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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07BEIRUT1163 2007-08-02 11:24:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

SURPRISING MESSAGE FROM THE PRO-SYRIAN CAMP:

Tags:   PREL KDEM PGOV LE SY 
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VZCZCXRO9134
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #1163/01 2141124
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 021124Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8955
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 1405
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001163 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/MARCHESE/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/02/2027
TAGS: PREL KDEM PGOV LE SY
SUBJECT: SURPRISING MESSAGE FROM THE PRO-SYRIAN CAMP:
LAHOUD TO GO, AND SINIORA'S PRETTY GOOD AFTER ALL

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

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
-------------------



1. (C) In a 8/1 meeting with the Ambassador, former
Minister Wadih al-Khazen -- close to both Lebanese President
Emile Lahoud and Maronite Patriarch Sfeir -- insisted that
Emile Lahoud will leave the presidency on schedule on
November 24. Khazen also made a surprising proposition: if
the USG wants Lebanon's parliament to elect a March
14-aligned president, then we should help broker a deal by
which PM Fouad Siniora returns to head the post-election
cabinet. The Syrians will relax about the presidency if they
know that Siniora will be PM rather than the rash,
inexperienced Saad Hariri. The Ambassador expressed
skepticism, given the energetic attempts by Syria's Lebanese
allies to destroy Siniora's reputation and government.
Khazen responded that Syria, at last recognizing the need for
improved relations with Lebanon, sees a new president with
Siniora as appropriate interlocutors.



2. (C) Curiously, in what we thought at the time was a
throwaway comment, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told the
Ambassador a few days earlier that Siniora, whose existence
Berri prefers to ignore, was the best PM Lebanon has ever
had. But we do not believe that Syria and its adulterous
Lebanese allies are suddenly desirous of a summer fling with
Siniora. Instead, we suspect that the pro-Syrians hope to
use us to create destructive dissension inside the Hariri
bloc, to promote distrust between Hariri (who does not hide
his ambition to be PM this autumn) and Siniora. The
pro-Syrians may also wish that we start to suspect Siniora of
unspoken ties to the Syrian regime. End summary and comment.


LAHOUD TO LEAVE ON SCHEDULE


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





3. (C) The invariably impeccably coifed Wadih al-Khazen
(who enjoyed one of the shorter ministerial reigns in
Lebanon's history -- joining Omar Karami's "made-in-Damascus"
2004-5 cabinet as Minister of Tourism only ten days before
Karami resigned, toppling the cabinet, due to mass public
revulsion after Rafiq Hariri's murder) asked to see the
Ambassador "with an important message." Coming to the
Embassy on 8/1, Khazen -- personal friends of both Emile
Lahoud and Maronite Patriarch Sfeir -- opened with a gentle
admonishment that, just become some Lebanese political
figures might envision different ways of "protecting Lebanon"
than the USG would prefer, the USG should not dismiss them as
traitors. Moreover, just because someone is a personal
friend of someone the USG is boycotting, the USG should not
assume that the views of that someone correspond fully with
those of his boycotted friend. Trying to show some openness
to the March 14 point of view, Khazen reminded the Ambassador
that his sister Shadia is married to March 14 MP and an-Nahar
publisher Ghassan Tueni.



4. (C) Moving to business, Khazen said that he had a brief
message from the President of the Republic: Lahoud
recognizes that there is no possible constitutional
interpretation that would allow him to remain in Baabda
Palace "a minute passed midnight" on November 24. Lahoud
will exit the presidency on time, come what may. "Do not
believe" the rumors that Lahoud will find an excuse to cling
tenuously to office after November 24.

MARCH 14 PRESIDENCY: NOT IMPOSSIBLE
IF SINIORA -- NOT SAAD -- COMES BACK AS PM


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





5. (C) Noting he had a second message, Khazen said that it
would not be impossible to have a president from within the
March 14 ranks, as long as that president would not adopt a
"confrontational" approach to Syria. The Ambassador
responded that, to the best of our knowledge, all of the
presidential candidates want an excellent relationship with
Syria, but one based on mutual respect of each country's
sovereignty and the acceptance of non-interference in the
internal affairs of the other. "Exactly," Khazen responded,
insisting (despite evidence to the contrary provided by the
Ambassador) that Syria has finally accepted that it must
establish normal, positive diplomatic channels with Lebanon.

BEIRUT 00001163 002 OF 002





6. (C) But for Syria to relax about the presidency, Syria
needed reassurances that the Lebanese PM, too, would not be
confrontational. If the USG could help assemble a package
including the name of the prime minister to be appointed
after presidential elections (as the start of a new
presidential term forces the formation of a new cabinet),
then Syria will more readily stand aside as Lebanon's
parliament elects a March 14 president. Specifically, Khazen
said, Syria will be more comfortable if Fouad Siniora returns
as PM rather than yield the office to Saad Hariri, who wants
it.



7. (C) The Ambassador expressed astonishment and
skepticism. Syria and its Lebanese allies have attempted to
undermine Siniora and his cabinet since 2005, working with
particular gusto to topple Siniora since November 2006. And
now we are supposed to believe that, not only does Syria want
Siniora, but by getting a promise of Siniora, then the
presidency can go toward March 14? Admitting that it sounded
strange, Khazen said that is exactly what he has learned from
credible contacts. The point is that the Syrians do not
trust someone as inexperienced and rash as Saad Hariri.
Siniora, the devil that they know, is solid, steady, and
predictable. The bad relationship now is based on current
politics that will change with the new president.

7, (C) Moreover, Khazen continued (returning to an earlier
theme), Syria has finally recognized that it cannot have the
control over Lebanon it had previously. Syria believes that
it can remain influential in Lebanon but will need to rely on
normal diplomatic activities to do so. In recognizing that
it must turn over a new leaf with Lebanon, Syria sees the
need for credible interlocutors, and having Siniora on board
with a new president will help. The Ambassador noted that
the Lebanese parliament, not the USG, has the power to select
both the president (through elections in the parliament) and
the prime minister (through binding consultations). Syria
would thus be well advised simply to allow the Lebanese
parliament to do its job.

COMMENT


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





8. (C) What's going on here? Since Fouad Siniora was sworn
into office in July 2005, Syria and its allies have
concentrated on undermining his credibility and authority.
After the Shia ministerial walk-out in November 2006, the
anti-Siniora attacks grew in ferocity and viciousness. Now,
in a one-on-one conversation with the Ambassador a couple of
days ago, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri made a comment that,
at the time, we thought was a throwaway line to disarm us.
Lamenting that politics and constitutional niceties
interrupted his relationship with Siniora, Berri described
Siniora as the best Prime Minister Lebanon has ever had. And
Khazen, one of Emile Lahoud's childhood friends, hints that
he is carrying Syrian messages in claiming that it will be
easier to get a March 14 president if we can guarantee that
Siniora will come back to head the cabinet against
post-elections. A "two-fer" for us, if Khazen is to be
believed.



9. (C) In our view, having a March 14 president combined
with a Fouad Siniora premiership would be a superb line-up in
terms of strengthening the Lebanese state, Lebanese
democracy, and Lebanese independence. While we defer to
Embassy Damascus for an analysis of Syria's goals, we expect
Syrian objectives are quite different. Khazen appeared
sincere in his delivery, but we expect the underlying purpose
of his message (even if obscure to the dapper but dim
messenger) was not benevolent. Thinking over the surprising
conversation, we suspect that Syria's friends in Lebanon hope
to enlist our unwitting help in splitting the Hariri house
between those who will back Saad Hariri as the heir apparent
for the premiership (especially as Saad has made his wishes
to become PM known) and those who prefer to stick with
Siniora. They may also hope that, in the process, we start
to wonder whether Siniora might harbor s ecret connections to
Damascus. In any case, we chalk up our surprising and
pleasant enough conversation to another one of those
only-in-Lebanon experiences.
FELTMAN