|08BEIRUT175||2008-02-06 19:41:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Beirut|
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1. (C) During Ambassador Sison's introductory call on
February 6, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora urged the USG to
issue a "clear position of support" for the Arab League
Initiative (ALI), which he described as "the only game in
town right now" to resolve Lebanon's political crisis. He
said USG silence on this issue will be used as an excuse
should the ALI fail. He commended USG efforts to raise funds
for the Special Tribunal and promised to follow up personally
with the KSA. In addition, Siniora stressed the importance
of continued long-term USG political, economic and military
support for Lebanon. Finally, he urged Ambassador Sison to
emphasize the bipartisan nature of the USG's commitment to
Lebanon. "It will defeat those who wait the vacuum to
continue through the U.S. presidential elections." End
"Welcome to the Land of Organized Chaos"
2. (C) During their first meeting, Prime Minister Siniora
provided Ambassador Sison with a short historic overview of
Lebanese politics and cited numerous examples of foreign
nations that had been "drawn into the quicksand of this
country." Turning to the present day, he said that it is
important to remember Lebanon in a regional context. Siniora
said that the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to have an
enormous impact on Lebanon. As he often does with first time
visitors, he raised the issue of Sheba'a Farms. He lamented
the fact that Lebanon had become a battlefield in the
struggle for power among regional actors.
GOL Continues Under Siege
3. (C) The Prime Minister assured the Ambassador that the
government he heads continues to function, although it has
faced more challenges than any other in Lebanon's history.
"We won't surrender. We believe in what we are doing."
Since 2004, Lebanon has endured political assassinations, the
2006 conflict with Israel, the resignation of key cabinet
members, a parliament that has been inactive for over 16
months, assassinations directed against both the Lebanese
Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces, and a
presidential vacuum. Even with these stresses and
provocations, Siniora said that the Lebanese do want to
eventually have good relations with their Syrian neighbors to
ensure long-term peace and stability.
Opposition Will Not Support the Arab League Initiative
4. (C) Turning to Arab League SYG Amr Moussa's proposed visit
to Beirut on February 7, Siniora wondered what impact it
would have. He said that Moussa was coming to "market" the
ALI. When asked by the Ambassador for his interpretation of
the ALI, Siniora said it is a call for the immediate election
for a president and then the formation of a cabinet in which
the majority cannot impose its will and the minority cannot
block government initiatives.
5. (C) However, according to Siniora, the opposition lost
interest in LAF Commander General Michel Sleiman when he
became the March 14th consensus candidate. March 14th took
an internal decision to compromise and agree on Sleiman's
candidacy and now it is obvious that the opposition is
"trying to make him nervous so he will make concessions in
advance of the elections." Siniora has advised Sleiman to
sit back, relax and continue to act like the military and
national hero that he is.
6. (C) Looking forward, Siniora feels there is no sense of
urgency from the opposition to resolve the current political
crisis. He said that the Syrians excel in "brinksmanship"
and he recalled former PM Rafik Hariri relaying that the
Syrians had promised to "break Lebanon over his head" when
their influential role in Lebanese politics was challenged.
Siniora said that Aoun will continue to act as a shield for
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Syria and Hizballah and that the strength of the opposition's
media machine is difficult to counter.
Specific Requests for USG Support
7. (C) When asked by the Ambassador for his thoughts on
desired specific USG actions to signal support, Siniora first
asked for a clear statement of support for the ALI. "Your
silence will be used as an excuse for the failure of this
initiative. By supporting it publicly, you will avoid taking
8. (C) The Prime Minister and his senior advisor, Mohamed
Chatah, both asked the Ambassador to stress the bipartisan
nature of the USG's support for Lebanon. In their opinion,
there are those who want to "wait out" Lebanon's current
political crisis in the hope of a change in USG policy under
a new administration. Public statements of bipartisan
support will defeat this rationale and delaying tactic.
9. (C) The Prime Minister welcomed USG efforts to raise
additional funding for the Special Tribunal in advance of the
third anniversary on February 14th of Rafik Hariri's
assassination. Siniora added, "Leave the Saudis to me." He
did ask for USG assistance to speed up the actual transfer of
cash from Kuwait and the UAE, however.
10. (C) The Prime Minister finished his list by reiterating
the need for continued long-term political, economic and
military support for Lebanon. "It will be a lot cheaper for
you to help us now rather than later," he said.
11. (C) Siniora was relaxed and conversational during this
first meeting with Ambassador. In light of his request, post
recommends that when she sees Amr Moussa in Beirut (meeting
expected to be February 8), Ambassador make clear to Amr
Moussa that the USG supports the Arab League initiative
because it has as its goal bringing about unconditional
presidential election in Lebanon. Similarly, we intend to
respond to press inquiries about the ALI with the same
language. End Comment.