In a surprise change of heart, General Michel Aoun told former US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman in 2007 that he was willing to dissolve his 2006 Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah if he receives a better offer, a classified US embassy cable that was leaked by WikiLeaks revealed.
Here is the cable
Cable reference id: #07BEIRUT1534
Reference id aka Wikileaks id #124405 ?
Subject Lebanon: A Kinder, Gentler Aoun Distances Himself From March 8
Origin Embassy Beirut (Lebanon)
Cable time Tue, 2 Oct 2007 16:38 UTC
History First published on Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24 UTC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001534 SIPDIS SIPDIS NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/GAVITO/HARDING E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/25/2017 TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], PTER [Terrorists and Terrorism], PARM [Arms Controls and Disarmament], SY [Syria], IS [Israel], LE [Lebanon]
SUBJECT: LEBANON: A KINDER, GENTLER AOUN DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM MARCH 8 BEIRUT 00001534 001.2 OF 002 Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman for Reasons: Section 1.4 (b) and (d).
SUMMARY ——- ¶1. (C) In a surprise change of heart, General Michel Aoun told the Ambassador he would not support a second government and hinted at a willingness to dissolve his 2006 MOU with Hizballah if he receives a better offer. Aoun, who has been reaching out to March 14 leaders in the past ten days, appears to have recognized that his March 8 allies, despite their assurances to the contrary, are willing to let him be the sacrificial lamb to ensure that a consensus candidate to the opposition’s liking becomes the next president. While these may only be tactical moves designed to boost what Aoun sees as dwindling prospects for his presidential aspirations, it is encouraging to see Aoun flirting with the March 14 camp after a year and a half marriage of convenience with March 8. End summary.
¶2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by Pol/Econ Chief, met with Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun at his home in Rabieh. Aoun advisors Gebran Bassil (also his son-in-law) and Ibrahim Kanaan, an MP from Aoun’s bloc, also attended the meeting. HINTING AT DISSOLVING MOU WITH HIZBALLAH? —————————————–
¶3. (C) Aoun denied any changes in his position, which was still to support a sovereign Lebanon independent of Syria. While noting the need to consolidate the Lebanese state, he said wanted to avoid confrontation in the process by “neutralizing” sympathizers with Syria. To do this, he continued, a framework is needed to reach agreement with Hizballah, and if that framework is wrong, we must change it. He contented that he was not “allied” with Hizballah; he had merely made an MOU “on some points,” but if Hizballah did not adhere to the agreement, the alliance would fall apart. Aoun complained that “everyone else is more tolerant with Hizballah than us, no one else wants to talk about Hizballah’s arms.” If someone has a better idea on reining in Hizballah, then Aoun stated his willingness to drop his MOU.
¶4. (C) He agreed with the Ambassador that a strong president would be best for the country, adding that even Hizballah Secretary General Nasrallah was calling for a strong state. SIPDIS However he rejected the Ambassador’s assertion that Nassib Lahoud’s presidential platform offered the best formula for dealing with Hizballah’s arms by delinking them from issues like Sheba’ and border issues, arguing Lahoud would never be able to implement his idea as long as Hizballah has the pretext of Sheba’.
¶5. (C) Complaining that March 14 was trying to evict him from the race, Aoun said without him they would never be able to mobilize enough Lebanese support to put pressure on Hizballah. Instead, they should converge their efforts, he said. The Ambassador agreed that a unified effort was needed to help a divided country confront Hizballah, but, as the one that succeeded in bringing about the 2005 Cedar Revolution demonstrated, it was not impossible. The trouble now is that Aoun has given Hizballah cover, when there needs to be unity against Hizballah’s arms. Bassil said that Lebanon needed to unify to be strong like it did with Syria; it was in everyone’s common interest to find a peaceful solution to the problem of Hizballah. A POSITIVE APPROACH TO PRESIDENCY ———————————
¶6. (C) This kinder, gentler Aoun told us, “everyone is preparing for violence, they didn’t learn the lessons of the 70s. I did. I lived it.” Therefore, he said, he was trying to play a positive role by asking for discussions without preconditions. (Note: This was a clear criticism of Nabih Berri’s initiative, which demands that March 14 agree to a mandatory two-thirds quorum. End note.). The problem was a lack of trust between Lebanon’s feuding political leaders, he said, which the FPM was trying to overcome by offering a BEIRUT 00001534 002.2 OF 002 strong president, with a strong vision. He himself was the most popular candidate, he claimed.
¶7. (C) Aoun dismissed the Ambassador’s comment that it is suspicious that Syria and pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians like Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh supported his candidacy, saying, “some do, some don’t.” Franjieh had family, not political, connections to President Asad, he said, adding that even Nassib Lahoud was once very close to Syria.
¶8. (C) The Ambassador asked whether Syria would use March 14’s threats to elect the president with an absolute majority vote as an excuse to challenge the new government’s legitimacy and create a second government, with Aoun as president. In a complete 180 turn from previous statements to us and in public, Aoun said he had told Michel Murr that he would reject any participation in a second government. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said, “I can’t violate the constitution, even though others have; I’m not looking for power at any price.”
¶9. (C) The Ambassador, noting Aoun’s past threats to use “all means” to confront an absolute majority president, asked what Aoun would do. He mumbled, “maybe demonstrate, I don’t know…” Kanaan stepped in, stressing that no one wants a divided government; if we converge, we can break the deadlock. The Ambassador replied that the FPM might have a problem getting Saad Hariri on board, given the perception that Aoun has a problem with the Sunnis, given Aoun’s constant anti-Hariri rhetoric. Aoun agreed, saying this had “tarnished his image,” especially that of an honest broker trying to rein in Hizballah. The Ambassador commented that the opposition’s “tent city” sit-in downtown Beirut only increased the perception that Shia and Christians were teaming up against the Sunni. (Note: Bassil called us the next day to say Hizballah was seriously considering removing the tents this weekend and would announce this at its October 5 Jerusalem Day rally. End note.)
¶10. (C) Aoun outlined his priorities for Lebanon (his program doesn’t seem to have changed much over the past few years): 1) restructuring the army, putting all units under a central command; 2) creating a more independent judiciary, which, he said, was now paralyzed, and implementing the rule of law; 3) the economy; and (Aoun’s omnipresent battle cry) 4) the fight against corruption. COMMENT ——-
¶11. (C) Aoun was at pains to be on his best behavior with us. Even though it has been nearly two months since we last visited him, he was all smiles, laughing at jokes and engaging in actual conversation rather than merely offered rehearsed (and often belligerent) talking points. But Aoun appears to be bending in the wind once again. Having licked his finger and held it up to test the current, he has realized that, to maintain any hopes of becoming Lebanon’s best president, it is time once again to change course (or at least appear to be doing so). If that means unloading the burdensome cargo of his erstwhile allies, especially Hizballah, overboard, so be it. Not only he is Aoun opening up to March 14, he is hinting that he may forgo his support for Hizballah’s arms, as outlined in the 2006 MOU and explicitly renounced (at least as long as he sees it to be in his own interest) any talk of participating in a second government. End comment. FELTMAN