C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 DOHA 000071
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2020
TAGS: PREL KWBG KPAL IR QA
SUBJECT: SENATOR KERRY’S MEETING WITH QATAR’S PRIME MINISTER
Classified By: Ambassador Joseph E. LeBaron, for reasons 1.4 (b, d).
(C) KEY POINTS
— Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani (HBJ) told
Senator John Kerry February 13 that we will all lose us 4-6
months of time in pursuing the recently announced “proximity
talks” between the Israelis and Palestinians.
— HBJ underscored that it is a mistake to ignore Hamas in
seeking a lasting agreement.
— From Qatar’s perspective, there are differences in style
and approaches between the two wings of Hamas, but in
principle both are fundamentally aligned. Hamas leaders in
Damascus and Gaza can accept recognition of Israel, but must
calibrate the timing very carefully because Hamas supporters
are not ready for this change.
— According to HBJ, Egypt has a vested interest in dragging
out Palestinian reconciliation talks for as long as possible.
Egypt “has no end game; serving as broker of the talks is
Egypt’s only business interest with the U.S.”
— The Prime Minister suggested that one or two GCC members,
Morocco, and Syria form the core membership of an Arab League
committee to address Palestinian-Israeli concerns. Giving
Syria a role would create jealousy among the Arabs, which HBJ
said would help the U.S. move talks forward.
— HBJ said putting economic pressure on Iran by targeting
its oil revenues is the best way to get Tehran to rethink its
quest for nuclear weapons. For the sanctions to work, it
would be vital that Russia and other countries bordering Iran
implement them fully.
End Key Points.
Â¶1. (C) The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (SFRC), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), accompanied by
Ambassador, P/E Chief and SFRC staff Frank Lowenstein and
Fatema Sumar, met February 13 with Prime Minister (and
Foreign Minister) of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani
(HBJ). HBJ opened the meeting by observing that President
Obama’s presidency had brought a lot of optimism to the
region. Senator Kerry agreed, adding that now we “need to
PROXIMITY TALKS NOT HELPFUL
Â¶2. (C) HBJ expressed dissatisfaction that “everyone in the
region” seems to have a separate plan for moving ahead on the
Israeli-Palestinian dispute when only one plan was needed —
a plan that both the Israelis and Palestinians would accept
and finalize. More disconcerting to Qatar, he said, was the
announcement by Special Envoy Mitchell that both parties
would now engage in “proximity talks.” Such talks “will lose
us 4-6 months of time,” stated HBJ.
Â¶3. (C) Senator Kerry responded that we “are where we are.”
He assessed that the Goldstone Report and dissatisfaction in
Fatah’s ranks in the West Bank made it difficult for Abu
Mazen to “give something to Israel” that would allow direct
negotiations to begin between the parties. Add in Abu
Mazen’s previous statements on the need for a full settlement
freeze, and the ingredients for the Palestinian people to
accept direct talks simply are not there.
Â¶4. (C) Abu Mazen is out on a limb, responded HBJ. “He
climbed a tree (drawing a line in the sand on settlements)
and can’t get down.” HBJ suggested that President Obama’s
address to the UN General Assembly at the opening of its
current session could serve as a “roadmap” forward: two
states (Israel and Palestine) remain the goal, and the
establishment of settlements must stop while negotiations
take place. HBJ stressed again that the “proximity talks”
will cause a “lot of problems.”
NEED FOR PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION
Â¶5. (C) HBJ told Chairman Kerry he had met recently in Doha
with an Israeli delegation and had encouraged them to work
with Palestinians of all stripes in the pursuit of peace.
HBJ underscored that it is a mistake to work with just one
partner, Fatah, and ignore Hamas. Saying this does not mean
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that Qatar expresses a preference for Hamas. HBJ pointed out
that Abu Mazen had taught in Qatar for 30 years and remains a
friend of Qatar. Qatar has no differences with him or those
around him, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot sign
off on an agreement on behalf of the Palestinians where open
Â¶6. (C) HBJ noted that in conversations Qatar has held with
Hamas’ leadership, it is clear that Hamas is ready to accept
Israel’s right to exist. But the acceptance must come about
gradually, not in one day. Senator Kerry said he had heard
this elsewhere, but in his own conversations in Damascus —
where a many leaders of Hamas reside — he did not get the
sense that Hamas was ready to accept Israel’s existence.
Â¶7. (C) Qatar’s PM observed that the biggest obstacle on the
Palestinian side to an eventual agreement with Israel is the
reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah. HBJ maintained that it
would have happened during the previous U.S. administration,
but President Bush told Abu Mazen not to sign off on it.
Now, said HBJ, progress is slow, and bringing the two parties
together in the spirit of reconciliation is hampered by Arab
politics. Reconciliation can happen, HBJ asserted, but only
“if bigger countries in the region allow it.”
8, (C) Senator Kerry, noting that he had seen Yasser Arafat
make the transition from PLO fighter to signer of an
agreement on the White House lawn, observed that people can
come around and change their position. But was that the case
here? The Senator asked HBJ if the differences at play
between Hamas’ leaders in Damascus and Gaza were too wide to
Â¶9. (C) From HBJ’s perspective, there are differences in style
and approaches between the two wings of Hamas, but in
principle both are fundamentally aligned. They can accept
recognition of Israel, but have to calibrate the timing very
carefully because Hamas knows that its supporters in the
Palestinian territories are not ready for this change. HBJ
said Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza are aligned on
wanting to open the border crossing at Rafah, for example,
but differ on tactics in reaching this goal. The leaderships
in Syria and Gaza consult each other, and no one leader in
Hamas can take a decision alone, reported HBJ.
EGYPT INTERESTED IN THE PROCESS, NOT RESULTS
Â¶10. (C) Chairman Kerry asked HBJ if Hamas is feeling
political pressure from Gazans over their current living
conditions. HBJ responded that anytime people do not have
housing, schools or public utilities, their political leaders
feel pressure. Hamas, however, has a greater sense of
urgency in reconciling with Fatah, observed HBJ, than does
the broker of the talks between the Palestinian parties.
Â¶11. (C) According to HBJ, Egypt — the broker — has a vested
interest in dragging out the talks for as long as possible.
Egypt “has no end game; serving as broker of the talks is
Egypt’s only business interest with the U.S.” HBJ likened
the situation to a physician who has only one patient to
treat in the hospital. If that is your only business, “the
physician is going to keep the patient alive but in the
hospital for as long as possible.” HBJ emphasized that
Qatar, on the other hand, is interested only in bringing
about peace in the region — and as quickly as possible.
Â¶12. (C) Short term, HBJ said Hamas wants to form with Fatah a
unity government and rebuild the Israeli-inflicted damage in
Gaza. Senator Kerry, steering the conversation toward Hamas’
long-term aims, acknowledged that Qatar’s leaders speak
frequently with Hamas. The Chairman asked HBJ to explain why
Hamas does not seem “to move when we need Hamas to move.”
Â¶13. (C) Simply put, answered HBJ, “Hamas does not trust Egypt
and the Quartet enterprise.” HBJ noted that since its
inception the Quartet has been anti-Hamas and aligned with
the interests of Abu Mazen, Egypt and Jordan. These partners
of the Quartet, observed HBJ, are the very partners who have
not delivered a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.
Â¶14. (C) Returning to his theme that “peace brokers” act in
their own self-interest, HBJ observed that President Mubarak
of Egypt is thinking about how his son can take his place and
how to stave off the growing strength of the Muslim
Brotherhood. The Egyptian government, said HBJ, has jailed
10,000 Muslim Brotherhood members without bringing court
cases against them. The Egyptian “people blame America” now
for their plight. The shift in mood on the ground is “mostly
because of Mubarak and his close ties” to the United States.
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His only utility to the U.S. is brokering peace between
Palestinians and Israelis, so he has no interest in taking
himself out of the one game he has, underscored HBJ. “Tell
your friends (in Egypt) they must help themselves.”
Â¶15. (C) As for Qatar, “We want to help Abu Mazen and the
Palestinians,” declared HBJ. The short-term needs of
Palestinians in Gaza are acute, said HBJ. We need to broker
a quick reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and move
forward quickly on rebuilding Gaza. Senator Kerry asserted
that HBJ was preaching to the converted and told the PM he
was “shocked by what I saw in Gaza.”
Â¶16. (C) Continuing to illustrate how Egypt had not delivered
for the U.S. on Palestinian issues, HBJ said Qatar was told
in late 2008 that Israel and the U.S. needed the Egyptians to
deal with the crisis in Gaza. Yet former Israeli PM Olmert
later complained to Qatar that Egypt is a big country and not
nimble; it could not move fast enough. Senator Kerry pointed
out he was in Cairo at the time Qatar was calling for an Arab
League Summit in December 2008/January 2009 and asked HBJ for
his perspective on the rift between Qatar and Egypt at that
Â¶17. (C) HBJ told Senator Kerry that Mubarak refused to come
to Doha for a meeting of Arab leaders, preferring that the
meeting take place in Riyadh. The request to move the
meeting was relayed to Qatar by the Saudis, not the
Egyptians. Saudi Arabia, as a big country like Egypt, has a
vested interest in keeping Egypt afloat, said HBJ. The
Saudis agreed to host the meeting in Riyadh not because they
objected to traveling to Doha, but because the Egyptians did.
“So we argued over the meeting location” while the
Palestinians suffered, and we in Qatar “called a meeting and
said whoever comes, comes.”
Â¶18. (C) Qatar is worried, said HBJ, about Egypt and its
people, who are increasingly impatient. Mubarak, continued
HBJ, says Al Jazeera is the source of Egypt’s problems. This
is an excuse. HBJ had told Mubarak “we would stop Al Jazeera
for a year” if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a
lasting settlement for the Palestinians.
Mubarak said nothing in response, according to HBJ.
Â¶19. (C) Asked his advice on bringing about an agreement
between Israel and the Palestinians, HBJ said President
Clinton recognized before leaving office that Egypt was a
problem. When President Clinton sought help at the end of
his term in reaching a final deal, the Saudis and Egyptians
did not encourage him, said HBJ. “They told him to do what
he thinks right.” Culturally, said HBJ, that is the way
Arabs say “you are on your own.” And President Clinton was,
Â¶20. (C) Now we are at a stage, said HBJ, where Egypt does not
want Arab League involvement in brokering a reconciliation
agreement among the Palestinians unless the talks bog down.
HBJ said he had told Abbas that climbing down from his tree
on no settlement activity so that talks can go forward will
require Arab support. But the Egyptians won’t allow it.
Â¶21. (C) Asked if tabling a more specific plan for peace
between the Israelis and Palestinians would help, HBJ said it
would be a mistake to table a plan that is too specific. HBJ
then reiterated that the problem is more with those carrying
out the negotiations. “The good cooks (Egypt) have not given
good food to now.”
Â¶22. (C) Senator Kerry noted that Special Envoy Mitchell had
made a lot of requests of Arabs but with little success.
Leaving Qatar aside, the Chairman asked HBJ for proposed next
steps. HBJ said he trusts the Saudis, but because they talk
openly to Egypt and do not want to create more problems for
Egypt than the Egyptian government already has, it is
essential to bring in the small countries and start there.
Â¶23. (C) HBJ suggested one or two GCC members, Morocco
(although the King there is hesitant) and Syria as the core
membership of an Arab League committee to address
Palestinian-Israeli concerns. HBJ told Senator Kerry the
inclusion of Syria might surprise him, but having Syria play
a role would create jealousy among the Arabs. Some jealously
and rivalry is just what the U.S. needs, opined HBJ, to get
the process moving.
IRAN AND LEBANON
Â¶24. (C) Turning to Iran, Senator Kerry said he understood
Qatar’s need to find the right balance in dealing with bigger
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neighbors, especially Iran given the natural gas field both
share. Due to the working relationship Qatar maintains with
Iran, the Chairman asked HBJ for his advice as the
international community becomes more serious about economic
sanctions against Iran.
Â¶25. (C) HBJ said Iran’s president views the U.S. as a country
that is overstretched and in difficulty as a result of too
many commitments. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. economy
are the three main problems President Ahmadinejad sees. HBJ
observed that a Western attack against Iran for Ahmadinejad
would be good politics, because it would allow him to take
out his opposition using the war as a pretext. Senator Kerry
asked clarification of whether Ahmadinejad had said these
things, or if HBJ inferred them from conversation.
Â¶26. (C) Qatar’s PM said Ahmadinejad had told him, “We beat
the Americans in Iraq; the final battle will be in Iran.”
Â¶27. (C) HBJ said putting economic pressure on Iran is the
best way to get the leadership to rethink its quest for
nuclear weapons. To be successful, he told Senator Kerry,
Russia would definitely have to be on board, as would the
Central Asian countries bordering Iran that provide food and
Â¶28. (C) Asked his perception of the state of play with the
opposition, HBJ said the U.S. had done a good job of standing
back and not becoming the symbol of the opposition. Cracks
in the regime are appearing. It is highly significant that
many demonstrators ignored Khamenei when he called on them to
stop their protests. The four key pillars of Iranian power
— the court, oil sector, imams, and Revolutionary Guards —
all must stick with him, stressed HBJ. There are cracks in
the system, but the downfall of the regime may not be in the
Â¶29. (C) Asked what the sanctions should target, HBJ said the
money that Iran derives from oil. Depriving Tehran of this
revenue would force the regime to negotiate.
Â¶30. (C) Senator Kerry observed that Ahmadinejad was making it
easier by his actions. There is wide consensus in the
Executive and Legislative branches of Washington to press
ahead. Senator Kerry warned that Ahmadinejad “should not
equate Afghanistan and Iraq with what he faces.”
Â¶31. (C) HBJ encouraged Chairman Kerry to bear in mind that
Iran is clever and makes its opponents dizzy in the quest for
deals. They will keep you working on a deal and then start
from scratch with a new interlocutor. HBJ stressed that Iran
will make no deal. Iran wants nuclear weapons, and HBJ said
he would not be surprised to see Iran test one to demonstrate
to the world its achievement.
Â¶32. (C) On Lebanon, Senator Kerry asked if Iran and Hizballah
are ratcheting up their weapons stockpiles as part of Iran’s
war against Israel. HBJ affirmed that is the case.
Â¶33. (C) On Iraq, HBJ told Senator Kerry that Prime Minister
Al-Maliki wants a Shia state, even though the Sunnis (when
you count Kurds and non-Kurds) have the majority.
Â¶34. (U) CODEL Kerry has cleared this message.