christians nor Muslims to fight Muslims.

9. (C) Michel Aoun, he added, does not comprehend the mind of Christians. Samir Ja’ja’ does not comprehend the heart of Christians. President Lahoud is feeding the flames and creating walls, not bridges, between groups. Lebanon cannot be safe with a president who is part of a Christian-Sunni or Christian-Shia axis. Lebanon also cannot afford a President who is either an agent or an enemy of Syria.

TRIBUNAL ——–

10. (C) Obeid agreed with the Ambassador’s assertion that the Hariri assassination tribunal would be an important because it would be held in accordance with strict international standards on evidence and other elements of investigation and proof. However, he asserted that the SARG is “afraid, because they know more than you know.” The reason for the extension of Lahoud’s term, he said, and he had just comprehend this — was so that Lahoud could “cover up anything” related to the assassination and related crimes. (Comment: The extension of Lahou’s term occurred more than five months before the Hariri assassination. End Comment.)

11. (C) The tribunal will take 3-6 years, Obeid asserted. Obeid, a lawyer, cited to the Ambassador the length of the tribunal to investigate Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie airline bombing. After such a length of time, he continued, how can the international community hope to carry out the sentence? On the other hand, by so clearly working against the tribunal, Bashar al-Asad and Emile Lahoud are indicting themselves before anyone accuses them. Bashar al-Asad, for example, “opens the grave of Rafiq Hariri every time he gives a speech.”

FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

———————

12. (C) Saad Hariri, Bashar al-Asad, and Walid Jumblatt — none of them measure up to their fathers, Obeid lamented. When he went to Damascus to pay his respects following the suicide of Ghazi Kenaan, the atmosphere was very tense. Ditto when he returned to Syria to pay a condolence call on Mustapha Tlas. One of the causes of this tension was Jumblatt’s remark to the effect that al-Asad would be hauled before the tribunal, like Milosevic. Asad, however, had also picked a useless fight with Saudi King Abdullah, and Obeid said that he told him via Butheina Shaban “you are an expert at losing friends and opportunities.”

13. (C) Despite his close Baathist connections, Obeid maintained he was never a Baathist. But one can’t live in the Arab world and not know the mentality of all Arabs. There are Christian leaders, he lamented, who don’t know how to deal with the other parties or with each other. Amin Gemayel, he related, had once demanded that they leave his office to have a private conversation for fear that his own brother Bashir had bugged it. FELTMAN

 

Frangieh, Aoun and WikiLeaks

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun (L) meets with Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh in Rabieh, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. (The Daily StarFPM office, HO)

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun (L) meets with Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh in Rabieh, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. (Image credits: The Daily Star / FPM office, HO)

This is the 13th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

With Geagea’s official withdrawal from the presidential race and his endorsement of Aoun, Lebanon’s presidential politics is now revolving around an awkward confrontation between two (former?) allies, Michel Aoun – supported by the FPM, the LF and Hezbollah – and Sleiman Frangieh – supported by the Marada, the FM (and Amal? ?? ???).

Since none of the two candidates can gather enough votes to win an absolute majority, and since Frangieh is refusing to withdraw for Aoun unless the FM supports Aoun, Lebanese politics are probably going back to square one: No quorum, adjourned presidential sessions, and a record-breaking vacancy.

On the bright side,  the new presidential competition between Aoun and his minor (former??) ally Frangieh is an opportunity to see how the FPM and the Marada viewed each other before this rift happened, which is why this post is a mini-compilation of the most relevant parts of three WikiLeaks cables where Marada officials talk about Aoun and FPM officials talk about Frangieh (you might also like this other WikiLeaks compilation where Aoun talks about Geagea and Geagea talks about Aoun).

“Basile said that the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of Michel Aoun will work with Franjieh, but the FPM does not consider this new party to be its formal ally”

(This Sunday is valentine’s day so I figured it was also an opportunity for all of us to understand how Lebanese politicians friendzone each other)

So yeah, you should read the cables (Don’t forget to check their dates)

Enjoy.

MGLE01: SLEIMAN FRANJIEH ANNOUNCES “MARADA,” A NEW PARTY WITH AN OLD FACE
2006 June 12, 15:02 (Monday)
06BEIRUT1892_a

4. (C) Michel Aoun aide Gebran Basile attended the rally. He told us he was impressed by the turnout and by the positive remarks with which Franjieh opened the event. Although Franjieh was also marking the anniversary of the June 13, 1978 slaughter of his family, he avoided using the murders as a political device. Basile said that the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of Michel Aoun will work with Franjieh, but the FPM does not consider this new party to be its formal ally. He admitted that Franjieh, with his political background and heritage, is a strong friend of Michel Aoun. Moreover, Basile added, “he has learned a lot from us.”

7. (C) Aounists tell us that they do not consider Franjieh an ally, just a friend with common goals. When Franjieh first broached the idea of starting his own party PolChief asked him why he did not simply join Michel Aoun’s party. Franjieh balked at the idea of associating himself with another leader, even one with whom he agrees. End comment.

LEBANON: MARADA FAVORS EDDE OR SLEIMAN
2007 November 26, 04:54 (Monday)
07BEIRUT1857_a

(Sorry if I’m pasting the whole cable, but this one is very, very important)

SUMMARY

——-

1. (C) Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh supports Michel Edde as president, but stresses the need to get Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun on board and to find a candidate who can safeguard Hizballah’s interests. He suggests that, if a consensus is not reached, Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Michel Sleiman should head a transitional government until new parliamentary elections are held. Franjieh dismisses the possibility of a second government or opposition-initiated violence, claiming the opposition would not oppose the Siniora government as long as it kept a low profile. End summary.

2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by Pol/Econ Chief and Senior FSN Political Advisor, met with Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh at his Swiss Chalet home in Bneshay on November 21. Franjieh advisors Stephan Doueihy, Raymond J. Araygi, and Richard Haykal (AmCit) also attended the one and a half hour meeting. The Ambassador opened the meeting, his first with Franjieh in over six months, stressing full U.S. support for the French initiative to find a consensus candidate. However, it appeared that March 8 was blocking progress more than March 14. The U.S. hoped to see a president before the midnight November 23 expiration of President Lahoud’s term, he said, warning there would be consequences for any party that attempted to undermine PM Siniora’s government.

IF NOT EDDE, THEN SLEIMAN

————————-

3. (C) Franjieh, commenting that the Patriarch’s list had more pro-March 14 names than pro-March 8, said the opposition would not accept a March 14 candidate or even one close to March 14. It is looking for a candidate who will reassure Hizballah, satisfy all groups in the opposition, and not pose a serious threat to the popularity of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. Aoun must be on board, he stressed. Otherwise, Aoun could make a deal with Hariri and leave the rest of the opposition out.

4. (C) Franjieh claimed the opposition would support a consensus candidate. Michel Edde is the only feasible consensus candidate on the Patriarch’s list, he argued, since he satisfied both Hizballah and the international community, was a friend to March 14, and did not pose a threat to Aoun. The Christians would not be happy with a weak Edde presidency, but the more Aoun was on board, the easier it would be. The opposition supported Edde’s candidacy because it views him as being equal distance from all parties, unlike Robert Ghanem, whom most of the opposition viewed as a March 14 figure. The opposition does not want to obstruct an agreement over the presidency, Franjieh claimed; if majority leader Saad Hariri refuses Edde’s candidacy, he will bear the responsibility for the failure to elect a consensus president.

5. (C) As for Aoun’s own candidacy, Franjieh said he believed Aoun was convinced he has no chance to become president, and that he would not be surprised to see Aoun move towards a consensus candidate. Franjieh was working on Aoun to accept Edde, he said, asking that we not share this information with Aoun himself, but Aoun was an “extremely difficult personality.” You’ve studied his psychology, he said; only Aoun can influence Aoun. He works on an action/reaction dynamic, and pushing him too hard on Edde could backfire. “We are more than halfway,” he said, saying we should see more flexibility from Aoun in the coming days. (Note. The following day Aoun announced an initiative whereby he would nominate a non-March 8 president and the majority would nominate a non-March 14 prime minister. March 14 promptly rejected the initiative. As of November 25, we understand that Aoun is now cooking up a new initiative. End note.)

6. (C) Franjieh recognized that the March 14 majority would determine the next prime minister, but the opposition would attempt to get the maximum out of the new cabinet and would use this a leverage in negotiations over the presidency. The next government should be a national unity government, he BEIRUT 00001857 002.2 OF 002 said, and the president will be the referee between the two camps.

7. (C) If a consensus could not be reached, Franjieh proposed a transitional solution in the form of a national unity government whose primary goal would be to amend the electoral law and hold early parliamentary elections. Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Michel Sleiman would be a good candidate to head this transitional government.

FRANJIEH PREDICTS NO SECOND GOVERNMENT, NO VIOLENCE, AFTER PRESIDENT LAHOUD LEAVES OFFICE

——————————————— —-

8. (C) Franjieh said President Lahoud would not appoint a second cabinet before stepping down. He hinted that the opposition might work with the Siniora government (which, under the constitution, assumed presidential powers as of the midnight November 23 expiration of Lahoud’s mandate) as long as it keeps a low profile and avoids taking major decisions such as appointing a new LAF commander or changing the LAF’s mission statement, in which case the LAF would split.

9. (C) In response to the Ambassador’s question on the possibility of armed conflict, Franjieh said Marada, like everyone else, had the right to defend itself. However, it would be in reactive mode and would not initiate anything, though he would not rule out the possibility that the opposition might support any street demonstrations that occur in protest of low wages or other related socioeconomic issues. It depends on “them,” he said, warning that if March 14 decided to proceed with a half plus one vote, however, there would be a “big problem.” The status quo was “easier” than a half plus one president, he said. Conflict was a “last resort,” and Franjieh hoped that “they” would not push the opposition into a corner, forcing them into conflict. The opposition would then take all steps to preserve its interests, he warned, but it was not looking for riots or violence.

FELTMAN

LEBANON: OPPOSITION MARADA LEADER CALLS FOR DIRECT TALKS WITH ISRAEL
2008 October 29, 12:20 (Wednesday)
08BEIRUT1538_a

10. (C) Franjieh, commenting that everything is Lebanon was already focused on the Spring 2009 elections, said that the only real contests would be in the Christian areas. Franjieh denied any differences between his Marada party and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, explaining that, at the end of the day, his goal was to work for his community. Because Aoun represented the majority of Lebanon’s Christians, he needed to work with him as well, since together the opposition Christians held 22 seats in parliament. (Note: Marada holds none of those seats. End note.)

14. (C) The Ambassador asked what Zghorta Christians had in common with Aoun’s ally, Hizballah, especially after Hizballah killed fellow Lebanese during the May crisis. Franjieh, claiming he opposed any use of Hizballah’s arms within the country, nevertheless justified its actions in May, arguing that its existence was threatened by the government’s attempt to close down its telecommunications network. The government was testing the waters, he explained, to see how Hizballah would react. Moreover, he claimed outrageously, someone had convinced Saad that this would provoke a short civil war that would result in international intervention that would bring the international community back on board with March 14.

15. (C) The opposition Christians, including Aoun, had tried to ally with the Sunnis in the past, he continued, but were frustrated by Saad’s efforts to impose his own Christian candidates (e.g., Ghattas Khoury). Furthermore, the Sunnis accused Marada and others of killing former PM Hariri and of being Syrians and Iranians, which ultimately pushed them toward Hizballah. Franjieh claimed he had not even met Hizballah SYG Nasrallah until one month before the 2005 elections, but noted that both sides were united in their support to create a new electoral law along the lines of the 1960 law, which was based on smaller “qada” that would benefit Marada by removing the ability of Sunni voters to decide candidates in Christian areas.

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)
07BEIRUT97_a

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)
07BEIRUT229_a

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)
07BEIRUT602_a

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

—————————————–

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

BEIRUT 00000602 003 OF 003

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)
07BEIRUT698_a

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)
07BEIRUT1178_a

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)
07BEIRUT1342_a

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)
07BEIRUT1435_a

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)
07BEIRUT1512_a

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.

What Would It Take To Get Aoun To Renounce His Presidential Ambitions?

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives FPM leader Michel Aoun in Beirut, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives FPM leader Michel Aoun in Beirut, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

This is the 11th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon. 

Last week, all of Lebanon started speculating on the outcome of the presidential elections. For the first time since 2013, it finally seemed that Hezbollah and the Future Movement had agreed on a name to fill the vacancy, and that Sleiman Frangieh would eventually make it to Baabda. Yet the candidacy of the Zgharta MP still faces two major obstacles: Reservations coming from M14’s Christian parties, and – more importantly – the absence of an official green light coming from his long-term ally and president in the Change and Reform Bloc, Michel Aoun. Which is why this month’s WikiLeaks cable is about a dialogue that happened 8 years ago – when Aoun was running for the 2007 presidential elections – between speaker Nabih Berri and the American ambassador, on what it might have taken to get Aoun to renounce his presidential ambitions back then (spoiler: Berri says that it might be certain ministerial portfolios).

Also, (according to the cable) Berri called Aoun  “an…eunuch”.

Enjoy.

LEBANON: BERRI URGES U.S. TO WORK ON AOUN
2007 November 6, 15:36 (Tuesday)
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CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
— Not Assigned —
SUMMARY
——-
1. (C) Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri lamented the absence of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri from Lebanon, which he said prevented efforts to reach a consensus presidential candidate on time. If no consensus candidate is named before November 12, Berri said he would set a new date for the election, probably on either November 19 or 20. Berri was optimistic that the recent discussions with the Syrians in Istanbul and continuing French diplomatic efforts in Lebanon could lead to a consensus candidate, but warned the U.S. to stop supporting a half plus one president. Privately, Berri told the Ambassador that the U.S. should work on Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to find out what it would take to get Aoun to renounce his own presidential ambitions. With Aoun conceding the office to others, Berri said that he he would work to see a consensus candidate elected who is closer to March 14 than March 8, with Boutros Harb and Robert Ghanem mentioned as possibilities. End summary.
HARIRI’S ABSENCE COSTING TIME
—————————–
2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by Pol/Econ Chief, met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and his advisor Ali Hamdan at Berri’s office in Ain el-Tineh on November 6. The Ambassador opened the meeting asking when majority leader Saad Hariri would return to Lebanon. An exasperated Berri complained that Saad’s frequent and prolonged absences were causing them to lose time. We lost the October 23 election date because of Saad’s extended stay abroad, Berri said, and now the timing is even more delicate; Saad is out and about meeting with the French in Paris to hear about Istanbul when he should be here dealing with the situation in Lebanon. If he had to postpone the electoral session again, Berri said, it would probably be November 19 or 20. (Note: President Lahoud’s mandate expires on midnight November 23; November 22 is Lebanese National Day. End note.)
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
———————
3. (C) Berri said he had heard the day before from Fares Boueiz that Sarkozy advisor Claude Gueant would visit Beirut later in the week and had requested a meeting with Berri for November 8. Gueant reportedly planned to stay in Lebanon afterwards to help encourage progress towards electing a new president.
4. (C) Sharing his readouts from the Istanbul meetings, Berri said the French representatives reportedly told the Syrians they wanted a consensus candidate and a new relationship with Syria, and that France would work on the Europeans and U.S. if Syria played a constructive role in the Lebanese election. There were no differences between the French and U.S. up until November 14; but after that France feared that March 14’s election of a president with a half plus one majority would be a problem. The French reportedly asked about possible candidates, to which President Asad replied that Syria also wants consensus and has no candidate in mind. Asad reportedly pushed the French to talk to the Patriarch, Saad Hariri, and Nabih Berri, telling them that if they were successful in reaching a solution, Syria would be on board.
5. (C) The Ambassador, noting that this echoed reports he had heard that the Syrians had proposed to the French a mechanism for resolving the impasse, wondered whether the Patriarch would play along, given his fear that people would not accept his candidates. Berri, agreeing that the names currently believed to be on the Patriarch’s short-list (Demianos Kattar, Joseph Torbey, Shakib Qortbawi, Michel Edde) were not acceptable to either side, said there were many names between the March 14 candidates (Nassib Lahoud, Boutros Harb, and Robert Ghanem) and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun (“an eunuch,” Berri said, beseeching us not to share his comment). So, he added, “I think we can arrive at a consensus…with the help of the U.S.”
FOCUS ON CANDIDATES, NOT PROGRAMS
———————————
6. (C) While acknowledging that the U.S. supported consensus in its public statements, Berri said the U.S. should stop telling March 14 privately that the U.S. would support a half plus one president. “I know the private messages you are passing,” he said, adding that Saad was convinced of consensus. “I know you have your opinion, but don’t interfere; it is your duty to help.”
7. (C) The Ambassador, as in many meetings before with the Speaker, told Berri the U.S. was not opposed to compromise, as long as it was not on principles. Berri retorted, “We are with 1701,” adding that since UN Special Envoy for UNSCR 1559 Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen downplayed 1559 in Rome, he saw no need to reference it either. When Saad raised UNSCR 1559, Berri stressed that he supported UNSCR 1701. After the election, it would be the first duty of the new prime minister to discuss Shebaa farms and Hizballah’s arms, he said; otherwise he, as Speaker, would have to finish what he started in the National Dialogue. If Hizballah disagreed with the government’s position, it could stay out of the government, Berri said, adding that he himself might withdraw if his party (Amal) were not given enough cabinet seats.
8. (C) Berri said he had told Saad in their meetings that there was no need to discuss principles and programs, only candidates, since the opposition would support the principles outlined in the spring 2006 National Dialogue (i.e., support for the Special Tribunal, good relations with Syria, including the exchange of diplomatic ties, and the rejection of Palestinian arms outside the camps and limited timeline for their removal inside the camps). The opposition also supported Lebanon’s Paris III commitments, he said; different elements within those commitments might have to be reviewed, he added, citing the government’s recent efforts to privatize Lebanon’s cell phone networks.
U.S. SHOULD WORK ON AOUN
————————
9. (C) Pulling the Ambassador into his side office for a private word, Berri urged the U.S. to work on Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to find out what Aoun would need in return for renouncing his own presidential aspirations. If Aoun agrees to concede the presidency, Berri said, then it makes possible for a solution — a president who is closer to March 14 than March 8. As long as Aoun remains in the running, Berri said, his hands are tied. But if Aoun agrees to accept certain ministerial portfolios, then Berri would be willing to support someone like Boutros Harb or Robert Ghanem. The Ambassador asked for confirmation that he would support Harb. Yes, Berri said, if Aoun will agree to step aside. Berri said that his only red line was Nassib Lahoud, as someone “too Saudi.”
COMMENT
——-
10. (C) In what seemed to the Ambassador and Pol/Econ Chief like an endless lunch the day before with presidential hopeful Robert Ghanem, Ghanem did not sound very March 14-like in his statements in support of a two-thirds quorum and his lenient approach to Hizballah. We find it slightly worrisome that Berri has now placed him in this camp, suggesting that he may no longer be viewed as a potential consensus candidate.
11. (C) Berri’s continuing mantra of “the presidency will solve all of Lebanon’s problems” also is not comforting, especially combined with his dismissal of UNSCR 1559. We find it difficult to believe Berri would strike a deal with Saad without some sort of guarantees on the makeup of the new cabinet or the government’s program. That is unless, as many have warned us, Berri’s real goal is to install a weak president along with Saad as prime minister, both of whom would serve as easy prey for the opposition’s efforts to undermine March 14 and its objectives.
12. (C) Berri, fingering Saad’s absence and what he deems to be U.S. “interference,” while at the same time applauding French and Syrian support for a consensus candidate, seems to be absolving himself of any responsibility should parliament be unable to elect a president on November 12. Rather than take the bull by the horns, however, he is content to postpone the crisis until the bitter end. His appeal to us to work on Aoun is not surprising, given his apparent disdain for the General, though we can’t help but wonder, if not Aoun or Ghanem, whom the speaker has in mind as a consensus candidate. Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Michel Sleiman’s name, notably, did not come up in this meeting, suggesting that either the pro-Syrian opposition has given up on his candidacy or perhaps is merely waiting to see how things play out over the next critical days, ready to pull Sleiman back out of the hat when it seems no other solution is possible.
13. (C) Whatever Berri’s motivations, he is right that working on Aoun is something, however unappealing a task it may be, worth doing. We agree with Berri that, if Aoun would accept the inevitability that he is not going to be president, a solution to Lebanon’s presidential crisis becomes easier to achieve. End comment.
FELTMAN

Kahwagi, WikiLeaks, and the Ongoing Presidential Race

Former defense minister Elias Murr with Kahwagi

 

This is the 10th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon. 

With all the events currently happening in Lebanon such as the trash crisis, the protests, and the intergovernmental chaos,  we tend to forget that we don’t have a president. Which is why, and in honor to the seventeenth month of presidential vacancy, this month’s WikiLeaks cables are about Lebanon’s (favorite) consensus candidate, the current commander of the Lebanese army Jean Kahwagi. He is rumored (1) to be close to Hezbollah, (2) to have a rivalry with Aoun (since they’re arguably the strongest two presidential candidates), and (3) to have the support of M14, probably because of the rivalry with Aoun (proof: The recent extension of Kahwagi’s term that happened without Aoun’s green light).

I picked four interesting cables for this post. The first one is about Kahwagi’s appointment as commander of the army in 2008 (why Aoun didn’t object, why Jumblatt didn’t veto him). The second one is about Kahwagi telling DM Murr before the elections, in 2009, that there would be a resignation en masse in the army if Murr wouldn’t be appointed as minister after the elections. The third and fourth cables are meetings with Hariri before and after the 2009 elections: Before the 2009 elections, Hariri said that Kahwagi “was too weak regarding Hizballah”. After the elections, Hariri said that Kahwagi “would never be fit to be President” (how awesome will this quote be in case Hariri would one day rule as prime minister under Kahwagi ? 😛 )

(of course, everything is according to WikiLeaks)

Voila. Enjoy the cables.

Cable 1:

LEBANON: DEFENSE MINISTER MURR DISCUSSES URGENCY OF NEEDS FOR LEBANESE ARMED FORCES
2008 September 4, 15:49 (Thursday)
08BEIRUT1302_a

12. (C) Murr reported that the cabinet would meet on Friday, August 29 to select the next LAF Commander. (Note: Cabinet approved Jean Kahwagi, whom Murr supported, on August 29. End note.) This is the first time that Murr has the occasion to have so much input concerning officer slating throughout the Army. Murr intends to present the candidates for LAF Commander to the cabinet based solely on their military qualifications and nothing to do with their political affiliations. Murr said he would present ten names to the Cabinet. Murr still believes that BG Jean Kahwagi is the best candidate for the job as he has been trained in the United States under the International Military Education and Training Program as well as in Italy and Germany.

13. (C) Murr said he will have to closely manage Kahwagi during the first year because Kahwagi does not know anything about politics. In fact, Murr believes there will be problems changing his image among some people. “Sometimes you have to use visual flight rules, sometimes you have to follow the instruments,” quipped Murr, a reference to both general and technical mentoring that will be required on the political fronts. (Note: Murr is very comfortable with Kahwagi on both the technical and political levels when it comes to USG programs. “He is hated by all political sides, but Aoun cannot veto him,” said Murr. Kahwagi’s battalion was nearly erased by a Syrian Special Forces battalion that attacked then-President Aoun in the Baabda Presidential Palace in 1989. Kahwagi lost 300 men in this battle while the Syrian Battalion suffered 750 killed. Aoun and his family safely escaped this dangerous situation because of Kahwagi’s efforts. End Note.)

14. (C) Murr assessed that the opposition to Kahwagi by Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblatt, a March 14 stalwart, is part of Jumblatt’s initiative to achieve some level of rapprochment with Hizballah. Murr said that while negotiations regarding the LAF commander were ongoing, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Shia ally of Hizballah, told Murr “You are going to nominate someone that is anti-Hizballah, so I am going to be with you.” In the cabinet vote on Kawhagi, Berri’s and Hizballah’s deputies expressed no reservations and joined the consensus approving him for the position.

(link for the full cable on WikiLeaks)

Cable 2:

LEBANON: DDEFMIN MURR ON FOUR GENERALS, MARCH 14
2009 April 30, 16:57 (Thursday)
09BEIRUT496_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL

17. (C) Murr also expressed his intention to stay on as Minister of Defense in the new cabinet, “if” the majority, whichever side that may be, agreed. (Note: Although he was not explicit, he intimated that President Sleiman was on board with this plan. End note.) Murr expected, however, that Aoun would try to veto his selection. Murr told the Ambassador that General Kahwagi had paid him a visit because he had worried that Murr may not accept the position. Kahwagi told Murr that soldiers, including Kahwagi and the LAF Chief of Intelligence (G-2 General Edmond Fadel), would leave en masse if Murr were replaced.

(Link for the full cable on WikiLeaks)

Cable 3:

LEBANON: HARIRI ON MARCH 14 ELECTION PREPARATIONS, STL
2009 February 17, 17:30 (Tuesday)
09BEIRUT186_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL

 

7. (C) Confirming his opposition to a post-election national unity government, Hariri said he would not be held accountable for actions taken by “the other side.” Assuming March 14 victory in the elections, Hariri said March 8 would be welcome in the new government, but would not receive a blocking third of cabinet portfolios. (Note: In a February 16 speech to commemorate the anniversary of the killing of Hizballah figure Imad Mugniyeh, Hizballah SYG Hassan Nasrallah offered March 14 a veto share in a future March 8 majority government. End note.)

8. (C) On potential U.S.-Syria engagement, Hariri said he did not oppose engagement as long as the interests of Lebanon were protected. However, he opined that the U.S. would learn quickly for itself that the Syrians were “a bunch of liars.” Hariri also expressed concern regarding LAF Commander Jean Kahwagi who, according to Hariri, was “too weak regarding Hizballah.” He asked the USG to “put (Kahwagi) on the spot” during the general’s upcoming visit to the United States.

(link for the full cable on Wikileaks)

Cable 4:

LEBANON: HARIRI PREPARED TO BECOME PRIME MINISTER BY JUNE 29; MEETS NASRALLAH
2009 June 26, 15:38 (Friday)
09BEIRUT715_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL

1. (C) Presumptive PM-designate Saad Hariri confirmed to the Ambassador June 26 that he had met with Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah the previous day. Nasrallah did not request any “guarantees” from the new government, and Hariri did not offer any, Hariri said. Although mandatory bloc consultations to name the new Prime Minister are still ongoing, Hariri said he was prepared to begin his own consultations as the Prime Minister-designate by June 29 and was confident that cabinet formation would not be a protracted process. He was not certain whether opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun would participate in the government, asserting that Aoun “does not know how to be happy.” Without Aoun’s participation, Hariri believed a cabinet of fewer than 30 seats could be a possibility. Separately, Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud was critical of Hariri’s management of his majority so far, and said he would decline to become a minister in the new cabinet if Aoun boycotted, due to concern that a non-participatory model would soon lead to public disorder. Hariri said he preferred both Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Jean Kahwagi and G-2 Brigadier General Edmond Fadel remain in their positions, but he was prepared to take a hard line with them. He advised the United States to push Kahwagi and Fadel a “little more.”

8. (C) Hariri characterized his relationship with President Sleiman as “excellent.” He said the “chemistry” between them was good, despite not agreeing on every issue. He advised the U.S. to encourage and “pull the ears” of LAF Commander Jean Kahwagi and G-2 Brigadier General Edmond Fadel. He reported that he had not met with Kahwagi since the elections, but had met Fadel. He claimed to have told Fadel that he needed “to work more and to shape up,” reminding Fadel (as he had with Nasrallah) that he was “not Fouad Siniora.” Specifically, he admonished Fadel for not forming a Special Security Directorate under the LAF G-2 under pressure or fear from Hizballah. Hariri affirmed that the creation of the directorate would occur under his premiership.

BEIRUT 00000715 003 OF 003

9. (C) On Kahwagi, Hariri postulated that Kahwagi’s alleged moves closer towards the March 8 opposition prior to the election may not have been genuine, but rather wrongly gaming the outcome of the June 7 elections. He believed that Kahwagi should remain as LAF Commander, but opined that Kahwagi’s relationship with Sleiman was “not very good.” Kahwagi, he said, would “never be fit to be President” but is thinking that way.

(Link to the full cable on WikiLeaks)

WikiLeaks, Drugs and Lebanese Politicians

This is the 9th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon. 

The Lebanese have been circulating a video – The Lebanese Forces supporters seriously, almost everyone else sarcastically – of the Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warning the youth about drugs and their repercussions on society [note the inspirational soundtrack in the background and the “Samir Geagea” at the end. We’re definitely going to win the Oscars this year] . Since there hasn’t been a lot of political breakthroughs recently (the past three months have basically been about protests, the government not responding to protests, unfruitful dialogues – who knew, right? – and epic fistfights in the Lebanese parliament), I thought it would be interesting to unearth WikiLeaks cables mentioning drugs and Lebanese politics. I’m publishing three cables. The first one is from the war and ironically mentions how the drug exportation trade isn’t working out for the Lebanese Forces finances. The second one quotes Michel El Khoury (the son of Lebanon’s first post-independence president and a former minister of defense and central bank governor)  saying that “Hariri’s judgment might be impeded by some kind of narcotic addiction”. The third one is a conversation with the PSP’s second-in-command, Duraid Yaghi, in which he says that “increased cultivation of illegal drugs is feeding into Hizballah’s strength in the Bekaa region” and that “The sale of the crops feed into Hizballah’s weapons network”.

Take a look at the three cables. In case you’re too lazy, the drug parts are in bold.

LEBANESE FORCES FINANCES
1985 April 4, 14:34 (Thursday)
85BEIRUT2048_a
SECRET
SECRET
— Not Assigned —
1. S-ENTIRE TEXT.
2. LEBANESE FORCES OFFICIAL WHO REMAINS LOYAL TO DEPOSED CHIEF FUAD ABU NADER CONTENDS THAT PART OF REBEL LEADER JA’JA’S APPEAL TO RANK AND FILE IS HIS PROMISES THAT ECONOMY MOVES INTRODUCED BY ABU NADER WOULD END. HE OBSERVES, HOWEVER, THAT PROMISES WILL BE DIFFICULT FOR JA’JA’ TO KEEP.
3. ACCORDING TO THIS OFFICIAL, LF OPERATING EXPENSES ALONE AMOUNT TO 26 MILLION POUNDS A MONTH, MOSTLY STRAIGHT SALARY PAYMENTS. THIS FIGURE PROVIDED NOTHING FOR AMMUNITION REPLACEMENT (BADLY NEEDED), SPARE PARTS FOR EQUIPMENT (BADLY NEEDED — ACCORDING TO OFFICIAL LF TANKS COULDN’T MOVE INTO ACTION NOW WITHOUT SIGNIFICANT REPAIR), UNIFORMS,TRAINING, ETC.
4. OFFICIAL SAID INCOME SIDE WILL PRESENT JA’JA’ WITH DIFFICULT PROBLEM, BEFORE UPRISING, OFFICIAL SAID,INCOME
5. OFFICIAL NOTED THAT LF HAD RE-OPENED NIGHT OPERATIONS AT FIFTH BASIN AT BEIRUT PORT TWELVE DAYS BEFORE UPRISING BECAUSE OF NEED FOR FUNDS, SO JA’JA’ WILL CONTINUE TO BENEFIT FROM THIS SOURCE. ON OTHER HAND, HE SAID, WITH SYRIANS OPENING ROADBLOCK AT MADFOUN BRIDGE, LF REVENUES FROM BARBARA CHECKPOINT HAVE DISAPPEARED; HE OPINED THAT JA’JA’ MIGHT GO AS FAR AS TO OFFER UP CLOSING OF BARBARAH CHECKPOINT AS PEACE OFFERING TO SYRIA NOW THAT SYRIAN ACTION HAS MADE IT FINANCIALLY IRRELEVANT. EVEN ASSUMING LF TIGHTENS UP TAXATION IN AREAS UNDER ITS CONTROL AND PERHAPS EXPAND FIFTH BASIN OPERATIONS, IT WILL STILL LEAVE THEM, HE ESTIMATED, MINIMUM OF 6 MILLION POUNDS SHORT EACH MONTH.
6. OFFICIAL OBSERVED THAT EFFECTIVENESS OF DEA OPERATIONS MADE EXPORTATION OF HASHISH AN UNPROFITABLE OPTION.
7. ANOTHER OPTION WOULD BE CONTRIBUTIONS BY KEY LF REBEL FINANCIAL ANGELS; HE MENTIONED SPECIFICALLY PIERRE ASHKAR AND MICHEL MURR BUT HE QUESTIONED HOW LONG THEY WOULD WANT TO PICK UP THE DIFFERENCE. REMAINING OPTION WOULD BE ONE LF WAS MOVING TOWARD BEFORE UPRISING: COMBINATION OF ECONOMY MOVES AND OF SELLING MILITARY RESOURCES ON CIVILIAN ECONOMY. MOVES IN THAT DIRECTION HAD BEGUN PRIOR TO MARCH 12 UPRISING, SPECIFICALLY IN COMPUTER AREA, WHERE OFFICIAL SAID LF HAS MOST SOPHISTICATED OPERATION IN COUNTRY; AND IN VEHICLE MAINTENANCE.
BARTHOLOMEW
MGLE01: A STRATEGY SESSION WITH PRIME MINISTER SINIORA AND HIS FRIENDS
2006 July 7, 14:00 (Friday)
06BEIRUT2291_a
CONFIDENTIAL,NOFORN
CONFIDENTIAL,NOFORN
— Not Assigned —
BEIRUT 00002291 001.2 OF 004
Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d ).
SUMMARY ——-
1. (C/NF) The current weakness of the “March 14” parliamentary majority — and the deleterious effect this has on Prime Minister Siniora’s ability to govern — has become a matter of great concern for supporters of Siniora, such as former Central Bank Governor Michel el Khoury. At a 7/3 dinner he hosted, Sheikh Michel el Khoury worried about disorder within the Hariri family and the supposed weak personality traits of majority leader Saad Hariri (who, he claimed, may even be suffering from a narcotic addiction). Sheikh Michel proposed that “March 14” be headed by a (non-Hariri-associated) Secretary-General. Better organization within “March 14” is necessary to counter a massive flow (Sheikh Michel estimated it at USD 100 million per month, over half from Iran) of external funding for Hizballah.
2. (C/NF) Summary, continued: Siniora’s Telecommunications Minister, Walid Jumblatt-allied Druze politician Marwan Hamadeh, called for using Saudi petrodollars to neutralize Iran’s financial support for Hizballah and its allies. Hamadeh suggested that there is even a bright side to the threat of Sunni-Shia strife in Lebanon, in that it helps to restrain Hizballah’s behavior. Prime Minister Siniora, who eventually joined Sheikh Michel’s dinner at which these exchanges took place, expressed frustration with his government’s current “standstill,” but expressed determination to forge ahead, particularly on privatization. End summary.
SHEIKH MICHEL CONVENES A STRATEGY SESSION —————————————–
3. (C/NF) Former Central Bank governor Michel el Khoury gathered the Ambassador and emboff at a dinner with Prime Minister Siniora, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, and Siniora’s chief advisor, Mohamad Chatah. While waiting for Siniora — who was detained at the office by a meeting on transportation policy that lasted well past 9 PM — to arrive, Sheikh Michel explained that the purpose of the dinner was to map out strategies for bucking up Siniora’s government and the flagging “March 14” parliamentary majority that makes up its base of support.
4. (C/NF) Sheikh Michel goes back a long way with Siniora, himself a former Central Bank official. He insisted that despite the slow progress Siniora’s government has made and the multiple obstacles it has faced in its nearly one year of existence, Siniora was an “irreplaceable” leader. “I would do anything to help him,” Sheikh Michel said, “not just because he’s my friend,” but because Siniora’s success was the only hope for the country.
NEEDED: CHRISTIAN SUPPORT FOR SINIORA, “MARCH 14” ————————–
5. (C/NF) Sheikh Michel spoke of the need to translate Siniora’s personal popularity into political support for “March 14.” This was of particular importance within the Christian community. Among Christians, Siniora remains personally popular — even if not at the same high levels as initially — while support for “March 14” had plummeted under what Sheikh Michel described as a demagogic assault by Michel Aoun and his supporters.
6. (C/NF) To this end, Siniora’s most recent meeting with the Maronite Patriarch had been very useful, according to Sheikh Michel. (Comment: Siniora likewise was very positive in describing his relationship with the Patriarch during a separate meeting with the Ambassador, claiming that he and the Patriarch had “agreed on every issue” in this last meeting. See reftel. End Comment.) Sheikh Michel said that he was working with the Patriarch and others in the Maronite community to build grassroots support for Siniora.
BEIRUT 00002291 002.2 OF 004
7. (C/NF) One constraint on Christian political support for Siniora has been the unpopularity of the parliamentary majority leader, Saad Hariri. As they waited for Prime Minister Siniora to arrive, Sheikh Michel, Minister Hamadeh, and Dr. Chatah all expressed frustration with the susceptibility of Christians to anti-Sunni Muslim sentiment, much of it directed against Hariri. Sheikh Michel expressed frustration with the fact that the same Christians who approved Aoun’s alliance with Hizballah have been ready to entertain the worst possible suspicions about Hariri and his Sunni Muslim supporters, seeing them as a Trojan horse for Saudi-style Wahhabism in Lebanon.
SOLUTIONS START AT (THE HARIRI) HOME ————————————
8. (C/NF) In part, Sheikh Michel and his Lebanese guests agreed, this has much to do with poor organization within “March 14,” and within the Hariri family as well. For a start, Saad Hariri’s relationship with Siniora has been rocky, although Hamadeh suggested that there had been improvements recently. Beyond that, Saad Hariri arguably has political responsibilities equal to those of his father, Rafiq Hariri, with all the financial implications — given the importance of patronage in Lebanon — that that entails. Yet Saad had only a fraction of the wealth that Rafiq had to draw upon, as Rafiq’s fortune had been divided up, following his assassination in February 2005, among a number of family members, with Saad, Rafiq’s second-born son, being only one among them. Other family members, such as Saad’s reputedly miserly stepmother, Nazek, were unresponsive to the patronage needs of the Hariri-led Future Current and its “March 14” allies.
DANGER: IRANIAN MONEY, “SHIA-IZATION” ————————————–
9. (C/NF) All the while, Iranian money continues to pour into Lebanon, funding the political and social activities of Hizballah and, according to some reports, those of pro-Hizballah, pro-Syrian groups in predominantly Sunni areas of the country, such as the rural and impoverished Akkar region in the North. Sheikh Michel, citing contacts in Lebanon’s banking sector, claimed that the amount of revenue Hizballah brings in from abroad each month equals approximately USD 100 million. Of this, some USD 60 million comes from Iran; the remainder comes from other external sources, such as pro-Hizballah fundraisers in West Africa.
CAN “MARCH 14” NEUTRALIZE IT WITH SAUDI HELP? ———————————————
10. (C/NF) As a result, we are seeing the “tashyi’i” (“Shia-ization”) of many predominantly Sunni parts of the country, Hamadeh complained. (Comment: Another term used to describe this seeming surge of Iranian influence — one that, from all appearances, annoys Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to no end — is “tafris,” “Persianization.” End Comment.) Hamadeh could not explain Saad Hariri’s ongoing cash-flow problem with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the royal family of which reportedly has been slow to pay Hariri-owned business enterprises the billions it owes them. Even so, the only antidote to Iran’s relentless policy of cash-for-“tashyi’i” was to neutralize it with an equal flow of Saudi petrodollars, Hamadeh said. This had been a topic of discussion when he and Druse leader Walid Jumblatt met with Saudi King Abdullah in Jeddah recently.
11. (C/NF) Hamadeh said that he and Jumblatt had emphasized to King Abdullah that they were not asking for money for themselves. Rather, they wanted the KSA to play a direct role in alleviating poverty, supporting economic development, and bolstering its friends on the Lebanese political scene. Part of this could be accomplished by donations for charitable institutions, but part of it also had to be “political money,” Hamadeh said. He expressed confidence that Lebanon could absorb an influx of Saudi cash while keeping it out of the hands of radical Sunni Muslim groups.
CONCERNS ABOUT SAAD HARIRI ————————–
12. (C/NF) Patronage aside, Sheikh Michel and his Lebanese
BEIRUT 00002291 003.2 OF 004
guests saw Saad Hariri as no match for Nasrallah politically. The Hizballah leader took advantage of the young, reluctant politician’s inexperience and seemingly weak personality. In an aside with the Ambassador, Sheikh Michel also expressed concern about the possibility that Hariri’s judgment might be impeded by some kind of narcotic addiction. He understood that Hariri had used drugs as an undergraduate at Georgetown University to the extent that it seriously impaired his studies. He wondered whether Hariri had ever actually quit. (Comment: If so, this might explain some of the personality traits that we have noticed in our interaction with Hariri, such as a very short attention span. End Comment.)
SUNNI-SHIA CONFLICT: A POTENTIALLY USEFUL THREAT ——————————————— —-
13. (C/NF) Those present at the dinner noted that one reason behind Saad Hariri’s caution in dealing with his opponents is a sincere belief that Lebanon is in danger of experiencing Iraq-style sectarian strife between Shias and Sunnis. Hamadeh suggested that Shia-Sunni conflict was in fact a two-edged sword. While it frightens the country’s foremost Sunni leader, Hariri, it surely must also frighten the foremost Shia leader, Nasrallah. As such, Hamadeh argued, the threat of Shia-Sunni conflict could be used to pressure and restrain Hizballah; it did not make sense to try to wish the threat away.
“MARCH 14” NEEDS MORE STRUCTURE ——————————-
14. (C/NF) Sheikh Michel suggested that one thing “March 14” needed was a better organizational structure. The appointment of a Secretary-General for the movement, one with real authority, could help in this respect. In order to deflect paranoia and anti-Hariri sentiment in the Christian community, it would be important that whoever filled this position not be a Sunni Muslim from the Hariri-led Future Current political party, Sheikh Michel said. SINIORA REMAINS DETERMINED ————————–
15. (C/NF) Prime Minister Siniora finally arrived after 10 PM, a little worse for the wear after an exhausting day, but still displaying confidence and energy. While his government was working to make progress on several fronts, he admitted that things were currently at a standstill. Even so, he was determined to forge ahead, particularly on privatization. Here, he was targeting the largely state-owned Intra Investment Corporation, which he derided as a “symbol of corruption.”
16. (C/NF) When the Ambassador and emboff described the concerns of international elections experts about the draft electoral law recently submitted to Siniora (reported septel), Siniora was unfazed. If there were problems with the draft, they could be worked out in due time, he insisted. He gave the impression of being receptive to comments on the draft law from IFES and other international elections experts.
17. (C/NF) Siniora cautioned Sheikh Michel and his guests that he had to pick his battles carefully. At one point in the dinner conversation, one of the guests pointed out that General Georges Khoury, chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ intelligence wing, was less than reliable. This was true, Siniora replied, but Khoury was also very close to the Maronite Patriarch, an ally whom Siniora could not afford to antagonize.
COMMENT ——-
18. (C/NF) Fears of Sunni militancy have combined with suspicion and resentment of the Hariri family and its wealth, particularly in the Christian community. Consequently, a great deal of Christian opinion about Hariri and “March 14” is skewed to the point of irrationality. Aoun can strike an alliance of convenience with Hizballah and yet be perceived among a sizeable portion of Christians, probably still a majority, as the most effective defender of communal interests. Christian politicians who align with “March 14,”
BEIRUT 00002291 004.2 OF 004
on the other hand, find themselves upbraided as sellouts and “inauthentic” representatives of their own community. In this situation, Sheikh Michel — son of Lebanon’s first president, Beshara el Khoury, and a Maronite patrician — deserves praise for the unconditional backing he is giving the Sunni Muslim Siniora.
19. (C/NF) Comment, continued: Even so, Hariri, Siniora’s government, and “March 14” seem never to miss an opportunity to increase Christian fears about a militant Sunni threat. The past few weeks have witnessed the sudden, inexplicable legalization of the ultra-extreme Hizb ut-Tahrir, which had been banned since the early 1960s (and which has been banned more recently in the United Kingdom on security grounds). On June 30, Mahmoud Qul Ahgasi (also known as Abu al-Qa’qa), leader of Ghuraba al-Sham, a mysterious Syrian-based Sunni Muslim group that is at once jihadist and pro-Asad regime, appeared on a television broadcast from the Beirut studio of the pan-Arab “al-Arabiya” channel, his back to a picture window in the studio that, embarrassingly, looked out on Siniora’s offices in the Grand Serail. Given all this, opening the valve of a massive Saudi petrodollar pipeline — assuming one really exists — would not be without risk. Still, we agree with the basic thrust of this dinner conversation: given the patronage system that still prevails in Lebanon, and given the evidence of huge amounts of incoming Iranian money, “March 14” needs to find some funding sources of its own, with Hariri and/or the Saudis still the most likely source.
End comment.
FELTMAN
B. BEIRUT 919
Classified By: Ambassador Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
SUMMARY ——–
1. (C) Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Vice President Duraid Yaghi said September 19 one-third of the population of his hometown of Baalbek does not support Hizballah, although it is in an area of strong Hizballah influence. However, according to Yaghi, continued unemployment and increased cultivation of illegal drugs is feeding into Hizballah’s strength in the Bekaa region. Yaghi, a Shia, suggested Lebanon donors should consider funding an illegal drug crop eradication and substitution program. Furthermore, he admitted that the March 14 coalition had made several mistakes in May, but said what was more worrisome was that the coalition had not yet agreed on a unified electoral platform or even begun planning for the 2009 parliamentary elections. We believe there may be an opportunity for a USG-sponsored crop substitution project in Baalbek and will explore further options. Separately, anti-Hizballah and prominent Shia businessman Abdullah Bitar told the Ambassador he will take on Hizballah by running in the elections for a Nabotieh seat, and hopes to join forces with other key players in forming a list. End summary.
BAALBEK DOES NOT BELONG TO HIZBALLAH ——————-
2. (C) Former Shia MP and current Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Vice President Duraid Yaghi estimated to the Ambassador on September 19 that 30-35 percent of Baalbek’s population does not support Hizballah. Baalbek, situated in the heart of Hizballah’s stronghold in the Bekaa Valley, contains “brave voters” who overwhelmingly supported PSP and other parties in the majority over Hizballah in the most recent municipal elections, he said. However, Baalbek lacks any significant presence of state institutions, such as the Internal Security Services (ISF) or the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). According to Yaghi, the state “is not there.” Without these visible signs of state authority or other state-provided social services, Yaghi worried Hizballah was gaining greater support. Baalbek’s residents, he said, often “turn to Hizballah before going to the police or the courts.” Generally speaking, said Yaghi, Hizballah buys its loyalties from residents by providing them $200-$300 per month, offering educational scholarships, and providing health and social services.
FIX THE DRUG PROBLEM, DIMINISH HIZBALLAH LEVERAGE —————————
3. (C) According to Yaghi, the incidence of hashish and opium cultivation continues to rise in Baalbek. Lack of employment opportunities, he believed, is driving greater numbers of Baalbek residents to plant the illegal drug crops. The sale of the crops feed into Hizballah’s weapons network, as well as provide valuable income to families, he said. The drug problem, Yaghi said, is not new. In May 1996, while he was MP, Yaghi and then-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri drafted Decree 8666, which allows for the creation of a government eradication program, with the use of international donor assistance, for the Bekaa region, especially in Baalbek and Hermel. The decree still exists, Yaghi said, but nothing ever came of it. (Note: ISF Counternarcotics Unit head has told Embassy INL Director that the ISF and LAF conduct eradication campaigns on a yearly basis, with the exception of 2007 when the program was not carried out because of the Nahr al-Barid conflict. End Note.) Yaghi requested assistance from the U.S. and other donors to revive the drug eradication effort, suggesting that any success with such a program could sway support away from Hizballah and towards the March 14 coalition as the 2009 parliamentary elections BEIRUT 00001389 002 OF 003 approach. (Note: INL funding will provide training in December for 50 ISF officers in counternarcotics tactics. The course will be taught by DEA instructors. End Note.)
MARCH 14 MADE MISTAKES; NOT PREPARED FOR ELECTIONS ————————–
4. (C) Yaghi admitted that the March 14 coalition to which his party belongs made several mistakes in May. First, he said, March 14, and specifically March 14 leader Saad Hariri’s Future Movement miscalculated the extent of Hizballah reaction when Future Movement pushed the Druze leaders Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh, who was minister of telecommunications, to close down Hizballah’s communication networks. After the ensuing takeover of West Beirut by Hizballah, and the subsequent agreement reached in Doha that paved the way for election of President Sleiman, Yaghi believed March 14 should have publicly admitted its mistake, while articulating a vision. Neither has happened, Yaghi said, and “we find ourselves in a bad situation.”
5. (C) Furthermore, he warned, the re-districting agreement reached in Doha for the 2009 parliamentary elections that placed Baalbek and Hermel into one district exacerbates March 14’s problems. Baalbek by itself, he said, probably would produce two Sunni and two Christian candidates to counter Hizballah’s four candidates. However, both MP slots in Hermel will go to Hizballah candidates, he predicted. As one district, if Hizballah wins the majority, all ten MP seats will go to Hizballah. Yaghi said he planned to talk with Hariri “soon” about his concerns for Baalbek and to secure Hariri’s assurances that tangible assistance would be forthcoming to Baalbek’s voters, and not just words of support.
6. (C) Yaghi was also visibly concerned about the lack of a unified March 14 message. He fretted that if another two months pass before the platform is decided, then March 14 should not expect favorable election results. In Baalbek, he said, Hizballah has been preparing for the elections for the last six months, while March 14 has not started. In addition, Yaghi envied the fact that Hizballah speaks “with one voice,” while March 14 has many parties and many different voices, he said.
7. (C) Yaghi did not believe the 2009 elections would be delayed, as “everybody thinks they will win.” He did not foresee Hizballah initiating any type of military action that could put the elections in jeopardy, and opined that Hizballah’s backers, Iran and Syria, would not support such a scenario. Yaghi supported President Sleiman’s decision to launch the National Dialogue, but did not believe any serious discussion of Hizballah’s weapons would occur until after the elections.
ANTI-HIZBALLAH SHIA RUNNING IN ELECTIONS ——————–
8. (C) In a separate September 22 meeting with the Ambassador, anti-Hizballah prominent Shia businessman and head of the Nabatieh Traders Association and the Economists Union Abdullah Bitar (Ref A) stated his intentions to take on Hizballah and run in the elections as a candidate from his hometown (and current residence) in Nabatieh, a Hizballah stronghold in southern Lebanon. Alone, he anticipated he could win approximately 5,000 votes from Nabatieh proper, and 10,000 votes from its surrounding areas. Believing that Lebanon’s southern residents would be willing to vote for non-Hizballah candidates, said he hopes to join forces with anti-Hizballah figure Ahmad al-Assad (Ref B) (who Bitar noted had distanced himself from him in the last few months), Hariri, and the Communist party to offer an alternative to Hizballah.
COMMENT ——- BEIRUT 00001389 003 OF 003
9. (C) Despite losing his last contest for an MP seat, Yaghi remains actively involved in politics. He is also president of Baalbek’s Bar Association. Independent Shia organizer Lokman Slim and others have encouraged Yaghi to consider running as a candidate in the 2009 elections, but Yaghi says he is reluctant due to the personal risks. (Note: In May, his house was set on fire by unknown assailants, but presumably the attack was politically motivated. An investigation is currently underway. End note.) The picture Yaghi paints of the March 14 coalition’s prospects for electoral success in 2009 is disheartening, but echoes the message we have carried to our March 14 interlocutors that a unified platform is very important to winning the elections.
10. (C) Although USG projects in the Bekaa are limited, we believe there could be an opportunity for an USG-sponsored crop eradication and substitution program. A similar project located along Lebanon’s northern border was considered previously by UNDCP, but did not get off the ground. However, we will explore the feasibility of resurrecting such a project for the Bekaa. If feasible, such a project could used an effective tool of the GOL to blunt expanding Hizballah influence in Baalbek. End comment.
SISON