C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VATICAN 000127
E.O. 12958: DECL: 9/11/2017
TAGS: PREL LE VT
SUBJECT: HOLY SEE: LEBANESE ELECTIONS
VATICAN 00000127 001.2 OF 002
CLASSIFIED BY: Christopher Sandrolini, DCM, EXEC, State.
REASON: 1.4 (d)
Â¶1. (C) Summary. Lebanese ambassador to the Holy See told Amb.
Rooney September 11 that the Holy See values its contacts with
the US but feels US should listen more closely to Vatican views.
The recent visit of the Syrian deputy PM was mishandled by the
Vatican, which failed to deliver a clear message. Patriarch
Sfeir's recent visit to Rome was also uncomfortable; Sfeir knows
his influence in Lebanon is limited. It is important for the
USG to reach out to senior Vatican officials, primarily Cardinal
Bertone and Archbishop Mamberti. The Holy See has good ties to
Iran but has not yet acted diplomatically to build on those ties
with regard to Lebanon. End summary.
Â¶2. (C) Ambassador Rooney discussed the current situation in
Lebanon September 11 with Lebanese ambassador to the Holy See
Naji Abi Assi (protect). DCM and Special Assistant also
attended. Following are observations made by Abi Assi.
-- The Holy See sometimes complains that USG officials don't
listen to it; but sometimes Holy See fails to say anything when
it has the opportunity. He said he had heard that Cardinal
Bertone appreciated his recent conversations with Secretary Rice
and Under Secretary Burns.
-- Syrian deputy president Faruq al-Sharaa, who met the Pope
September 5, went away satisfied because of the papal penchant
to speak in general terms, which works in Syria's favor here.
In this case, the Pope reportedly urged that "a president for
all Lebanese" be found, but did not go into detail about what
exactly that would mean, or how it would be done. Syria would
be quite happy with a pro-Syrian president accepted by all
Lebanese -- hence al-Sharaa's satisfaction at the meeting --
though the Holy See had intended rather to urge that the choice
be left to Lebanese, i.e. that Syria and others should not
-- Patriarch Sfeir's visit last week was in fact arranged by the
Lebanese ambassador to Italy, and Sfeir had not sought any Holy
See meetings; this caused some friction with the Holy See when
it learned of his visit (Vatican meetings did eventually occur).
In Abi Assi's view, the Patriarch is relatively unable to
influence events in Lebanon, and knows it; he is respected but
not feared, and Christian factions feel free to ignore his
pleas. Sfeir is still mistrustful of the U.S. because of some
misunderstandings in the 1990s relating to proposed candidates
for election to office in Lebanon. (Note: Abi Assi noted that
although the Maronite Church is in full communion with Rome, it
is self-governing -- in other words, the Patriarch cannot be
dismissed and is essentially independent.)
-- According to Abi Assi, the USG should make a greater effort
to reach out to Cardinal Bertone and Archbishop Mamberti, rather
than focusing on the Pope. The Holy See's small structure means
that top officials rely heavily on individual experts to shape
their policies; in this case, the key individual is Monsignor
Franco Coppola (more or less equivalent to an office director),
whose memos directly influence all his superiors. Coppola
himself, though not openly anti-American, is very critical of
the US role in the Middle East and repeatedly reminds listeners
that President Bush should have listened to papal envoy Cardinal
Pio Laghi, whom John Paul II had sent to Washington in 2003 to
plead that the US avoid war in Iraq.
-- The Holy See maintains dialogue with Syria and Iran, and
urges the US to do so too. Iran places much value on its
relationship with the Vatican, has a significant presence here,
and maintains a vigorous dialogue with the Holy See. The Holy
See has not, however, taken the initiative with either Syria or
Iran to seek solutions to any of the regional problems involving
those countries. In the case of Lebanon, Abi Assi is certain
that both Syria and Iran are acting from self-interest rather
than ideology, and therefore are potentially open to other
courses of action.
-- Until now, Mamberti has been continuously feeling his way and
no clear policy has evolved. One day soon, however, Mamberti
will advise Bertone clearly of his position, and then Holy See
policy will be fixed. So, according to Abi Assi, we should act
now to influence Mamberti.
-- Michel Aoun has power to block any president in Lebanon.
-- Papal Nuncio Gatti is an expert on Lebanon but is worn out,
not active; however, no sign that he will be replaced.
-- The most successful Holy See role in Lebanon will not be
direct (as in uniting Christians or persuading Sfeir) but rather
through influence with Lebanon's neighbors.
-- Abi Assi had high praise for French Middle East envoy
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Â¶3. (C) Comment: we have found Amb. Abi Assi to be consistently
well informed and active. In particular we would agree on the
need for us to focus on Mamberti in the near future, as his
influence on the Holy See's approach to Lebanon will continue to
be very strong.