Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Boehner


DE RUEHTU #0277/01 0780918
P 180918Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) Embassy Tunis warmly welcomes CODEL Boehner and
accompanying members to Tunis from March 24 - 26, 2008.
Tunisia proudly -- and justifiably -- calls itself a "country
that works." Despite Tunisia's relatively small economy and
lack of natural resources, the Tunisian government has proven
itself capable of providing basic education, health care,
housing and a workable infrastructure to its population.
Tunisia has the most diversified economy in the region and
enjoys one of the highest standards of living on the
continent. The political system is dominated by a single
party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), and
political liberties are tightly controlled. This cable
provides background information on these themes. END SUMMARY.

The Bilateral Relationship

2. (SBU) Your visit takes place in the context of a
long-standing and positive bilateral relationship; the United
States was the first Western power to recognize an
independent Tunisia in 1956. The importance of the bilateral
relationship has been manifested in several recent high-level
visits: Congressional visits include CODEL Cramer in 2008;
and CODELs Tanner, Costello, Jackson-Lee, and Inouye in 2007.
AUSTR Shaun Donnelly, the State Department,s Coordinator
for Counterterrorism Dell Dailey and Assistant Secretary of
State C. David Welch also all visited Tunisia in 2008.

Socio-Economic Context

3. (SBU) Tunisia proudly -- and justifiably -- calls itself a
"country that works." Despite Tunisia's relatively small
economy and lack of natural resources, the Tunisian
government provides basic education, health care, housing and
a workable infrastructure to its population. Tunisian women
enjoy more rights and opportunities than in any other Arab
Muslim country. As a result of these policies, the majority
of Tunisians are generally moderate and desire a government
intent on modernizing the country and integrating it fully
into the world economy.

4. (U) Tunisia has the most diversified economy in the region
and enjoys one of the highest standards of living on the
continent. The country does not have vast reserves of
hydrocarbons like its neighbors Algeria and Libya but has
prospered under long-standing government policies to develop
manufacturing industries for export and to promote tourism.
The Government of Tunisia also seeks to attract foreign
direct investment and strengthen its traditional agricultural
sector. Thanks to these policies, Tunisia's economy has
maintained average annual growth rates of almost five percent
over the past ten years. At the same time, social programs
limit population growth, provide a high standard of
education, and ensure a relatively decent standard of living
for all. Average annual per capita income is approximately
US $2800. The United States and Tunisia signed a Trade and
Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2002 to strengthen
bilateral economic engagement. The third TIFA Council
meeting took place in Tunis on March 10-11.

Political Overview

5. (SBU) Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a
population of approximately 10 million, dominated by a single
political party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD).
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been President since 1987, when
he removed President Bourguiba. Although the GOT has many of
the institutions of democracy, it is not a democracy. Three
opposition parties fielded candidates in the October 2004
presidential election, official results indicated that
President Ben Ali won approximately 95 percent of the
registered popular vote. The official turnout was reportedly
higher than 90 percent of registered voters, although there
were indications that voter turnout figures were artificially
inflated. Tunisia has a bicameral legislature. In addition
to the Chamber of Deputies, a second legislative body, the
Chamber of Advisors, was created in a 2002 referendum
amending the Constitution. The legislature plays a limited
role as an arena for debate on national policy but never
introduces legislation and virtually always passes bills
presented by the Executive with only minor changes. National
elections - both presidential and legislative - will next be
held in 2009.

6. (SBU) Political liberties remain tightly controlled and
civil society development is stifled. Tunisia's sluggishness
on political reform has been a point of contention in the
US-Tunisian relationship in recent years. Although President
Ben Ali has introduced some positive political reforms in the
past two years (pardoning some political prisoners, lifting a
form of censorship for print media, and allowing independent
media outlets), civil society and human rights groups
continue to report many instances of government harassment,
intimidation, and limits on their activities. Journalists
reject the suggestion that press censorship has ended, and
local media usually lacks any meaningful coverage of domestic
political issues. In the 2007 Reporters Without Borders
Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Tunisia was ranked 145 out of
169 countries.

Security Situation

7. (SBU) There is a threat of terrorism in Tunisia,
particularly in light of the establishment of al-Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM claimed it abducted two
Austrian tourists in Tunisia on February 22. The kidnappers
are reportedly asking for five million euros and the release
of several prisoners being held in Algeria and Tunisia in
exchange for the hostages. In January 2007, Tunisian
security forces disrupted a terrorist group in December
2006/January 2007, killing or capturing many individuals who
reportedly planned to carry out acts of violence in Tunisia.
The US Embassy and personnel in Tunis were reportedly among
the group's intended targets. In 2002, a faction of al-Qaeda
claimed responsibility for an attack on the Ghriba synagogue
on the southern island of Djerba. This attack, in which 20
victims were killed, was the first al-Qaeda related terrorist
attack after September 11.

8. (SBU) The Government of Tunisia remains concerned about
signs of increasing Islamic extremism and considers national
security one of its major priorities. Therefore, it places a
high value on its historic and robust military-military
relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, and
against the backdrop of a very limited national budget, new
equipment is needed to match the evolving and common threat
of transnational terrorism. At present, Tunisia receives
approximately US $8 million in Foreign Military Financing
(FMF), nearly all of which is used for the partial
maintenance of its aging fleets of US-origin equipment. FMF
is expected to drop in FY-09 to possibly as low as US $2
million, which will make any significant recapitalization of
the Tunisian Armed Forces problematic, unless additional
third-country or other financing is secured. In addition to
FMF, the Mission is also pursuing possible options for
Section 1206 funding for Tunisia's military.

9. (SBU) That said, Tunisia has been and remains an active
participant in United Nations peacekeeping missions,
including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC),
Ethiopia and Eritrea. The GOT is cooperative on certain
military issues, and takes part in NATO seminars and
activities, and is extremely appreciative of US assistance
(which includes IMET, USEUCOM Humanitarian Assistance,
counterterrorism-related seminars, and other activities). In
fact, the GOT reciprocated the USG's past generosity with a
symbolic gesture of two C-130 loads -- some 20 tons -- of
humanitarian assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

© Scoop Media

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