|10RIYADH131||2010-01-30 11:51:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Riyadh|
VZCZCXRO2253 PP RUEHROV DE RUEHRH #0131/01 0301151 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 301151Z JAN 10 FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2404 INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN PRIORITY 0461 RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH PRIORITY 0571
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIYADH 000131
1. (C) During a January 26 meeting with Assistant Secretary
Feltman, Culture Minister Abdulaziz Khoja urged us to share
our thoughts on Iraq with FM Prince Saud Al-Faisal; said the
Saudis remained convinced of Iranian support for the Houthis
in Yemen; expressed concern about the possibility of Israel
striking Hezbollah or Iran; and assured us that the improved
Saudi-Syrian relationship would not come at the expense of
Lebanon. He also praised Saudi-U.S. cooperation and its
positive impact on Lebanon, and described his plans for
transforming the Saudi Ministry of Information and Culture.
WORKING HARD ON IPR
2. (U) A/S Feltman began by thanking Khoja and his Ministry
for the work they had done on IPR and copyright issues.
"This is very important and we have been working very hard,"
Khoja said, adding that they were hopeful their efforts would
result in Saudi Arabia's removal from the 301 Watch List.
SHARE VIEWS WITH FM SAUD RE: IRAQ
3. (C) Turning to politics, Khoja asked A/S Feltman for his
views on recent events in the region, mentioning Iran, Iraq,
and Lebanon, in particular. We saw several trends in Iraq,
explained Feltman, many positive, and some negative.
Increased evidence of cross-sectarian coalition building in
the lead-up to the March elections was a positive sign, as
was evidence that Iraqi Shia leaders appeared to be
benefiting politically when they were seen as demonstrating
their independence vis-a-vis Iran. "Even the Shia?," Khoja
remarked, agreeing that this was an encouraging development.
Taking notes throughout the conversation, Khoja urged Feltman
to raise this issue with FM Saud. Those close to the King
were aware that engaging Iraq was important, he continued,
but the fact was the King did not like or trust Iraqi PM Nuri
Al-Maliki. "I hope you can talk to Saud about this," he
urged again, adding that he would try to relay the message to
both FM Saud and the King later that day.
IRAN AND YEMEN
4. (C) Feltman then discussed current U.S. thinking on both
Iran and Yemen. On Iran, he detailed the steps taken by the
Obama administration, noting that the Iranian response had
been "disappointing" at all levels. On Yemen, we were very
pleased with productive U.S.-Saudi cooperation, although we
still differed in our assessment of Iran's role in the Houthi
conflict. The Saudis remained convinced of Iran's
involvement, Khoja acknowledged, adding that they suspected
Eritrea and possibly Somalia were acting as conduits for
Iranian assistance. Asked about Houthi leader Abdel Malik
Al-Houthi's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire and
withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Khoja replied that it might be
serious; however, the Houthis were also looking for an
opportunity to talk to the Saudis directly. In any case, if
the Houthis did indeed withdraw, the Saudis would have no
reason to follow them into Yemeni territory.
5. (C) Moving on to Syria, Feltman highlighted U.S. efforts
to reach out to Syria, concluding that in our view, the ball
was now in Syria's court. He cited specific instances of
unhelpful Syrian behavior, and raised concerns regarding both
continued Syrian assistance to Hezbollah and the possibility
of Syria trying to leverage its improved relations with Saudi
Arabia to put pressure on Lebanon. Khoja responded that the
Saudis did not want to see this happen. Reacting to
Feltman's comments about Damascus-based satellite channel
Al-Rai, Khoja described steps taken by a group of Arab
Information Ministers in Cairo to limit the broadcast of
political incitement on satellites under their control. He
expressed concern that Israel would strike Hezbollah, then
move on to Iran, and wondered whether or not U.S. efforts to
avoid a military conflict in the region would succeed.
RIYADH 00000131 002.2 OF 002
HARIRI, LEBANON "DOING WELL"
6. (C) The discussion then turned to Lebanon. Khoja said
that he saw Lebanese PM Saad Hariri often, and that he was
"doing well." Smiling broadly, he noted that Hariri and Asad
now talk from time to time. Asked about Asad's January 13-15
visit to Saudi Arabia he said it was "very good," and that
Asad had visited Jeddah, the King Abdullah University of
Science and Technology (KAUST) and King Abdulllah Economic
City (KAEC). Quickly turning the conversation back to
Lebanon, Khoja praised the Saudi-U.S. partnership, observing
that together "we saved Lebanon many times." He said that he
no longer maintained significant contacts with Hezbollah, but
spoke occasionally with Fadlallah. Nasrallah, he was sure,
"didn't like him anymore."
KHOJA'S PLANS FOR MEDIA REFORM
7. (C) Discussing his current role as Minister of Culture
and Information, Khoja said he questioned the whole Ministry
of Information concept and hoped to spin-off television,
radio, and news agency operations in the near future. He
highlighted his recent efforts to liberalize the Saudi press,
and promote a more professional journalistic culture. "You
can criticize anyone now," he said proudly.
8. (U) A/S Feltman has cleared on this cable.