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Cablegate: French Mfa Puts Sarkozy's July 10-11 North Africa

VZCZCXRO6992
RR RUEHTRO
DE RUEHFR #3237/01 2121431
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 311431Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9233
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 003237

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/30/2017
TAGS: PREL PHUM PTER PBTS ETRD FR AG TU MO
SUBJECT: FRENCH MFA PUTS SARKOZY'S JULY 10-11 NORTH AFRICA
TRIP IN CONTEXT

REF: A. (A) TUNIS 949
B. (B) ALGIERS 1004
C. (C) RABAT 1128

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Josiah Rosenblatt, for reas
ons 1.4. (b), (d).

1. (C) Summary: President Sarkozy's first visit outside
Europe July 10-11 to Algeria and Tunisia underscored his
determination to proceed with his still vague Mediterranean
Union initiative, establish his own relationships with the
leaders in those countries, and pave the way for state visits
in 2007 and 2008. Neither stop yielded much in the way of
""deliverables."" This was most apparent in Algeria, where
images of Bouteflika's warm reception reportedly contrasted
with disagreements over Sarkozy's refusal to atone publicly
for the sins of France's colonial rule. Both sides agreed to
suspend further work on a treaty of friendship started under
President Chirac. An agreement on diplomatic visas
contrasted with disappointment over a bilateral accord on
civilian nuclear development and a lukewarm reception to the
Mediterranean Union idea. In Tunisia, Sarkozy dealt with the
sensitive issue of human rights himself in private meetings
and limited press statements even at the risk of sending a
mixed message in terms of his break with his more tolerant
predecessor. Tunisian leaders voiced greater enthusiasm for
the Mediterranean Union, which, according to our MFA
interlocutors, reflects profound unhappiness over the
Barcelona Process. The GOF was unhappy about Morocco's
last-minute cancellation of what would have been the third
leg of the North African tour but plans to proceed with a
state visit there in October. End summary

2. (C) We spoke recently to the French MFA's Algeria and
Tunisia/Libya desk officers about President Sarkozy's July
10-11 visits. As noted in refs A and B, the visit was more
of a symbolic opportunity to get to know the respective
leaders and lay down some preliminary markers for formal
state visits to follow in late 2007 and possibly early 2008.
The much ballyhooed but little understood Mediterranean Union
idea also featured in the discussions both to ensure the
leaders had some conception of the proposal as well as
understood Sarkozy's personal commitment to implementing his
still inchoate vision of what France hopes will be an
important regional grouping.

Algeria: Forget the Past -- Please
-----------------------------------

3. (C) Algeria desk officer Jay Dharmadhikari provided an
elaborate overview of the framework in which France places
its bilateral relationship with Algeria, stressing how it is
divided into consular (especially visas), security,
economic/commercial, and political dossiers. In the context
of the visit, however, he stressed that Presidents Sarkozy
and Bouteflika got into little detail and did not accomplish
a great deal in terms of concrete deliverables.

--Visas: As noted in ref B, Paris eased visa restrictions
for diplomatic passport holders but insisted on holding the
line for everyone else (including ""service"" passport holders
who include military and security as well as other government
personnel). France has very little leeway, he explained,
vis-a-vis the other Schengen partners, which always rankles
the Algerians. The most France could do was promise to
""study"" the matter further.

--France's colonial legacy/treaty of friendship: An
essential point in Sarkozy's visit to Algiers was repeating
as president his contention that France and Algeria needed to
put the past behind them as much as possible. This meant no
French ""repentance"" for past sins dating back to the colonial
period. Dharmadhikari underscored that Bouteflika and other
Algerians expressed their view that France should not expect
to wipe the slate clean and move on. Although French media
made much of the reputed ""burial"" of what became in Chirac's
last two years a controversial draft friendship treaty
between France and Algeria, Dharmadhikari said only that the
treaty is on indefinite hold and could be revived later
should conditions warrant. (Comment: We note that Sarkozy's
""no repentance"" line resurfaced in a speech he gave in Dakar
July 26 that, inter alia, urged all Africans to look beyond
their sense of grievance over the colonial past and focus on
the real problems that confront them today. End comment)

--Economic/commercial ties: One of France's longstanding
priorities with Algeria, according to Dharmadhikari, is
promoting commercial and investment ties. He complained,
however, that French businesses continue to have problems
with bureaucratic red tape and other institutional and
non-institutional barriers to conducting business. Reform,

PARIS 00003237 002 OF 003


especially where it applies to reviewing and revising
protectionist regulations and retooling inadequate judicial
mechanisms for dispute resolution, remains a slow and
uncertain process. When asked how much assistance France
provides to help Algeria in these and related fields (such as
assistance for WTO accession), Dharmadhikari demurred,
indicating that virtually all French assistance flows through
the EU so that aid is delivered multilaterally.

--Civilian nuclear development: Dharmadhikari acknowledged
that France did not get very far pushing its desire to sell
civilian nuclear equipment to Algeria on this trip. He
faulted inadequate preparation for the visit (presumably on
the Algerian side) more than Algerian disinterest in the
idea. Dharmadhikari noted our signature of an accord
recently with the Algerians and hoped that the USG and GOF
could consult formally about nuclear cooperation with Algeria.

--Western Sahara and Boutef's health: During the meeting
between the presidents, the emotional subject of France's
colonial legacy kept coming up along with the desire to
continue cooperating closely on security issues (primarily
terrorism). On the Western Sahara, Dharmadhikari stated that
Bouteflika complained about France's tilt in Morocco's favor
but Sarkozy refused to be drawn into a detailed discussion of
the subject and insisted the substance of French policy had
not fundamentally changed. Bouteflika seemed relatively
healthy and engaged, though not enough to alter Paris' view
that he will be lucky to survive to the end of his current
term in 2009.

--The Mediterranean Union idea, Dharmadhikari confirmed, did
not excite the Algerians. He characterized their reaction as
lukewarm but not dismissive. Dharmadhikari opined that
Algeria's reaction was based on a realistic calculation that
such a grouping made no sense and would not work as long as
Moroccan/Algerian ties were so antagonistic. Dharmadhikari
further thought that Algeria was being true to its tendency
not to favor any gathering or international initiative that
it was neither leading nor instigating.

--Reinforcing the relationship's ""political direction:"" One
positive outcome from the visit Dharmadhikari cited was
agreement by the two presidents that the intergovernmental
mechanisms handling the details of the bilateral relationship
needed to be reinforced. Specifically, the two sides agreed
that their respective prime ministers would oversee the work
of their ministries and thus give a political aspect to the
functional work they undertook. This should provide better
accountability and ensure that the state visit expected in
November truly delivers concrete results (such as an
agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation).

Tunisia: All Smiles and Some Nervousness
-----------------------------------------

4. (C) Tunisia/Libya desk officer Christian Reigneaud had a
less stressful time preparing Sarkozy's visit to Tunis. The
Tunisians, he said, were warm and there were almost no
contentious issues to discuss. Human rights was the
exception, and in that sense the French delegation quickly
picked up Tunisian nervousness about how Sarkozy, as opposed
to Chirac, would deal with them. In the end, Reigneaud
explained, Sarkozy exercised discretion in confining his most
critical comments on human rights to his one-on-one with Ben
Ali. Reigneaud claimed that Sarkozy did discuss specific
cases, including the subsequently released dissident lawyer
Mohammed Abbou. (Comment: French newspapers reporting
Abbou's release referred to reports that Sarkozy had raised
his specific case while in Tunis. Interestingly, and perhaps
partly because of the overwhelming and breathless coverage of
France's role in the ""Bulgarian medics"" case and Sarkozy's
visit to Libya, the GOF did not seek credit for Abbou's
release. End comment) The general tenor of Sarkozy's
general talking points to Ben Ali, Reigneaud assured us, were
along the lines of ""we do not want to see anything threaten
Tunisia's internal stability but believe that Tunisia must be
confident enough of its economic and social strengths to open
up.""

5. (C/NF) When asked about the one-on-one that Sarkozy had
with Ben Ali, Reigneaud replied that it concerned problems
France has encountered in its bilateral security cooperation.
Tunisia had been upset about French security service contact
with a prominent Tunisian dissident in exile (NFI) and
believed French intelligence had provided support for his
criticisms of Ben Ali and his family from France. Sarkozy
set the record straight, and France was hoping this important
liaison relationship, focused heavily on terrorism, would get
back on track.


PARIS 00003237 003 OF 003


6. (C) By contrast with the Algerians, Reigneaud described
the Tunisians as ""ecstatic"" about the Mediterranean Union
concept. This reflects disappointment with the Barcelona
process, he explained, and possibly the desire to find a more
solid anchor working principally with France than the EU to
promote regional cooperation. Anything that would reduce the
scope for the Nordics and other northern Europeans to
complain about human rights was also something Tunisia
welcomed.

7. (C) As with Algeria, the French are looking ahead to a
yet-to-be finalized state visit in late 2007/early 2008.
Reigneaud said the well-established bilateral commissions
would start working on deliverables, and he thought Prime
Minister Fillon and/or FM Kouchner would visit in the not too
distant future.

Morocco: The Stop Not Made
---------------------------

8. (C) Dharmadhikari and Reigneaud confirmed the irritation
at senior levels of the GOF over Morocco's request that
Sarkozy not include Rabat in this tour. They gave all the
reasons cited in ref C, most of which have come out in the
French media. The last-minute nature of the cancellation was
more irritating than the cancellation itself, according to
our interlocutors. Dharmadhikari, who handles the Western
Sahara portfolio, said the Moroccan decision reflected the
sort of impulsive and arbitrary style the GOF has gotten used
to from King Mohammed. It would have no long-term effects on
that bilateral relationship, but it did serve as a firm
reminder of the sensitivities France has to balance between
Morocco and Algeria.

Comment
-------

9. (C) Sarkozy's choice of the Maghreb as his first
non-European trip as president surprised many but has been
explained away by recalling that his desire to establish a
Mediterranean Union was one of the specific things Sarkozy
referred to in his statement immediately after being elected.
Even though the union still seems more of an idea Sarkozy
has been nursing for some time, and not a carefully
thought-out vision (we are still not sure where this
initiative is being handled bureaucratically in the GOF), he
clearly wanted to be seen taking the concept to those leaders
whose help he needs to bring it to life. Morocco's
last-minute cancellation, therefore, was a setback to
Sarkozy's desire to be seen moving quickly to make good on
one of his initiatives.

10. (C) In Algeria, the reality behind the smiles and warm
interaction between Bouteflika and Sarkozy in front of the
cameras was probably sobering but important. Sarkozy likely
appreciates how much he has to make up for in terms of the
damage done to France's ties with Algeria over the past two
years. Nevertheless, Sarkozy's determination to look to the
future and not dwell on the sins of France's colonial past
cannot have gone over well with a veteran of the Algerian
liberation struggle like Bouteflika. The state visit should
reveal whether the two leaders' generational difference over
this symbolic point translates into substantive obstacles to
the better ties both say they want. In Tunisia, Sarkozy
wanted to mark a break from the heavily personalized and much
criticized relationship Chirac had with Ben Ali. His desire
to keep the most contentious part of the bilateral
relationship away from public view, however, inadvertently
sent the wrong signal. His delegation snubbed Tunisia's
independent civil society, and his state secretary for human
rights was forced to endure ridicule in the French media for
having been invisible in Tunis and only meeting the head of a
Tunisian human rights group in Paris after the visit. Ben
Ali and his cohorts, on the other hand, were probably
relieved to have gotten off as lightly as they did and
probably hope that the schizophrenia of the later Chirac
years (Douste-Blazy reputedly despised and would not visit
Tunisia for its human rights record) will not be repeated.
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm


PEKALA

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