ID : 41477
Date : 2005-09-27 15:09:00
Origin : 05BEIRUT3122
Source : Embassy Beirut
Classification : CONFIDENTIAL
P 271509Z SEP 05
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9857
INFO ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L BEIRUT 003122
NSC FOR ABRAMS/DANON/POUNDS
E.O. 12958 : DECL : 09/28/2015
TAGS : KDEM, LE, PGOV, PREL, SY, UNGA
SUBJECT : MGLE01 : AMBASSADOR’S MEETING WITH FOREIGN MINISTER — U.S.-LEBANESE COOPERATION GOING WELL
Classified By : Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador. Reason : Sections 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary : On September 27, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fawzi Salloukh met with Ambassador and Poloff to discuss the recent Lebanese meetings in the U.S. The Minister was in good spirits. He expressed his overall satisfaction with the reception he received in the U.S., including a side visit that took the Minister to Dearborn, Michigan to meet with the Lebanese-American community there. The Minister said he was pleased with the degree of cooperation his government was enjoying with the USG and he hoped to continue that cooperation. The Ambassador discussed local commentary on replacements for President Lahoud, Lebanese diplomatic appointments, and the arrival of the FBI team in Lebanon. Pulling the Ambassador aside, the Minister highlighted the importance of not isolating the Shia community, and offered to serve as a messenger to Hizballah, an offer the Ambassador politely refused. End Summary.
Clearing the air on assistance and conditions
2. (C) The Ambassador thanked Minister Salloukh for his help in dispelling rumors that the Core Group interest in was linked to compliance with UNSCR 1559, or other conditions to be imposed on Lebanon. The Minister launched into expressions of gratitude for the meetings in New York on the margins of the UNGA, and in Washington with USG officials and members of congress. The Minister frequently repeated that he was happy with the meetings, and with the outcome the Washington discussions. He was particularly pleased with his meeting with NEA A/S Welch, whom he described as "direct and transparent." He said the local criticism that the meetings had drawn in Lebanon was unwarranted. "Speaker Berri was critical of the form, not the substance of the meetings." Salloukh attributed the selected negative reaction in Beirut to a question posed by a Lebanese journalist about the conditionality to be imposed on assistance to Lebanon and on the subsequent misquoting of the Secretary’s response to the question. Salloukh volunteered that he circulated the real transcript of the interview to interested parties to correct the record.
3. (C) After Salloukh’s description of his efforts to correct the atmosphere, the Ambassador thanked him for his work. The unjustified verbal attacks on PM Siniora were of particular concern to the USG, the Ambassador explained. The Ambassador noted that he had visited Walid Jumblatt, who had made negative comments about the New York meeting after reading local press reports, and presented him with the transcript of the interview as well. Jumblatt disavowed his earlier criticisms. Salloukh added that he found that Washington understood the Lebanese position. The GOL understood that UNSCR 1559 was still on the table, but the USG had understood that Lebanon would work to "solve one problem after another."
Dearborn and Washington both successful
4. (C) Salloukh was proud that he was the first Lebanese Minster for Foreign Affairs to visit the Lebanese-American community in Dearborn, Michigan. The Minister said he was greeted in Dearborn by Christian as well as Muslim community leaders, including local bishops and sheikhs. The Minister said he perceived the American-Lebanese community as Americans proud of their Lebanese heritage. He said they seem satisfied with the level of bilateral cooperation. Salloukh explained that he had to interrupt his Michigan visit to rush to Washington to be at PM Siniora’s side during his meetings there. Outside of the Department, Salloukh met with Representatives Henry Hyde, Nick Rahall, Tom Lantos, and Darrell Issa. These meetings were short, as the Minister had to attend an IMF meeting. On his way out of the Capitol, the Minister and PM Siniora bumped into Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Salloukh said Secretary Rumsfeld expressed support for a "strong and stable Lebanon."
5. (C) The one unpleasant issue raised by the Minister was the publication of a comment, made off the record by the Prime Minister, regarding the potential need for President Lahoud to step down. According to Salloukh, Siniora was speaking to a reporter off-the record. That comment was published and topped with the headline "Siniora says Lahoud should resign." Despite the published comment, the Minister said that relations between Lahoud and Siniora were good. When asked by the Ambassador, the Minister also characterized the relations between Siniora and Speaker Berri as good, although with noticeably less conviction than had accompanied his earlier statement.
USG has no Presidential Candidates
6. (C) On that topic, the Ambassador explained that the USG had no favored candidate for President of the Republic in Lebanon, if the presidency were to become vacant. The decision to seek President Lahoud’s early departure, or to pick a replacement for President Lahoud, was not a matter to be determined by the USG or any other actor in the international community, the Ambassador affirmed. Salloukh agreed and added that although the Ambassador was free to discuss issues related to the presidency, or the possible character of a new president, Lebanese would never accept the "naming" of candidates by any foreign embassy.
FBI team is welcome
7. (C) The Ambassador briefed the Foreign Minister on the arrival of the FBI technical team requested by PM Siniora. The team will work at the direction and under the responsibility of the Lebanese justice system. They will not be independent actors. The Prime Minister had requested the team and the Embassy had relayed that request directly to the FBI. The Legatt from Jordan, with responsibilities for Lebanon, was already on site and working with local investigators. The Minister expressed his gratitude for USG assistance.
After Mehlis ? — We will see
8. (C) The Minister refused to speculate on what Lebanon would do once the Mehlis report is issued and the UNIIIC mandate under UNSCR 1595 came to an end. Salloukh said the Ministry of Justice has the lead on those issues and he, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, did not wish to intervene in the matter. However, the Minister did say that Lebanese are awaiting the report, and hope to have "the truth". The Ambassador expressed the hope that local expectations for the Mehlis report were not too high.
Diplomatic appointments will come
9. (C) The minister, who had been very comfortable during the conversation, became visibly ill at ease when the Ambassador asked him about possible diplomatic appointments. Salloukh said, "We should do it." "I am preparing." The Minister added that he had discussed the issue with the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Parliament and all agreed that appointments should be made. The Ambassador reminded him that the Mission in New York was still without a Chief of Mission and Salloukh added that even Riyadh had only a Charge. Then, he made a subtle comment about the Lebanese mission in Washington indicating he knew that changes were needed in that Embassy. But the Minister, for all his visible concern, fell well short of announcing a schedule for appointments.
Don’t isolate the Shia
10. (C) As the meeting ended the Minister (accompanied by a notetaker) pulled the Ambassador aside briefly. Salloukh said that his meetings in Washington made it clear to him that the USG did not aim to isolate the Lebanese Shia community and that some Lebanese Shia were misguided in believing that USG policy was "anti-Shia." Salloukh said that he wanted to work with the Ambassador in making sure that the Shia had an accurate understanding of USG foreign policy. Even if the Shia were suspicious of some of the USG "principles" and did not like UNSCR 1559, the Shia needed to see that the USG would not work to isolate them as a community. Salloukh also offered to serve as a conduit between the Ambassador and Hizballah. The Ambassador demurred, explaining that we do not pass messages to Hizballah.