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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07BEIRUT691 2007-05-17 12:58:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LEBANON: PATRIARCH SFEIR DISMISSES POPULAR

Tags:   PGOV PREL LE 
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VZCZCXRO8411
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0691/01 1371258
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 171258Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8201
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 1106
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000691 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/MARCHESE/HARDING

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: PATRIARCH SFEIR DISMISSES POPULAR
ELECTIONS, PROPOSES CARETAKER CABINET


Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman. Reason: Sections 1.4 (b
) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) In a May 15 meeting with visiting NEA A/S Welch and
the Ambassador, Maronite Patriarch Sfeir -- commemorating his
87th birthday on the same day -- reported that his rare visit
to President Emile Lahoud the previous week was to warn
against Lahoud's appointment of a second cabinet. Lahoud did
not respond. Sfeir mused about the possibility for a small
technocratic cabinet to maintain authority in Lebanon until
presidential elections could be held on time in the fall. As
for presidential candidates, Sfeir again gave no names, but
explained that presidential candidate Michel Aoun retains
support among Christians who had feel worried about their
status. Sfeir said that instituting popular election of the
President is "impossible" and, because of extensive Christian
emigration out of Lebanon, would not produce results in
Aoun's favor. Lastly, Sfeir demonstrated visible distaste
for the idea of dispatching a Vatican envoy to Lebanon. End
Summary.

SFEIR'S PROPOSAL FOR LAHOUD


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





2. (C) Chuckling in response to A/S Welch's comment about
Sfeir's recent "very interesting meeting", the Patriarch
explained that he felt it was his "duty" to visit President
Lahoud on May 11. Suggesting that the idea emerged from the
Maronite Bishops' Council, Sfeir noted his trip to Baabda was
a natural escalation of his previous two messages to Lahoud:
At the Christmas 2005 mass, the Patriarch advised Lahoud from
the pulpit that he hoped the President would have the wisdom
to quit the presidency. Also, several months ago, Sfeir
wrote a letter, convoyed by a bishop, to the president
expressing the same wishes in more explicit terms.



3. (C) Sfeir emphasized to Lahoud the danger of a
two-government situation, a situation that would be dangerous
for Lebanon and for Lahoud himself. Lahoud did not respond
to Sfeir's counsel not to appoint a second cabinet that would
be considered illegitimate by the world and that would split
the country. Citing a four-minister precedent from the
1950s, Sfeir mused about the possibility of a compromise
political maneuver to Lahoud: that a small technocratic
cabinet be formed to run the country until presidential
elections can be held as anticipated in the fall.



4. (C) According to Sfeir, Lahoud's response to the temporary
technocratic cabinet was "times have changed," a response
that suggests Lahoud was not on board with the proposal.
Lahoud offered no other responses to Sfeir's points, and
Sfeir admitted that the president "has his own ideas."
Sfeir, however, said the two had had a good visit overall and
Lahoud appeared to listen to the Patriarch's views, even if
he did not agree with them all.

THE PRESIDENCY AND AOUN'S "IMPOSSIBLE" PLAN


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





5. (C) Sfeir reiterated his calls for a president who is
equidistant from the March 14 Coalition and March 8
opposition, explaining that a president tied to one group
will not be accepted by the other group. Sfeir said he
avoids mentioning names of potential candidates because of
the sensitivity of the issue of the president among
Christians in Lebanon. Responding to A/S Welch's statement
that the next president of Lebanon should not take
instructions from outside actors, Sfeir agreed. He commented
that Syrian influence in the country, was "very difficult."
Although Syrian troops are gone, Damascus maintains influence
in Lebanese politics. As an example of Syrian involvement in
Lebanese affairs, Sfeir described the transfer of Syrian arms
to some parties in Lebanon.



6. (C) A/S Welch, the Ambassador, and Sfeir then discussed
the one Christian who has been extremely outspoken about his
aspirations for the presidency, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)
leader General Michel Aoun. Sfeir declared that Aoun's
recent insistence on a popular election for the president is
"impossible." A popular election would not even produce an
election result in Aoun's favor, in addition to being outside
the terms of the Constitution. Sfeir assessed that the
extensive emigration of Christians from Lebanon would swing

BEIRUT 00000691 002 OF 002


the popular vote away from Aoun and, in fact, election of the
president by popular vote could endanger the status of the
presidency as a Christian institution.



7. (C) The Ambassador asked Sfeir if Aoun's supporters
realized the potential repercussions of their allegiance to
the General and his plan for popular elections. Sfeir said
that Aoun's followers had previously felt "oppressed" and saw
Aoun as their "savior." (Comment: Sfeir repeated these
phrases several times as apparent justification for the
willingness of FPM members to follow blindly in the General's
misguided presidential aspirations. End Comment.) Sfeir
admitted that only a "few wise men" see through Aoun's
maneuvers.



8. (C) Moving into one of his most frequently cited concerns,
Sfeir delved further into the issue of Lebanese Christian
emigration at several points in the meeting. He claimed that
the number of Lebanese living in Qatar had spiked from 5,000
to 30,000 in the span of a few months because of inadequate
employment opportunities in Lebanon. Sfeir claimed that many
of the Lebanese living in Qatar were university-educated but,
unable to find work at home, moved abroad for employment.
Additionally, Sfeir mentioned that 80 Maronite churches --
led by two bishops -- serve the Lebanese population in the
United States.

STILL OPPOSED TO VATICAN ENVOY


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





9. (C) Sfeir discussed his visit to the Vatican earlier this
month. He said that Vatican officials were well-briefed on
the situation in Lebanon and asked what they could do to
help. Sfeir said that the Vatican hesitates to send an envoy
without assurance that the mission would be successful. The
Patriarch described "success" as agreement among Lebanese
Christians that they would support the Papal envoy's mission
and any potential conclusions that arose from the mission.
Sfeir asserted that if the mission were to fail or at best be
seen as not having any positive impact, a visit by Vatican
envoy would be detrimental to both the Vatican and Lebanese
Christians.



10. (C) Regarding Lebanon's current lack of political
consensus, Sfeir commented that, at least, what is happening
in the country is, in fact, a sign of freedom. He claimed
that extended political opposition and public demonstrations,
although harmful to Lebanon, would not be tolerated elsewhere
in the region. The Patriarch asserted that Lebanon's mixed
demographic make-up, in which Muslims and Christians live
together and largely get along with each other, is extremely
important and very rare in the Middle East.

GRATITUDE FOR U.S. SUPPORT


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





11. (C) Throughout the meeting, Sfeir thanked A/S Welch for
generous U.S. security assistance and diplomatic attention to
his country. He mentioned that he looked forward to
continued contact with high-level American visitors.
Additionally, Sfeir commented that an hour before his meeting
with A/S Welch and the Ambassador, he had received Lebanese
Armed Forces Intelligence Director General Georges Khoury,
who commented that his recent visit to the United States had
been successful.

COMMENT


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





12. (C) Despite turning 87 years old on the day of A/S
Welch's visit, Patriarch Sfeir appears more vigorous and
engaged than he had a few months ago. His basic instincts --
opposing a second government, mistrust of Aoun, wish for
Lahoud to depart the scene -- are sound, so increased
political interventions by the Patriarch are something to
welcome. We suspect that his concern about a Vatican envoy
has more to do with turf concerns and wariness of oversight
than fear of a Vatican failure.



12. (U) This message has not been cleared by A/S Welch.
FELTMAN