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05BANGKOK5393 THAKSIN COMES TO LUNCH

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“38943”,”8/22/2005 10:41″,”05BANGKOK5393″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 005393

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/MLS

NSC FOR MORROW

DEFENSE FOR OSD/ISA (STERN, POWERS)

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/21/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, TH

SUBJECT: THAKSIN COMES TO LUNCH

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is

confident and focused as he prepares for his September 19

meeting with the President. He is prepared to discuss

ongoing separatist violence in Southern Thailand and his

policy towards Burma. He welcomes the upcoming Thai-U.S.

Dialogue on strategic issues and offered to work to remove

bans on U.S. beef prior to his visit. He also promised to

try to seek conclusion of an Open Skies agreement. However,

he seems to have backtracked from statements FM Kantathi made

to the Secretary indicating Thailand will soon sign the

Proliferation Security Initiative, now indicating that the

RTG awaits another ASEAN nation other than Singapore to sign

first. On F-16, Thaksin said that Thailand is prepared to

spend approximately 400 million USD on mid-life upgrades to

F-16s already in the fleet, but hinted that pressure from

Russia might make him purchase some SU-30s. Thaksin remains

indispensable to our efforts at reaching a FTA with Thailand:

without his personal involvement on the issue, it is

unlikely we will make progress. End Summary.

 

THAKSIN CALLS

 

2. (C) On August 22, I hosted Thaksin for lunch at the

residence to discuss his upcoming visit to Washington. He

was relaxed and at ease, telling me that he had just given

CNBC an interview in which he was asked what issues he wanted

to discuss in Washington. \”I told them that I have no

\’issues,\’ only areas of cooperation. We are two friends

catching up,\” he said. He did mention that he hoped to leave

Washington by noon on September 19 in order to meet with PRC

Vice Premier Wu Yi in Chiang Mai on September 21 and wondered

whether his meeting with the President could take place in

the morning. I said that I had already forwarded that

request through the NSC.

 

DISCUSSING THE SOUTH

 

3. (C) I said that Washington was very interested to know

how Thai policy towards the troubles in the South might be

changing. I referred to concerns both inside and outside

Thailand that Thaksin had seized \”dictatorial powers\” when he

issued the recent emergency decree. Thaksin said he fully

expects the President to ask him about the South; \”if he

doesn\’t raise the issue, I will\” he said. He emphasized that

Justice Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya remained in charge of

the police and military response to southern violence while

Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng was responsible for

addressing social issues. He described his visit last Friday

to the region, where he went to encourage shop owners to defy

pressure from separatists to close on Fridays, as a success.

 

BURMA

 

4. (C) I reminded Thaksin that he had told Secretary Rice

that four years of \”constructive engagement\” with Burma left

him frustrated and facing the likelihood of being more public

in criticizing Rangoon. I suggested that the President might

wish to pursue this matter further.

 

BEEF AND OPEN SKIES

 

5. (C) Aside from these major issues, I noted that there

are a handful of other important issues pending. The

resolution of these in advance of the visit, I said, could

comprise a package of impressive achievements for the visit.

The first issue is beef imports: Thailand still bans U.S.

beef, in spite of earlier personal assurances from Thaksin

that the import ban would be lifted. Thaksin said that this

could be quickly resolved. I then mentioned the continuing

delay in the launch of civil aviation Open Skies talks, in

spite of assurances by the PM and the Transport Minister to

Secretary Mineta in late April that the talks should be

 

SIPDIS

completed within six months. Thaksin replied, \”Let\’s see if

we can hold the first round of talks prior to my meeting with

the President (i.e., prior to September 19).\” I welcomed

this proposal and promised to convey it to the appropriate

USG officials.

 

PSI

 

6. (C) I reminded Thaksin that FM Kantathi Suphamongkhon

had indicated to the Secretary that Thailand might be willing

to sign the PSI Statement of Principles soon. Thaksin

reiterated that intent, but backtracked slightly, saying that

Thailand would sign as soon as another ASEAN member other

than Singapore signed on. \”I need cover on this in the

South,\” he said.

 

F-16

 

7. (C) On Thailand\’s efforts to procure new or updated

fighter aircraft, Thaksin said that he was reviewing a plan

to spend about 400 million USD to perform mid-life upgrades

on two squadrons of F-16s already in the RTAF inventory.

Nonetheless, he said that Russian President Putin was pushing

SU-30 hard and indicated that it would be difficult not to

buy Russian as well. I explained that a Sukhoi purchase had

the potential to jeopardize a future Thai purchase of the

Joint Strike Fighter and suggested that he mollify the

Russians by announcing that Thailand would procure no new

aircraft and simply upgrading its existing fleet. I asked

whether this might not give Thaksin a face-saving way to

avoid creating a problem with either side. He was quiet for

a long time and said he would think about this in detail. He

emphasized that no final decision had yet been made.

 

FTA

 

8. (C) I mentioned our growing concern with the slow

progress of our FTA talks. I emphasized that the two sides

have been meeting for over a year, but these meetings have

been mostly information exchanges. By and large, the talks

so far have been mostly conversation, with little in the way

of negotiations. Added to this slow pace is the fact that

public opinion (as reflected in the Thai media) seems almost

uniformly anti-FTA, with precious few RTG officials speaking

publicly in favor of an FTA with the U.S. I told the Prime

Minister that I only half jokingly inform U.S. visitors that

the PM seems to be the only person in Thailand who supports

an FTA with the U.S.

 

9. (C) Thaksin replied that the reluctance of the Thai FTA

team to seriously engage with the U.S. is due to the fact

that \”we are afraid of you; you\’ll have to convince us to be

less afraid.\” Part of the cause of Thai anxiety, he said, is

discussions with Singaporean officials. These officials, he

said, have complained to the Thais that Singapore got less

than it thought it bargained for in its own FTA with the U.S.

Singaporean bad-mouthing aside, Thaksin went on to say that

he does not envision any serious problems in eventually

concluding an FTA with the U.S., and will tell the President

that he still fully supports the FTA. Thaksin noted that

Thailand had just successfully concluded an FTA with Japan.

As the talks went down to the wire, seemingly irreconcilable

differences remained. The PM recalled how the Thai chief

negotiator and his Japanese counterpart met with him. Both

seemed very downcast. Said Thaksin, \”I told them, why are

you so pessimistic? PM Koizumi and I have a great

relationship, we are always in a good mood and laugh a lot

when we meet. If we can do it, so can you. I told them to

go into a nearby room, fix the remaining problems, and then

go to dinner. And that\’s what they did.\”

 

U.S.-THAI DIALOGUE

 

10. (C) I told Thaksin that we took seriously his radio

remarks after his meeting with Secretary Rice of the need to

implement a bilateral \”Action Plan\” to strengthen our

relationship. I explained that we were now working on talks

to take place in November, led on our side by the State

Department and including representatives from NSC, OSD, JCS

and PACOM. He was very appreciative of this news and

suggested it would be worth highlighting in Washington.

 

DPRK

 

11. (C) Thaksin mentioned that FM Kantathi still planned to

go to the DPRK this month and hopes to talk to Secretary Rice

before departing. \”If Kim Jong Il is lucid,\” Thaksin said

\”I\’ll probably go there myself later.\”

 

THAKSIN SHOWS HIS AUTHORITARIAN SIDE

 

12. (C) Thaksin complained vociferously about how he is

targeted by the Bangkok elite and the media. He said there

were two major problems in Thai society, the press and the

courts. \”In the old days, reporters and editors were paid

off by crooked politicians and gamblers. Previous PMs were

more subservient to the press too, frequently doing them

favors.\” He explained that his unwillingness to do so was

the reason he is attacked in the Thai media. He told me that

he will continue to weed out the out-of-date political hacks

in senior positions of power suggesting that current Deputy

Prime Minister Pinij Jarusombat might be next to go from the

Cabinet.

 

MALAYSIA

 

13. (C) Thaksin told me he was bedeviled by his

relationship with Malaysia. Having worked with Malaysian PM

Badawi when they were both Foreign Ministers, Thaksin said

that he fully anticipated a better relationship with Kuala

Lumpur. Thaksin suggested that Badawi was now either

unwilling to engage with Muslim separatists in Thailand for

fear of aggravating his own problems or even hoped to restore

Pattani as part of greater Malaysia. In either case, Thaksin

suggested, the Malaysians had not been as helpful on

addressing complicated issues like dual nationals as he had

hoped. As a result, Thaksin sent DPM Surakiart Sathirathai

to Malaysia with evidence of wrongdoing by dual nationals.

That mission had been a partial success, Thaksin suggested,

but relations were still not what they should be.

 

SURAKIART AS UNSYG

 

14. (C) As Surakiart\’s name had come up, I asked about his

prospects to become UN Secretary General. \”If it is truly

Asia\’s year to have the Secretary Generalship,\” Thaksin told

me, \”then it should be Surakiart.\” He said that he had

endorsements from China, India, France, Russia and ASEAN. I

confidentially suggested, however, that Surakiart might have

 

SIPDIS

some problems based on his lack of experience and youth and

noted that neither of us wanted to see Thailand put into an

awkward situation. Thaksin asked rhetorically whether other

Thai candidates might be acceptable, but acknowledged that so

much capital had been spent promoting Surakiart that it might

be impossible to put forward another Thai.

 

COMMENT

 

15. (C) Although Thaksin is probably receiving more intense

public criticism now than at any time since early in his

first administration, he remains confident and very much in

control. All elements for a successful meeting with the

President seem to be in place. The seemingly good prospect

for resolving two issues — beef and Open Skies — in advance

of the meeting with the President is good news. On the FTA,

the PM\’s story of how the FTA with Japan was resolved is

consistent with our experience: Thaksin\’s personal engagement

is essential in order to make anything important happen here.

But, the crucial issue of timing remains. The importance of

completing the FTA by early \’06 would be a useful point for

the President to emphasize in his meeting with the Prime

Minister. Thaksin\’s backpedaling on PSI is unfortunate, but

should be resolvable if we succeed in obtaining the

endorsement of another ASEAN country quickly. F-16 is

another matter. Given the fact that many senior officials,

including Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld, have raised our

concerns about F-16, it would be conspicuous to the Thai if

the President did not. The suggestion to Thaksin about

mid-life upgrades, conducted by Lockheed Martin, in lieu of

purchasing new fighters, might be worth pursuing.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

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