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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07BEIRUT1139 2007-07-30 04:07:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LAF COMMANDER SLEIMAN ON THE PRESIDENCY

Tags:   PREL PGOV PARM KDEM LE SY 
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NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/MARCHESE/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/29/2027
TAGS: PREL PGOV PARM KDEM LE SY
SUBJECT: LAF COMMANDER SLEIMAN ON THE PRESIDENCY


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



1. (C) In a 7/27 meeting with the Ambassador and DATT that
concentrated mostly on the fighting in Nahr al-Barid
(septel), Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Michel Sleiman also
spoke briefly of Lebanon's upcoming presidential elections.
The Ambassador raised concerns that remarks attributed to
Sleiman about resigning if there were a second cabinet or a
vacancy in the presidency. The Ambassador noted that this
implied a threat, that the army would be the next national
institution paralyzed. (Note: Should Sleiman step down,
Chief of Staff Shawki Masri would be Acting Commander. But,
as a Druse allied with Walid Jumblatt and bereft of any
perceptible leadership qualities, Masri is incapable of
keeping the LAF together. End note.)



2. (C) Sleiman insisted that his remarks had been
misinterpreted. Noting that he was quoted second-hand in the
media by those who had met with him, Sleiman said that, in
order to preserve the unity of the army, he would not in fact
submit his resignation until he was certain that a smooth
presidential transition was underway. But he is not making
that commitment public. To the extent that his remarks were
a threat, they were intended to frighten people into making
sure that a president is elected on time and according to the
constitution. His remarks add to the pressure in favor of
presidential elections.



3. (C) As for his own ambitions, Sleiman acknowledged the
Ambassador's comment that his name is often mentioned as a
potential compromise candidate. Sleiman emphasized that his
highest priority is to ensure the unity and continuation of
the LAF. If he is asked to serve as a compromise
presidential candidate, he will readily serve his country.
But his presidential goals are secondary to his commitment to
the LAF. For the same reasons, he categorically rejected the
suggestion that he would accept being head of a second
cabinet or serving (a la Michel Aoun in 1988-90) a Maronite
Prime Minister over a cabinet that would hold the
presidential powers until such time as presidential elections
could be organized.



4. (C) The Ambassador noted that MP Michel Murr is peddling
the idea of a two-year presidency as a way out of what
appears to be an impending deadlock over how to fill the
normal six-year presidential term. Sleiman said that his
view differed from Murr's. For the president to have
sufficient weight and authority, he should be elected for the
full six-year term. However, perhaps the president could
quietly agree before his election that, if the 2009
parliamentary elections radically change the composition of
the parliament, the president could resign after only two
years, in order to allow the new parliament to elect a new
president that reflects the new popular will.



5. (C) Briefly channeling Michel Aoun, Sleiman responded to
the Ambassador's question about Hizballah by noting that
Lebanon's Christians and Shia need to stick together. Both
are minorities trying to preserve their place in a
Sunni-dominated region. Unlike the Sunnis, the Christians
and Shia have no place else to go, he argued. The Ambassador
responded that Lebanon has a cosmopolitan, moderate Sunni
class including prominent leaders such as PM Fouad Siniora,
who are as Lebanese in spirit as the Christians and Shia.
Sleiman readily agreed.



6. (C) Comment: Sleiman made some reassuring comments in
this meeting: his categorical rejection of the idea of
heading a second cabinet, his refusal to become prime
minister (a la Michel Aoun) in the absence of presidential
elections, and his stated commitment not to resign from the
LAF (his quoted remarks notwithstanding) until a presidential
transition is assured. What we do not know is how sincerely
those comments reflect his true intentions, or, even if they
do, whether he would muster the will to refuse Syrian orders
(as he reportedly did in allowing the March 14, 2005
anti-Syrian demonstration to take place). Sleiman's current
links to Syria remain somewhat of a mystery, but there are
sufficient rumors to worry us. We remember -- and not fondly
-- the public remarks he made in April 2005 when the Syrian
army left Lebanon and in August 2006 when the LAF started its
historic deployment to the south. Neither set of remarks
would win him any friends in the pro-independence camp. He
would not, in short, be our first choice for president,
although, buoyed by Nahr al-Barid fight and the public

BEIRUT 00001139 002 OF 002


solidarity behind the LAF, he is rapidly becoming a
front-runner. End comment.
FELTMAN