DEFMIN MURR EXPLAINS RUSSIANS' "SURPRISE"

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id: 184363
date: 12/22/2008 15:41
refid: 08BEIRUT1780
origin: Embassy Beirut
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 08BEIRUT1748
header:
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PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHLB #1780/01 3571541
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 221541Z DEC 08 ZD
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC RIORITY 3822
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 3288
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 3498
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0147

----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 001780

C O R R E C T E D COPY (ADDING ADDEE)

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA
ALSO FOR IO A/S HOOK, PDAS WARLICK
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2018
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PTER, PINR, UNSC, MARR, MOPS, RS, LE, SY
SUBJECT: LEBANON: DEFMIN MURR EXPLAINS RUSSIANS' "SURPRISE"
MIG OFFER, SAYS WILL NOT ACTUALLY ACCEPT AIRCRAFT

REF: BEIRUT 1748

BEIRUT 00001780 001.2 OF 004

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

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) In a December 22 meeting with the Ambassador, Defense
Minister Elias Murr struggled to explain that the Russians
"surprised" him with a grant aid offer of 77 free T-72 or
T-90 tanks and 130 mm mortars, among other equipment, to
which he reportedly declined and made the "completely
unrealistic" counteroffer to receive MiG-29 fighter aircraft.
After the Russian Defense Minister "trapped" Murr by
agreeing to provide ten MiG-29s, Murr said he had "no choice"
but to thank the Russians. Murr stated that he intended to
delay the process during 2009 through a series of MiG-29
assessments, commencing before the spring 2009 parliamentary
elections, to study the Lebanese Armed Forces' (LAF) ability
to pay for the associated costs. Murr said he would
ultimately reject the offer, after using it to bolster
President Michel Sleiman, who had personally asserted the
importance of the GOL's relationship with the U.S. in his
National Dialogue talks addressing Hizballah's arms,
according to Murr.

2. (C) Explaining that his negative remarks on international
military assistance made from Moscow were directed against
the French (and not the USG), Murr agreed to make a positive
statement on U.S. support for the LAF during a Future TV
interview scheduled to air later the same day. On the issue
of funding for the 56 U.S.-supplied M60 tanks requiring GOL
approval, Murr indicated he would seek approval from PM Fouad
Siniora, and would announce this approval (even if not yet
secured) during the same Future TV interview. End summary.

RUSSIA OFFERS TANKS, MORTARS,
SIX PAGES OF EQUIPMENT
-----------------------------

3. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by PolOff, met Defense
Minister Elias Murr for over 90 minutes at his home in Rabieh
on December 22, one day after he had returned from a
three-day trip to Moscow (and a stop in Switzerland). Murr
immediately said the trip to Russia had been a "huge trap."
He recounted his conversations with Russian Ambassador to
Lebanon Sergei Boukin and military cooperation chief, Mikhael
Dimitriyev, prior to his trip (reftel), during which the
officials informed Murr Russia had no plan to offer weapons
as grant aid, and could only sell them to Lebanon.

4. (C) After Murr told the Russians that the GOL lacked the
budget to support defense acquisitions, the officials
reportedly insisted Murr make the trip to Moscow because the
Russian government had been inviting Murr for two years and
wanted to thank him for his efforts fighting terrorism in
Nahr al-Barid in 2007. (Note: The Lebanese Armed Forces
(LAF) captured Chechen fighters in the Palestinian refugee
camp, and had turned over at least one Chechen to the
Russians. End note.)

5. (C) According to Murr, LAF Chief of Staff Brigadier
General Shawki Masri, who had arrived in Moscow a few days
before him, reconfirmed to Murr upon his arrival December 14
that there was "no deal on the table" to provide arms to
Lebanon. During the first day of Moscow meetings, Murr
recounted that the Russian officials informed him they were
willing to sell tanks at "very good prices." Murr said he
declined, saying the LAF had no money.

6. (C) When he and the accompanying LAF officers met with the
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, along with the
Russian National Security Council SecGen and Dimitriyev on
December 16, Murr said his counterpart handed him a six-page
document, in Arabic, outlining a "gift to the LAF." Murr
said the list included 77 T-72 tanks (which he later referred
to as T-90 tanks -- it is unclear which was actually
offered), 130mm mortars, and 50 thousand rounds each for the

BEIRUT 00001780 002.2 OF 004

tanks and the mortars.

MURR COUNTER-OFFERS SOMETHING
"COMPLETELY UNREALISTIC"
-----------------------------

7. (C) Noting that he alone had read the document, Murr said
that he passed the list back to his counterpart, thanking
him. Murr said he also indicated that the LAF no longer
needed what had been offered, and that it had been operating
on a three-year defense and training program developed since
Nahr al Barid. Murr said he told the Russians that he was
receiving Leopard tanks from the Germans and Belgians and M60
tanks and 155mm artillery pieces from the U.S., adding that
the LAF officers received training on these specific pieces
of equipment. Murr relayed that BG Masri and the other LAF
officers were "upset at" his response (as was majority leader
Saad Hariri when he was briefed, Murr reported), and urged
him to reconsider the offer.

8. (C) According to Murr, the Russian Defense Minister was
angry, and retorted, "What is it that you need?" Murr
explained (at great length and detail) to the Ambassador that
he drummed up what he thought was a most unrealistic request
in order to save face, and responded, "MiG fighter aircraft."
After reportedly acknowledging the futility of such a
request, Serdyukov said he would reconvene with Murr in 25
minutes.

YOU HAVE A DEAL!
----------------

9. (C) After what Murr speculated was a telephone call to PM
Vladimir Putin, the Russian Defense Minister returned and
declared that Russia would give Lebanon 10 MiG-29s, free of
charge, according to Murr. Murr said he had thanked his
counterpart, and pointed out to him that he would need to
seek cabinet approval to consider the deal. This would
entail sending out LAF assessment teams to study the
operating costs, training, fuel expenses, etc.

AMMUNITION AGAINST HIZBALLAH
----------------------------

10. (C) Murr argued at length that he had no choice but to
accept the offer, because if he rejected both the offer of
T-72s/T-90s and the MiG-29s, he would be accused of being a
"traitor to Lebanon and a pawn to the U.S." He said he could
defend why he rejected the six-page offer, but he had no
reason to decline the MiGs.

11. (C) Murr further reasoned that this offer could be used
as "a card against Hizballah," saying, "I am giving President
Sleiman something to demonstrate (during the National
Dialogue talks) that the LAF has a full program (rendering
Hizballah's need for arms useless)." Murr indicated that the
announcement of the MiGs from Russia would also bode well for
the majority in the lead-up to the spring 2009 parliamentary
elections. He said succinctly, "The MiGs are the best tool
to f*** up Hizballah, even without possessing them, at the
National Dialogue table."

12. (C) The Ambassador noted that the Moscow "deal" had led
to many questions in Washington. While U.S. public
statements would highlight strong international support for
Lebanon and the LAF, the stated aim of an MiG-29 acquisition
-- counterterror efforts focused on the Palestinian camps --
did not make sense. Furthermore, the associated costs of
such an acquisition had not yet been assessed. Where did
such an acquisition fit in with USG efforts to secure Cessna
Caravans, M-60 tanks, and other equipment (and linked
training), she asked.

WILL STALL THE DEAL THROUGHOUT 2009,
THEN SAY "NO"
------------------------------------

BEIRUT 00001780 003.2 OF 004

13. (C) Explaining that accepting the MiGs offer was part of
a larger strategy, Murr claimed to the Ambassador that he
planned to nominate an LAF Air Force Brigadier General (also
a`Qc}$Q^e the spring 2009 elections
(and, ideally, coinciding with his next trip to Washington,
he proposed), that would ultimately conclude that the offer
is not financially feasible for Lebanon. He argued that he
had many pretexts to delay, adding that even the manuals and
equipment were written in Russian. "Be sure that I will not
consider anything before the end of 2009," Murr declared, "I
will dilute this."

SLEIMAN ASSERTED IMPORTANCE
OF RELATIONSHIP WITH U.S.
---------------------------

15. (C) Mentioning that he had lunch with President Sleiman
the previous day, Murr quoted the President as saying, "The
LAF strategy is to be allied with the U.S." Murr said he
revealed to Sleiman his strategy of using the MiGs against
Hizballah and in the elections, but that he was refraining
from telling anyone else, even his father, MP Michel Murr,
about his plan. For this reason, Murr said, he hoped the
U.S. would also remain quiet about Murr's strategy to
ultimately reject the MiGs offer. He claimed that he did not
share the six-page list with any of the LAF officers.
Ambassador noted that it had been clear that the LAF had had
no knowledge of an MiG-29 deal before it was announced.

WILL MAKE A PUBLIC STATEMENT
AFFIRMING U.S. SUPPORT TO LAF
-----------------------------

16. (C) Remarking that Murr's December 16 statement from
Moscow, in which he said, "We have heard many promises in the
past years with respect to equipping the army...some are just
mere promises," had not been well-received by the USG, the
Ambassador requested that Murr comment positively and
publicly on U.S. assistance to the LAF. Pointing out that
his remarks were implicitly directed at the French (who he
noted have been slow to deliver on the 36 hot missiles for
Gazelle helicopters), Murr agreed to speak positively about
U.S. assistance during a Future TV interview to be taped
later in the day on December 22. He assured the Ambassador
that he wholly supported the U.S. programming and appreciated
its assistance. He also highlighted his statements to Arabic
daily An Nahar, in which he said "Our LAF needs a lot of
assistance and the Americans are providing an important part."

FINDING FUNDING FOR M-60S
-------------------------

17. (C) Ambassador inquired about the funding sources for the
remaining 56 M-60s. She noted that Jordanian and CENTCOM
teams were sitting at that minute at the Ministry of Defense
attempting to draft an MOU with the LAF. Murr said he had
requested to meet PM Fouad Siniora in the evening and would
ask him for approval for GOL funding for the M-60s at that
time. Murr said that Siniora had previously assured him he
would find the needed $85 million in GOL funds -- reftel.
Ambassador noted that if the MOU was not signed with Jordan
by year-end, it would be difficult to ensure delivery of the
M-60s by spring 2009. Murr noted that Saad Hariri might need
to be convinced of the merits of the M-60s versus the Russian
tanks. (Note: We believe the amount is $98 million, in
addition to the $17 million from UAE. End note.)

18. (C) Murr added that if he could not meet Siniora before
his Future TV interview, he would confirm publicly that the
LAF would be receiving M-60s from the U.S. in order to
"force" Siniora to fund the remaining amount from the GOL
budget. (Note: The M-60 tanks are scheduled to arrive in

BEIRUT 00001780 004.2 OF 004

Lebanon before the elections. End note.) Murr and the
Ambassador agreed to meet later in the week; Murr noted he
would be expected to brief on his Moscow visit at a December
26 or 27 cabinet meeting.

19. (C) Comment: Murr's long and meandering account of his
Moscow visit is evolving from the versions he recounted last
week via LAF Commander Gen. Kahwaji (in a telephone call) and
in his telephone conversation with Acting A/S Feltman.
However, Murr has for now -- clearly stated that he does not
expect MiG-29s in Lebanon. End comment.

SISON

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