C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 003613
H PLEASE PASS TO SENATOR SPECTER AND REPRESENTATIVE KENNEDY
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/27/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV OREP KPAL SY IR EG IS
SUBJECT: CODEL SPECTER'S MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER OLMERT
Classified By: DCM Luis G. Moreno, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)
Â¶1. (C) Summary. CODEL Specter met with Prime Minister Olmert
December 25. Their discussion focused on the possibility of
peace negotiations with Syria; the National Intelligence
Estimate and Iran's nuclear program; Egypt and the problem of
smuggling into Gaza; dealing with Hamas in Gaza; and the
negotiations with the Palestinians. On Syria, Olmert
stressed that he had sent a clear message to Bashar Al-Asad
and was still waiting for the Syrian response. Olmert
criticized the NIE as "not helpful" to efforts to mobilize
the international community against Iran's nuclear program.
He said he would discuss his ideas on Iran with President
Bush during the President's upcoming visit. Regarding Egypt,
Olmert complained about "massive" smuggling of weapons
through tunnels into Gaza. Olmert noted that Egypt was "not
afraid" of the U.S. reaction. Olmert denied that Hamas had
formally offered a truce in Gaza, stressing that Israel would
not negotiate with Hamas as long as the latter did not
recognize Israel. Olmert praised President Abbas and Prime
Minister Fayyad as "genuine and honest" in their desire for
peace. Regarding Palestinian complaints about ongoing
settlement activity, Olmert said he had informed the cabinet
that Israel is freezing construction in the West Bank and
will not confiscate any new land, but he insisted that the
freeze does not apply to the settlement blocs that Israel
expects to retain. Olmert said he was "not pessimistic"
about the negotiations with the Palestinians. He thought an
agreement could be reached within a year, but it would not be
implemented for some time. He expressed hope that
Palestinian society was undergoing a positive change. Israel
was prepared to move forward, but carefully and without
exposing itself to danger. End Summary.
Â¶2. (U) CODEL Specter (Senator Arlen Specter (R,
Pennsylvania), Representative Patrick Kennedy (D, Rhode
Island, Senate staffer Christopher Bradish, and military
physician Navy Captain Ronald Smith), accompanied by
PolCouns, met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert December 25.
Olmert was joined by his Chief of Staff Yoram Turbowicz,
Foreign Policy Adviser Shalom Tourgeman, Spokesman Mark
Regev, and incoming Israeli Consul General in Philadelphia
Negotiating with Syria
Â¶3. (C) Responding to Olmert's question about Washington
developments, Senator Specter commented that President Bush
is becoming more engaged in the peace process. Specter noted
that he sensed a shift in the Administration's opposition to
engaging Syria. Olmert commented that it was difficult to
move forward with Syria when Damascus ignored the world's
demand that it cease its intervention in Lebanon. Syria
continued to kill Lebanese members of parliament and even the
future chief of staff of the Lebanese army. Even President
Sarkozy had lost patience with Syria, he noted. Specter
agreed that Syria was difficult, but he thought there was a
chance to move forward. He said he had met in Washington
with the Syrian deputy foreign minister after the Annapolis
Conference, and the Syrian had told him that Syria wanted to
talk to Israel. Syria wanted the Golan Heights back, so
Israel could use this as leverage for better Syrian behavior
on Lebanon and support for Hizballah and Hamas.
Â¶4. (C) Olmert noted that he had said publicly that he was
prepared in principle to negotiate with Syria, but it would
be a long process. The deputy foreign minister might say
nice things, but the Syrians had to begin to deliver.
Specter asked who would move first, adding that Olmert had
told him the same thing a year ago. Olmert responded that he
had done a lot in the past year to reach out to Syria.
Syria, however, had not responded to the new "attitude that
we have clearly conveyed." So far, there had been no
response. Noting his long history of contacts with the late
Hafiz Al-Asad, Senator Specter said he would raise this with
President Bashar Al-Asad when he visited Damascus. Bashar
was not his father, but it still may be possible to deal with
him. Olmert agreed that Bashar was not his father. He added
that he had urged Secretary Rice to invite Syria to
Annapolis. (Note: This part of the meeting was leaked in
detail to the Israeli media the same evening by Olmert's
Iran and the NIE
Â¶5. (C) Senator Specter asked whether the international
community could deliver sanctions that would be sufficiently
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tough to stop Iran's nuclear program. Olmert responded that
the NIE was "not helpful" in this regard. Israel was
convinced that Iran was determined to get the bomb, but there
was no smoking gun. Olmert said President Putin had told him
about Putin's meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei,
during which Putin asked why Iran was rushing to enrich
uranium. If Iran's goal was to develop an alternative source
of energy, why enrich uranium while Iran had no technical
means to use the enriched uranium? Putin said that Khamenei
responded that no one had ever asked him that question
before, and he did not know the answer. Olmert said his
answer was that Iran was enriching uranium to produce a bomb.
The U.S. intelligence agencies must have solid information
about Iran stopping its weapons program in 2003, but they did
not know for certain whether the program had been restarted.
If Iran obtained enough enriched uranium, it would get a bomb
easily. Olmert stressed that every means must be used to
Â¶6. (C) Senator Specter recommended not to rely on the CIA,
which he said had been "wrong too often." Putin, he said,
had the best idea, which was for Russia to supply Iran with
enriched uranium. The question was whether Iran could be
stopped short of military means. Olmert said a concerted
effort by the international community, including Russia and
China, could work. He complained that the public thinks
there are only two options, either war or acquiescense.
Olmert said he plans to discuss ideas about third options
with President Bush during the President's upcoming visit.
Olmert expressed interest in Specter's plans to meet IAEA
Secretary General El Baradei in Vienna. He urged Specter to
talk to El Baradei about the NIE.
Egypt and Smuggling into Gaza
Â¶7. (C) Representative Kennedy noted an article in that
morning's Israel press about Egypt allowing Hamas to smuggle
weapons into Gaza. He asked what the U.S. Congress could do
to convince Egypt to change its approach. Olmert replied
that there was "massive" smuggling of weapons, including some
very dangerous anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles into
Gaza. The Egyptians say they have uncovered 67 tunnels, but
many are still functioning, and weapons, money and terrorists
are passing through them into Gaza. Egypt also facilitated
the crossing of hundreds of Hamas terrorists. Olmert said he
had complained to Mubarak that Egypt was not doing enough,
but the Egyptians were "not afraid of the U.S. reaction."
Congress had frozen some of Egypt's military assistance, but
the Administration would use its waiver. As long as there
was a waiver, the Egyptians would not worry. Olmert added
that he had told President Bush that Egypt should not have
its cake and eat it too. Defense Minister Barak was going to
Egypt the next day to meet Mubarak. Olmert said he hoped
that visit would help.
Â¶8. (C) Turbowicz commented that Mubarak does not deny that
Egypt has not stopped the smuggling, but he claims Egypt
needs 750 more border guards to do the job. Increasing the
number of border guards would be contrary to the peace
treaty, however, and the GOI would need to bring the issue to
the Knesset for approval. That was something they did not
want to do. Olmert said Egypt was not using the forces it
has effectively. Congress should convey that message to
Egypt in a powerful manner.
Truce with Hamas?
Â¶9. (C) Senator Specter noted that it had taken the GOI
several days to respond to reports that Hamas had offered a
truce in Gaza. Olmert replied that Hamas had never offered
anything. On the day that Israel killed twelve members of
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas was frightened. They had
phoned an Israeli Arab journalist, but their message was not
clear. The Israeli media had played this up, and after a few
days Olmert had made clear that Israel would not negotiate
with an organization that did not recognize Israel. In any
case, a truce would be useful to Hamas, which would use it to
resupply and reorganize. Specter asked whether Israel had
dealt with Arafat before he changed the PLO Charter. Olmert
said Arafat had only pretended to change the PLO Charter when
President Clinton visited Gaza, but that was not the point.
The point now was that President Abbas and Prime Minister
Fayyad are "genuine and honest" about wanting to make peace.
This was a dramatic difference from Arafat. Olmert added
that there was also a big difference between Hamas now and
the PLO in 1993. Hamas said openly that it would fight
Israel forever due to religious reasons. Arafat had turned
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out not to be a worthy partner, but he had no ideological
objection to peace.
Settlements and Negotiations
Â¶10. (C) Specter asked about the Palestinian complaints about
ongoing settlement activity. Olmert said the Palestinians
were using settlements as leverage in the negotiations. He
added that he had made a statement to the cabinet that Israel
was freezing construction in West Bank settlements and would
not confiscate any more land. But the freeze did not apply
to construction in the settlement blocs, which were mentioned
in President Bush's letter of April 2004. Olmert said he
would not stop construction plans that were already approved.
He stressed that he had told this to President Bush, to
Secretary Rice, and to President Abbas. Abbas had simply
asked him not to publicize such construction. The Jerusalem
suburb of Maale Adumim will remain Israeli, for example. If
the Palestinians do not ask about construction there, Israel
will not announce it. But if they ask, Israel will have to
tell them. Olmert said Israel had promised to withdraw from
ninety percent of the West Bank and not to take any
unilateral steps. It remained to be seen if the negotiations
would succeed, but Olmert said he was not pessimistic. In
response to Specter's question whether an agreement could be
reached in one year, Olmert said he thought they could reach
an agreement but it would not be implemented for some time.
Abbas and Fayyad were serious, but that may not be the case
for all the Palestinian negotiators. Olmert added that the
Israeli negotiating team was serious about reaching an
Â¶11. (C) Specter said he had visited Israel twenty-four times
as a Senator and there was always tension. Israel responded
to Arab ill will with checkpoints, which the Palestinians say
prevent them from developing their economy. What prospect is
there for breaking the cycle of violence? Olmert said he
noticed a change in Palestinian society toward moderation.
There was a new generation of Palestinian businessmen today
who speak differently from their counterparts thirty years
ago. President Abbas himself had been a terrorist thirty
years ago. Israel would move forward, but it would do so
carefully and without exposing the Israeli public to danger.
Â¶12. (U) CODEL Specter did not clear this report.
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