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09BANGKOK2455 AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES RECONCILIATION WITH ADVISER TO BOTH PM AND CROWN PRINCE; VIKTOR BOUT RAISED

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“227160”,”9/28/2009 5:23″,”09BANGKOK2455″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”SECRET”,”09BANGKOK2125|09BANGKOK2260|09BANGKOK2405|09BANGKOK385|09BANGKOK567″,”VZCZCXRO5490

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RUEAWJL/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY”,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 002455

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, NSC FOR WALTON

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2019

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES RECONCILIATION WITH

ADVISER TO BOTH PM AND CROWN PRINCE; VIKTOR BOUT RAISED

 

REF: A. BANGKOK 2405 (THAILAND,S MARCHING SEASON)

B. BANGKOK 2260 (QUASHING THAKSIN PARDON SUGGESTIONS

C. BANGKOK 2125 (POLICE CHIEF BATTLE)

D. BANGKOK 567 (AMBASSADOR PRESSES DEPUTY PM SUTHEP

ON VIKTOR BOUT EXTRADITION)

E. BANGKOK 385 (ENGAGING PM ON BOUT)

 

BANGKOK 00002455 001.2 OF 004

 

Classified By: CDA James F. Entwistle, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) Summary: Ambassador met with Niphon Promphan,

Secretary-General for Prime Minister Abhisit and a trusted

advisor of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, on September 24.

Niphon expressed exasperation with the prolonged political

stalemate and what he characterized as a degradation of Thai

political culture. He nevertheless hoped for a solution to

the impasse, based on amending the constitution, ensuring

some accountability for gross violations of the law by both

yellow-shirts and red-shirts, and a reconciliation/amnesty

deal which would have to include Thaksin. Niphon believed

the latter would need to include the return of some of

Thaksin\’s frozen assets and Thaksin serving a nominal period,

as short as \”a few days,\” in jail. A deal with Thaksin was

complicated because no one trusted Thaksin; Thaksin had

further complicated matters with his incendiary rhetoric and

by allowing his proxies to repeatedly impugn Privy Council

Chair GEN Prem Tinsulanonda\’s character in the recent

September 19 rally. Niphon said that although he was one of

only several Democrats still on good terms with Thaksin and

that Thaksin wanted to talk with him, Niphon\’s current

positions with the PM and the Crown Prince made such a direct

conversation impracticable.

 

2. (C) On royal succession, Niphon asserted that when the

time came, the Crown Prince would succeed his father,

successfully reburnish his image in the mold of the King, and

secure the monarchy\’s future in Thailand. The tricky part

would come \”in the transition phase.\” He argued that the

Prince had learned from his father\’s example and would be

well-positioned to do the job; Niphon did not offer an

explanation why the Crown Prince did not start emulating the

King and Princess Sirindhorn\’s good works activities

immediately, only that he could do so. According to Niphon,

the Prince enjoyed good relations with Sirindhorn and did not

feel threatened by her popularity. Niphon offered indirect

indications of discomfort about the Crown Prince\’s meddling

in the Police Chief saga, but suggested the affair would end

shortly after PM Abhisit\’s return from the U.S. Niphon also

expressed his profound disappointment with the lower court\’s

decision in the Viktor Bout case (see paras 16-17).

 

3. (C) Comment: Niphon is the only Democrat we know of who

advocates cutting a deal with Thaksin, but given his dual

positions as PM Abhisit\’s defacto Chief of Staff and the

Crown Prince\’s chief adviser, his views cannot be discounted.

The devil, of course, is in the details, and even Niphon was

hard pressed to outline a viable path forward to

reconciliation. As it stands, we believe there are two

primary obstacles. The first challenge lies in getting all

the parties to the table. No deal seems possible without the

following actors breaking bread together at the same time:

Thakin\’s cronies in the United Front for Democracy against

Dictatorship (UDD), aka \”the red-shirts,\” as well as the

formal opposition Puea Thai Party; PM Abhisit\’s

representatives and the Democrats; the People\’s Alliance for

Democracy (PAD), aka \”the yellow-shirts;\” and representatives

from the Privy Council. As reported in reftels, the Privy

Council would appear to be the most problematic piece of this

particular puzzle, as we see no current appetite for talks.

Secondly, any hypothetical deal would need to address

Thakin\’s fugitive legal status and his confiscated assets.

 

BANGKOK 00002455 002.2 OF 004

 

Given the tense atmospherics right now, it is hard for us to

envision either side compromising on the question of jail

time for Thaksin, something Niphon freely acknowledged. End

Summary and Comment.

 

INCREASING POLITICAL RANCOR MAKES DIALOGUE DIFFICULT

——————————————— ——-

 

4. (C) The Ambassador hosted PM Office Secretary General,

Democrat Party deputy Secretary General, and chief adviser to

the Crown Prince Niphon Promphan at the residence September

24 and asked him about the political impasse that has beset

Thailand since the 2006 coup. Niphon expressed dismay with

the tenor of the current political dialogue, remarking that

it was as partisan and rancorous as he had ever seen it, a

function he believed of the selfishness of politicians. When

the Ambassador asked whether this phenomenon helped

precipitate Thaksin\’s rise to power in 2001, Niphon argued

that Thaksin had simply identified voter interests — using a

professional polling outfit — and then tailored a domestic

agenda accordingly.

 

5. (C) When the Ambassador asked whether Niphon retained any

kind of rapport with Thaksin, Niphon replied that while they

remained on good terms — he was one of only one or two

Democrats in that category — they no longer talked.

According to Niphon, Thaksin\’s intermediaries had made it

clear that Thaksin would like to talk with him, but Niphon\’s

current position in the government and especially his

proximity to the Crown Prince meant that such a talk would be

considered scandalous in the current political context.

 

6. (C) Turning to Thailand\’s formal political divide, Niphon

expressed his personal commitment to crafting a solution

through dialogue, mentioning his own engagement with former

Thaksin lieutenant, banned Thai Rak Thai executive and

ex-Justice Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana. From Puea Thai

(PT), Thaksin\’s younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra was now

Thaksin\’s conduit to PT MPs, even if she lacked a formal

position in the party. Niphon stressed the need to expand the

dialogue to include representatives from many sides,

including yellow-shirts and the Privy Council. When asked by

Ambassador to suggest who from the Privy Council would be

willing to participate, Niphon initially struggled to

identify any one, finally suggesting Air Vice Marshal Kamthon

Sindvananda and Mr. Sawad Wattanayagorn. He also added Arsa

Sarasin, the Principal Private Secretary.

 

7. (C) Niphon suggested at least three issues needed to be

addressed: amending the constitution; basic accountability

for gross legal infractions, and some package deal on

amnesty/Thaksin. The Constitution amendment process had

picked up steam, though a national referendum would be

required. Both yellow and red would also have to accept

culpability for breaking the law — the yellow takeover of

the airports in November-December 2008, the red violence in

April, in which Niphon narrowly escaped. While there was

some willingness for an amnesty of sorts, the main challenge

was how to apply it to Thaksin. Public out of hand

rejections aside, Niphon believed that this question could be

addressed in private negotiations; there were three key

issues: Thaksin\’ money; his acceptance of legal guilt; and

his future role.

 

8. (C) On the issue of returning Thaksin\’s frozen assets,

Niphon suggested one compromise would be a stiff capital

gains tax on the gains made while Thaksin was PM, returning

the balance to Thaksin. Niphon noted that Abhisit, not in

power at the time of the judicial decision, had remarked that

it was unfair for Thaksin to lose the assets he had when he

entered office in 2001. The more difficult part involved

Thaksin\’s legal standing; Niphon initially suggested a

symbolic four days in jail before suspension/pardon might do

 

BANGKOK 00002455 003.2 OF 004

 

the trick, before concluding Thaksin would likely refuse to

spend even one day in jail.

 

9. (C) An additional complication, according to Niphon, would

be a requirement that Thaksin stay out of politics. No one

really trusted Thaksin, particularly the younger generation

of Democrat MPs. Any deals with him would be viewed with

great skepticism, particularly any promises to stay out of

the political arena. Invoking the ghost of Neville

Chamberlain and the Munich agreement with Hitler, Niphon

concluded everyone was wary of making a peace with Thaksin

that he likely would fail to respect.

 

10. (C) According to Niphon, one of Thaksin\’s biggest

problems was the fact that he lacked a close adviser with

good judgment. Thaksin wasn\’t receiving sound counsel and

therefore too often made the wrong decision. He tended to,

in other words, select the wrong tools from the proverbial

tool kit; Niphon cited Thaksin\’s unleashing his proxies

against General Prem during the September 19 red-shirt rally

(REF A) as the perfect illustration. The profane attacks on

General Prem\’s character made the Privy Council less inclined

to consider reconciliation talks, Niphon stated.

 

POLICE CHIEF IMBROGLIO

———————-

 

11. (C) On the subject of the ongoing saga to name a new

Police Chief (REF C), Niphon suggested that the issue would

conclude within ten days of PM Abhisit\’s return from the

United States, by the end of the first week of October. When

the Ambassador asked how the issue would be resolved, noting

first that it was widely known that Crown Prince

Vajiralongkorn was pushing for Police General Jumpol Manmai

over PM Abhisit\’s choice of Police General Prateep Tunprasert

(note: who also allegedly has the Queen\’s backing. End

note), Niphon shifted uncomfortably and initially replied

merely that he knew who \”his choice\” was (note: Jumpol).

When the Ambassador asked whether a third choice compromise

candidate might be the solution, Niphon agreed that it might

be a possibility, though he repeated that \”his choice\” was

the correct choice, adding that he believed the matter should

have concluded long ago.

 

12. (C) When the Ambassador inquired whether the Crown

Prince\’s direct intervention in the Police Chief selection

process had implications for public perceptions of the role

of the monarchy in governance, Niphon suggested that it did.

Niphon acknowledged that the perceived intervention was

unhelpful both for the Crown Prince and the monarchy.

 

CROWN PRINCE — READY FOR PRIME TIME?

————————————–

 

13. (C) Turning to the Crown Prince and the monarchy\’s role

in Thailand in general, Niphon argued that Thailand was in

many ways at a crossroads. Niphon estimated that a majority

of Thai — including nearly all of those over the age of 40

— still strongly supported the monarchy. According to

Niphon, Thai in the 18-40 age demographic in contrast were

far more focused on their every day lives and economic well

being, without a set view of the monarchy. This group could

be swayed either way, though on balance he felt they would

ultimately be more inclined to support the monarchy if

engaged with a positive message.

 

14. (C) According to Niphon, the Crown Prince was well aware

that he would inherit the throne at a critical moment in the

monarchy\’s future, and Niphon believed the Crown Prince was

ready to rise to the occasion (note: Niphon and

Vajiralongkorn were boarding school classmates in England, at

Millfield, from 1966-70. End Note). The Crown Prince

understood the challenges — particularly the challenges

 

BANGKOK 00002455 004.2 OF 004

 

associated with following his father — but he was confident

nevertheless. Sharp and perceptive, the Crown Prince had

been learning and absorbing lessons from his father since he

was a child, claimed Niphon. The Crown Prince also had a

great memory; Niphon cited a schoolboy exchange in which the

Crown Prince described how, when he was three, he would take

note when he overheard members of the Royal Court saying

disparaging things about the King or Queen, file the

conversations away, and then report them to his parents later

that night.

 

15. (C) When the Ambassador noted that in some ways the Crown

Prince was overshadowed by Princess Sirindhorn\’s popularity

and charisma, Niphon remarked that this dynamic had not in

any way negatively affected their close relationship. The

Crown Prince was aware of what he needed to do in order to be

a successful monarch, and he would change his personality and

character overnight in order to fit the demands of the job,

Niphon claimed. Such a transformation was not without

precedent; Niphon cited General Prem\’s transition from

general to PM. Prior to assuming the PM job, Prem had

disliked businessmen to the point that he refused to allow

them on his property. After he became PM, however, he

started working very closely with the business community and

would even fly around the world on road shows with

businessmen to help drum up opportunities for them.

 

VIKTOR BOUT

———–

 

16. (S) Niphon concluded the meeting by expressing his

profound personal disappointment with the lower court verdict

in the Viktor Bout extradition hearing, a feeling he

suggested extended throughout the government, including the

Prime Minister\’s office. Niphon said he hoped the issue

would correct itself during the appeals process, and he

reiterated that the Prime Minister was closely following it.

(Note: When allegations that Bout\’s supporters were

attempting to seek favor with associates of the Crown Prince

emerged in early 2009, the Ambassador had engaged Niphon to

shut the door on that possibility. See refs D and E. End

Note.)

 

17. (C) The Ambassador thanked Niphon and noted that the RTG

had been helpful at every step of the way, from the March

2008 arrest through preparation of the recent appeal.

Policymakers in Washington understood the distinction between

the RTG\’s close cooperation on the case and the lower court\’s

decision. The latter was an outlier that did not in any way

reflect the RTG\’s spirit of overall partnership.

Nevertheless, overturning the lower court\’s decision on

appeal would be absolutely critical both on the merits of the

case and to avoid any negative impact on the overall

U.S.-Thai relationship.

ENTWISTLE

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Written by thaicables

June 23, 2011 at 2:08 am

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