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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09BEIRUT911 2009-08-14 07:23:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

WILL THE REAL SYRIAN AMBASSADOR PLEASE STAND UP?

Tags:   PREL PGOV PINR PTER MARR MOPS LE SY 
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PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
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P 140723Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5529
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
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RHMCSUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000911 

SIPDIS

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ALSO FOR IO A/S BRIMMER
P FOR DRUSSELL, RRANGASWAMY
DRL/NESA FOR WHITMAN, BARGHOUT
PARIS FOR JMILLER
USUN FOR WOLFF/GERMAIN/SCHEDLBAUER
NSC FOR SHAPIRO, MCDERMOTT
DOD/OSD FOR FLOURNOY/KAHL/DALTON
OVP FOR HMUSTAFA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/12/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR PTER MARR MOPS LE SY
SUBJECT: WILL THE REAL SYRIAN AMBASSADOR PLEASE STAND UP?

REF: A. BEIRUT 01542

B. DAMASCUS 562

Classified By: Ambassador Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel Karim has been
essentially absent from the political scene since his March
2009 appointment, supplanted by various informal
interlocutors, most recently Lebanese Druze opposition leader
Wiam Wahhab. Damascus' use of such intermediaries increases
its leverage in Lebanon as Lebanese politicos sense the tide
shifting back towards Damascus. Political contacts note
Syria's historical use of Lebanese allies as "message men,"
and opine that, with the two countries' "exceptional
relationship" enshrined in the Taif Accord, the best way
forward remains to strengthen the Lebanese state. End
summary.

A CHIMERAL EMBASSY


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





2. (U) The insignificance of Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali
Abdel Karim to Syria's overall relationship with Lebanon has
become increasingly apparent following the June 2009
parliamentary elections. Karim has avoided the spotlight
since his March 2009 appointment, arriving in Beirut weekly
on Thursday afternoons and returning to Damascus on Sundays.
Karim has reportedly not visited with any Lebanese
politicians (even Syria's many allies in Lebanon), with the
exception of President Michel Sleiman, whom he has seen
twice, the first time to present his credentials.

TOYING WITH LEBANON'S
POLITICOS


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





3. (U) Instead of using Ambassador Karim to carry out its
political goals, Damascus is apparently currently favoring
Druze opposition figure Wiam Wahhab for the task. Operating
through Wahhab shows that Syria rewards loyalty and increases
Syria's leverage: Damascus is free to choose a new
unofficial representative in Lebanon at any moment, thus
encouraging other Lebanese politicians to jockey for Syria's
blessing. A visit from Wahhab, who has recently visited such
prominent figures as Walid Jumblatt, Amin Gemayel, and Michel
Murr, has become a dog whistle in the Lebanese political
consciousness that the personality in question is signaling a
new openness to Syria. Wahhab is only the first
interlocutor, though: following an August 11 meeting with
Wahhab, Michel Murr declared that he would "telephone the
(Syrian) presidential palace" (not work through diplomatic
channels or through Wahhab) when the time is right for a
visit to Damascus.

A HYDRA-HEADED RELATIONSHIP


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





4. (C) According to Al-Akhbar senior editorialist Nicholas
Nassif, Lebanon-Syria diplomatic relations, built on the
French mandate model, offer a limited role for ambassadors.
Ambassadors were charged with official diplomatic relations
according to international law, mainly related to commercial
concerns and the interests of citizens abroad. The real
work of diplomacy -- discussions of regional and domestic
issues and foreign affairs -- historically occurred between
presidents or prime ministers. Along these lines, Nasri
Khoury, the head of the post-1991 Syrian-Lebanese Higher
Council (reftel) was a "postman" between the countries,
playing a strictly coordination role. Khoury's role grew
after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former Prime
Minister Rafiq Hariri -- which terminated all visits and
discussions between Lebanese and Syrian prime ministers --
but Damascus favored personal links with its Lebanese

BEIRUT 00000911 002 OF 002


political allies to exert its influence, Nassif said.
However, despite Saad Hariri's assertion to us on July 21
that the Syrians had committed to the Saudis that all signed
agreements previously approved by the Higher Council would be
redone through the Syrian embassy, the Higher Council is
still active. On August 13 a sub-committee of the Council
announced that it would head the investigation of recent
violent border clashes between villagers in the Aarsal region
north of Baalbeck.



5. (C) The three most important relationships between Lebanon
and Syria, Nassif opined, are the relationship between the
two presidents, the relationship between the two armies, and
the relationship between the Syrian regime and its allies in
Lebanon. Damascus' relations with its allies in Lebanon are
most critical to the regime; ties between he presidents and
the armies can cease (and haveseveral times in the past),
but Syria, through its proxies, has always maintained its
ability to exert direct influence in Lebanon.

REFORMING THE SYSTEM


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





6. (C) "Exceptional relations" between Lebanon and Syria,
called for in the Taif Accord and reaffirmed in the 1991
"Fraternity, Cooperation and Coordination Treaty," will be
difficult to annul, especially in their informal form.
However, as Nassif told Poloff, the international community
can "create controls" in the bilateral relationship. Efforts
to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) enable the GOL
to demand border security and delineation, putting the
neighbors on more equal footing. Continuing pressure for
actual diplomatic relations that limit the role of
Damascus-based Khoury and informal interlocutors such as
Wahhab would strengthen Lebanon as well.

COMMENT


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





7. (C) The much-ballyhooed establishment of a Syrian embassy
in Beirut is a good symbol that has remained just that. As
Lebanese politicians sense that Syrian influence in Lebanon
is strengthening, a number are opening their doors wide to
Syrian proxies and keeping mum about the need for all
relations to be government-to-government. Proxy
relationships offer Syria a deniability that it will be
loathe to relinquish, much less when a decreasing number in
Lebanon are complaining. End comment.

SISON