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Cablegate: Algerian Mfa Wary On Eve of Asad Visit

VZCZCXRO2618
PP RUEHTRO
DE RUEHAS #1327/01 3571642
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 221642Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6771
INFO RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0444
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 1503
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 2074
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 2628
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 7487
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2973
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 9139
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0651
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 3612

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ALGIERS 001327

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2018
TAGS: PREL PTER SY AF IC LE AG
SUBJECT: ALGERIAN MFA WARY ON EVE OF ASAD VISIT

REF: SECSTATE 133148

Classified By: Ambassador David D. Pearce; reasons 1.4 (b, d).

1. (S) Ambassador delivered reftel demarche December 21 to
the MFA Director General for Arab Affairs on the eve of
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's expected visit. On foreign
fighters, DG Abdelhamid Bouzaher said that the flow into Iraq
had declined in recent years from a 2003-05 peak. He added
that many young returning Algerian fighters had been
"disillusioned" by their experience, not wanting to be used
merely as suicide bombers. Ambassador noted Syria was still
the main route into Iraq and Damascus needed to do more. On
Iran, Bouzaher saw Syria's relationship with Iran as less one
of "strategy and substance" than convenience and temporary
interest. Ambassador noted that, over the years, Syria had
facilitated Iranian access to Lebanon but the Syrian
government was likely to listen carefully to any concerns
Algeria might voice. Ambassador asked that Algeria lend its
weight to pressing Syria to adopt a more positive approach to
Lebanon, including the normalization of relations, which was
important for the security and stability of the entire
region. He also raised the need for Arab countries to
normalize relations with Iraq, rather than leave the
diplomatic field in Baghdad to Iran.

FOREIGN FIGHTERS "DISILLUSIONED"
--------------------------------

2. (S) In Bouzaher's view, the flow of foreign fighters into
Iraq has declined markedly in recent years, from a 2003-2005
peak. The Ambassador responded that any decline was
relative, and the transit of foreign fighters through Syria
was still a problem and the Syrian government needed to do
more. Bouzaher stressed the positive Syrian step of opening
its border to over a million Iraqi refugees, and said he
believed Syria was today more serious about securing its
frontier with Iraq. Although Bouzaher admitted he "was not
an expert" on the issue, he said that many young Algerian
fighters returning from Iraq were "disillusioned" by their
experience, as they did not want to be used merely as suicide
bombers. "This is not part of our culture," they felt,
according to Bouzaher.

3. (S) Bouzaher said that Algeria's ties with Syria had
deteriorated in recent years over the terrorism issue. The
Algerian government had engaged recently with the Syrians on
economic and commercial issues, but had thus far failed to
conclude a bilateral security accord. Bouzaher said that
Syria had shown signs lately of wanting to break out of its
isolation and had evinced some good will regarding Iraq and
Lebanon in particular. Today, said Bouzaher, Syria has a
"clear interest" in stable relations with Iraq. Ambassador
pressed Bouzaher for specifics, saying he hoped Bouzaher was
right but Syria needed to demonstrate these intentions in a
more concrete manner.

INTO THE ARMS OF IRAN
---------------------

4. (S) Bouzaher saw the resolution of the Israel-Palestine
conflict as the "key to the entire region," including all of
the issues involving Syria. In the case of Iran, he said,
solving this problem would rob them of their vision of a
"divine mission" to reclaim Jerusalem, and therefore, by
implication, make it easier for Syria to stand against
Iranian support for Hizballah in Lebanon. Bouzaher saw
Syria's relationship with Iran as less one of "strategy and
substance" than of convenience and temporary interest.
Ambassador noted that, over the years, Syria had facilitated
Iranian access to Lebanon but the Syrian government was
likely to listen carefully to any concerns Algeria might
voice. Bouzaher repeated that Syria had been a victim of its
own isolation, and said that he did not believe it had any
real substantive interest in close relations with Iran.
Instead, he said al-Asad wanted to improve his relations with
the U.S, a desire that "was complicated" by recent
cross-border U.S. military actions inside Syria.

SHI'A THREAT "FRIGHTENING"
--------------------------

5. (S) Ambassador asked that Algeria lend its weight to

ALGIERS 00001327 002 OF 002


pressing Syria to adopt a more positive approach to Lebanon,
including the normalization of relations, which was important
for the security and stability of the entire region.
Bouzaher stressed that Algeria had "an Arab nationalist duty"
to support Lebanon and would continue to do so. He said
Algeria has consistently pushed for a full investigation into
the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, but
in the absence of specific proof, was not eager to blame
Syria outright. Bouzaher stressed that Algeria's
relationship with Syria had suffered greatly in the 1990s
over the terrorism issue, but was now improving. Bouzaher
believed that Syria "has intentions to normalize" relations
with Lebanon, and added that Syria has to realize that the
situation in Lebanon could be very damaging to Sunni
interests. As Sunni Arabs, he said, Algeria found the Shi'a
in Lebanon "frightening;" it was a situation not at all
favorable to "our way of seeing things." Bouzaher said that
the core issue in Lebanon was the arming of Hizballah, "as
everyone knows."

WARILY REENGAGING ON IRAQ
-------------------------

6. (S) The Ambassador stressed that as an influential voice
in the Arab world, it would help if Algeria was among those
taking the lead on Arab re-engagement with Iraq. To not do
so, he said, was damaging to stability and left the field to
Iran. Iraq would endure and Iraqis would remember those who
supported them in their darker days, much as Algeria
remembered those who did or did not offer support during the
1990s civil war. To this, Bouzaher responded that Algeria
was still very much scarred by the July 2005 assassination of
two Algerian diplomats in Baghdad, and that no official
investigation or condolences had ever come from the Iraqi
government. Ambassador said this was an important and
legitimate concern, one shared by other countries whose
diplomats had been killed, but it was also important for the
stability of the region to re-engage Iraq. Bouzaher
acknowledged that it was time for Algeria "to clarify its
relations with Iraq," particularly since Iraqis had supported
Algeria during its war for independence.

COMMENT
-------

7. (S) Bouzaher was part of an Algerian business delegation
led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia that visited Damascus in
October, signing several economic and commercial agreements.
He confided that in other areas such as security, there had
been less progress. He referred to a bilateral draft
agreement between Algerian and Syrian intelligence and
security services that had been pending for some time and was
still not signed, as "our services still have much to clarify
to make sure we understand" Syrian intentions. We delivered
the demarche and non-paper to Bouzaher at a propitious time -
we left his office at 1545, and he was heading into a meeting
with Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci at 1600, presumably to
discuss the imminent visit of al-Asad, among other things.
PEARCE

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