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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
03BEIRUT4562 2003-10-28 17:14:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LEBANON: SPEAKER BERRI URGES U.S. TO WORK WITH

Tags:   PREL PGOV PTER LE SY LY 
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O 281714Z OCT 03
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8293
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L  BEIRUT 004562 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/28/2013
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER LE SY LY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: SPEAKER BERRI URGES U.S. TO WORK WITH
SYRIA ON IRAQ

REF: STATE 299270

Classified By: Ambassador Vincent M. Battle; reasons 1.5 (b), (d).



1. (C) Summary: Ambassador met with Parliament Speaker
Nabih Berri October 27. The discussion focused principally
on Iraq and Syria. Berri, having just returned from
Damascus, again tried to impress upon us that Syrian
President Asad desires a good relationship with the United
States and that Syria is well-positioned to play a positive
role in support of U.S. objectives in Iraq. Berri was
remarkably uninformed about the details of Hizballah's
October 17 challenge to an embassy motorcade in south
Lebanon, but expressed the view that embassy personnel should
be able to travel freely in the south. Berri intends to
block any restoration of relations between Lebanon and Libya
until Qaddafi responds satisfactorily on the disappearance of
Imam Musa Sadr. End summary.

LEBANESE PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT DAMASCUS


--------------------------





2. (C) Berri visited Damascus October 25-26 with the new
Lebanese Parliament committee heads. Syrian President Bashar
al-Asad met with the Lebanese deputies and, according to both
Berri and Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzeli, was very frank about
Syria not wanting any problems with the United States. Berri
will return to Damascus next weekend for an extraordinary
meeting of Arab League parliamentarians, which he said was
called to discuss Israel's October 5 air strike on Syria, and
is being held in Damascus as an expression of solidarity with
the Syrians. Lebanon will assume the chairmanship of the
group of Arab parliamentarians in February for the next two
years.

SYRIA, IRAQ AND THE U.S.: WHO NEEDS WHO?


--------------------------





3. (C) Berri returned repeatedly to a theme he had
emphasized prior to the war in Iraq: that the U.S. needs
Syria to help stabilize Iraq -- more than Syria needs the
United States. Syria is the only one of Iraq's neighbors
that can play such a role, Berri argued. His analysis is
that if Turkish troops enter Iraq, they will have trouble
first with the Kurds, then with the Shi'a and Sunnis. While
Iran might have some influence, the Shi'ites in Iraq are
Arabs and many fought against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. The
Syrians, on the other hand, already have deep ties with the
Kurds. Barzani and Talabani have lived in Damascus. When
Saddam Hussein attacked Iraq's Shi'a, many fled to Syria and
found a welcome reception there. Among the Sunni
populations, elements in the Syrian and Iraqi Ba'ath parties,
nominally political opponents, do talk with each other.
Finally, the patriarchs for Iraq's Christian minorities can
all be found in Damascus. The main impediment to Syria
helping stabilize the situation in Iraq, according to Berri,
is that Israel will not let the U.S. allow Syria to take on
this role.



4. (C) Ambassador reminded Berri that the issue of support
for terrorism is very much on the table in our relationship
with Syria. Berri responded that Syria shares the fight
against "Sunni terrorism," but that no one can convince any
Arab that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's actions against
Palestinian civilians are not terrorism. Berri lamented that
the problems between the U.S. and the Arab world all start
with Israel. He added that Bashar told the Lebanese
parliamentarians that the Arabs are partially at fault for
not reaching out effectively to make their case to the U.S.
and to the American people.



5. (C) Berri remains in close touch with many Shi'ite
leaders in southern Iraq, so Ambassador briefed Berri on the
arrest of associates of Moqtada al Sadr, per reftel. Berri
noted he had received a communication October 27 from
Ayatollah Sistani, who said that Sadr had arrived at
Sistani's office and tried to see him, but Sistani refused
and referred him to his staff. Berri continues to discount
Abdel Qadr al-Bakr Hakim as a possible political force,
despite his transformation from a "militia" member to a
"civilian."

HIZBALLAH CHALLENGE TO EMBASSY MOTORCADE


--------------------------





6. (C) Ambassador recounted the October 17 incidents of
Hizballah interference with an embassy motorcade in south
Lebanon. Berri was surprised; his impression of the
incidents, based on local media reports, was that the U.S.
had not provided proper notification to the GOL. He was
taken aback to learn that the motorcade was under ISF escort
when challenged by Hizballah. Berri's view is that everyone,
including all foreign diplomats, should be able to travel
freely anywhere in the south.

BUDGET WOES


--------------------------





7. (C) Berri expressed frustration with the debate over the
budget, which soon will move to Parliament for consideration.
He said he does not support the current budget, nor the fact
that there are currently "two budgets" -- one introduced by
the government, and one put forward by President Lahoud.
Berri repeated a statement he made in a recent speech that
Finance Minister Siniora does not have the right "to give up
on" implementing Paris II (by submitting a budget not in
accordance with Paris II targets), because the Paris II
commitments were undertaken by the entire government of
Lebanon.

LIBYA NOT TO BE REHABILITATED


--------------------------





8. (C) Berri exploded when the Ambassador asked whether
apple exports to Libya might be resumed, following the visits
to Libya of Lebanese delegations of politicians and
industrial association leaders. Berri refuses to allow
relations with Libya to be mended "over commercial issues"
and has asked Agriculture Minister Ali Hassan Khalil to
explore with the government of Tunisia the possibility of
exporting Lebanon's bumper apple crop to Tunisia. Berri said
he has been waiting "since 1978" for an answer from Qaddafi
on the fate of missing Lebanese Imam Musa Sadr. Berri has
sent many messages to Qaddafi, and the Libyan leader's
response, until one and a half years ago, was always that
Musa Sadr had disappeared in Europe, not Libya. More
recently, according to Berri, Qaddafi has "confessed" that
Musa Sadr disappeared in Libya -- and Berri said he will not
rest until Musa Sadr's body has been returned to Lebanon.


BATTLE