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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05BEIRUT523 2005-02-21 13:22:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

NABIH BERRI AUDITIONS FOR ROLE AS RECONCILIATOR

Tags:   PREL PGOV PTER LE SY 
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P 211322Z FEB 05
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6320
INFO ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
NSC WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L  BEIRUT 000523 


DEPARTMENT FOR NEA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/21/2020
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER LE SY
SUBJECT: NABIH BERRI AUDITIONS FOR ROLE AS RECONCILIATOR

Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) Add Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri to
the list of prominent Lebanese who seem genuinely shocked by
Rafiq Hariri's murder a week ago. In a 2/21 meeting with the
Ambassador that was free of his usual polemics and bombast,
Berri vowed to play a moderating role on two fronts. First,
he was working to calm tensions between the Shia and Sunni
communities of Lebanon, as he believes that whoever killed
Hariri was intentionally trying to ignite intra-Muslim
strife. Second, he was trying to serve as an intermediary
between the GOL and the opposition. He had met earlier with
over 40 opposition MPs and agreed, despite his own
reservations, to accept their proposal for a vote of
confidence on the Karami government. But Berri expressed
bewilderment about why the opposition would insist on a vote
they would lose. He expressed frustration with what he
interpreted as opposition foot-dragging vis-a-vis the
electoral law, when elections are "the only way to solve this
crisis." Berri did not launch into his usual attack when the
Ambassador reminded him that the U.S. remains committed to
seeing the full implementation of UNSCR 1559. He noted
concern with his own safety. End summary.

BERRI WISTFUL ABOUT AL-QAEDA?


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





2. (C) Against the backdrop of thousands of protestors
streaming through downtown Beirut (via multiple ad hoc
security checkpoints) to gather near the site of Hariri's
2/14 murder, the Ambassador met Berri in the Parliament.
Berri reiterated (with more sincerity than Captain Renault
could express in the film "Casablanca") what he described as
the "incredible shock" of Hariri's death exactly a week
earlier. "Is it impossible that al-Qaeda did it?" he asked
the Ambassador, almost hopefully. The Ambassador responded
that we were not aware of any clear evidence at this point
implicating anyone. This is why it is so important that the
GOL cooperate fully with the UN investigatory team, in hopes
of discovering the real culprits. Berri agreed, claiming to
have worked personally to convince Minister of Interior
Suleiman Franjieh of the need for full disclosure and
cooperation with the UN team.

TRYING TO EASE SUNNI-SHIA TENSION


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





3. (C) Berri said that, while he also had no clue as to the
culprit, "whoever did this wanted to turn Lebanon into Iraq
-- Shia against Sunni, Sunni against Shia." The Ambassador
noted that Hariri's murder seemed to bring the Sunnis, Druse
and Christians together in solidarity. He asked how serious
were the problems between the Sunni and shia communities.
Grimacing, Berri did not answer directly but said that he was
personally going out of his way to calm tensions. That, he
said, explained the prominent "master-of-ceremonies" role he
assumed at Hariri's funeral. Berri also noted that, at the
beginning of all of the Ashura commemorations he had
attended, he had started out with condolences to the Hariri
family and a recitation of the Qur'an in memory of Hariri.
He had made sure that prominent Shia MPs and clerics paid
condolences on the Hariris, both in Beirut and in Sidon.
Hizballah Secretary General Hassan has adopted the same
approach, Berri said: The Shia need to see their leaders
honoring Hariri's memory, and the Sunnis need to see the Shia
showing proper respect. Berri expressed cautious optimism
that, "without another incident," the tensions would soon
ease. (Newspapers in Beirut today were filled with
photographs of Ashura marchers carrying placards bearing
Hariri's portrait alongside Nasrallah's.)

MODERATING THE LOYALISTS


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





4. (C) Berri said that he was trying to play a similar
moderating role in promoting dialogue between the GOL and the
opposition, which so far has refused to meet with government
ministers. The second "loyalist" conference, held at the
Speaker's official residence in 'Ain al-Tina in West Beirut
on 2/20, was intentionally moderate in tone, he said, "at my
request." He said that some members argued for "strong
measures" against opposition demonstrations today, but others
shouted down the confrontational approach. In the end, the
loyalists said in their communique their desire for
"dialogue" with the opposition, words for which Berri claimed
credit. Shaking his head, Berri said that "I know I am the
only one" capable of bridging the divide between the loyalist
and opposition camps.

MEETING WITH THE OPPOSITION


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





5. (C) In that regard, Berri said that, earlier on 2/21, he
had taken the initiative to meet with over 40 Members of
Parliament from all the key opposition factions. While Druse
Leader Walid Jumblatt was not there in person out of concern
for his own security, Jumblatt sent others to represent him.
Berri expressed some frustration that the "opposition doesn't
know what it wants." Do they want a Syrian withdrawal? Do
they want the government to resign? Do they want to
concentrate on free and fair elections? Do they want to see
an investigation into Hariris' death? The Ambassador
suggested that perhaps they want all of those steps.

OPPPOSITION REBUFFS BERRI'S HOPE
FOR WORK ON ELECTION LAW


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





6. (C) Berri said that he tried to persuade the opposition
into moving quickly to debate and pass an electoral law.
Elections, in Berri's view, are essential as "the only way to
solve this crisis." But the opposition claimed it would be
"shameful" (Berri used the Arabic word 'aib) to have
committee sessions so soon after Hariri's death. "Why?"
Berri asked rhetorically. "Wouldn't it honor Hariri to pass
a good electoral law? Wasn't Hariri worried about the
election law?" Berri said that he had tried to reach out his
hand to the opposition by telling them that, if they wanted,
he would now readily abandon his previous hesitations and
wholeheartedly embrace the qada' small districting in the
current law. "I asked Nayla Mouawad and Nassib Lahoud: 'Have
you ever heard me before say that I am for the qada'? I want
to show you I want to work with you."

BERRI CONCEDES TO HOLD
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE ON CABINET


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





7. (C) With the opposition refusing to engage on the
election law for now, Berri said that he eventually accepted
their insistence on holding a vote of confidence on the
Karami government. The Speaker said that he would schedule
that vote on Monday. The opposition will lose the vote, he
said, "so what's the point?" The Ambassador noted that some
"loyalist" MPs, sensing the mood on the street, might in fact
vote against the confidence. "They still won't win," Berri
said, "and we will have lost a week when we should have been
working on the election law."

CALLING FOR USING
TAIF "CONSENSUS"


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





8. (C) The Ambassador reminded Berri that, besides support
for a credible investigation into Hariri's murder and free
and fair elections, the United States was also insisting on
full implementation of UNSCR 1559. As the demonstrators
outside Berri's office were shouting, it is time for Syrian
troops to leave Lebanon. Berri did not launch into his usual
defense of Syria being the only chance for Lebanon to avoid
its destabilizing demons. "I support Taif," Berri responded.
"We have a consensus on Taif. We must work from consensus,
especially now."



9. (C) In closing, Berri asked the Ambassador about the
Embassy's security precautions. The Ambassador responded
that we are constantly monitoring the situation and adjusting
our procedures and our moves accordingly. Berri nodded,
saying that he no longer traveled in his well-known
Parliamentary Speaker car. Now, he said, he has several
armored cars with "regular" license plates. He is switching
among these cars, although the Parliamentary Speaker car
still moves along the streets without him.

COMMENT


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





10. (C) Having come directly from his meeting with the
opposition MPs to his meeting with the Ambassador, Berri was
subdued. With the opposition refusing to deal either with
President Lahoud or Prime Minister Karami, Berri knows that
his role is pivotal. We do not believe that the opposition
has any love for Berri, either, given his fealty to Syria.
But opposition politicians are still at this point trying to
work within the existing system by showing respect for the
Office of the Speaker. Berri seems to be taking his
moderating role seriously, especially as he did not dismiss
out of hand the opposition call for a vote of confidence.
(For the sake of moving beyond an anti-Syrian crisis that
could potentially endanger his own grip on power, Berri
probably would have agreed to just about anything on the
election law, too. But we suspect that the opposition is
divided internally on what is best for legislative
elections.)



11. (C) The opposition MPs are starting from a position of
unusual strength. As the Ambassador and Berri met, outside
the Parliament, stretching from the site of Hariri's murder
to Hariri's grave, thousands of protestors waving the
Lebanese flag under crystal clear blue skies were chanting
for Syria to leave Lebanon. At the time of this cable
drafting, the GOL was, like Berri, trying to project a
moderating influence and not fall into a trap of provoking
the crowds. All traffic to the city center was stopped at
security checkpoints, but no one was being stopped from
joining the demonstrations. It is far from clear how
sustainable these demonstrations will be in the days to come,
or whether the demonstrators agree with the opposition MPs
that it is best to try to work through the Speaker's Office
to find areas of common ground. We expect that many of the
demonstrators are, in fact, more radical than most of the MPs
said to represent them.


FELTMAN