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Cablegate: U.S.-Morocco Laboratory Biosafety and Biosecurity

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #1152/01 3501652
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151652Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9436
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI 0430
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 0635
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0576
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 2469
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 0742
RUEHDO/AMEMBASSY DOHA 0875
RUEHKU/AMEMBASSY KUWAIT 1416
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 6074
RUEHMK/AMEMBASSY MANAMA 1049
RUEHMS/AMEMBASSY MUSCAT 0154
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 5144
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 0714
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA 1242
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 4419
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC

UNCLAS RABAT 001152

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR NEA/MAG, ISN/CTR, OES/STC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO TSPL MO XI XF
SUBJECT: U.S.-MOROCCO LABORATORY BIOSAFETY AND BIOSECURITY
WORKSHOP

REF: RABAT 755

1. (U) Summary: The first joint U.S.-Morocco Workshop on
Laboratory Biosafety and Biosecurity took place November 3-5
in Rabat, bringing together U.S. and international experts
with policy makers, administrators and scientists from
several Moroccan ministries and laboratories. The U.S.
delegation also met separately with Government of Morocco
(GOM) officials, and toured laboratories during the week.
Many GOM officials expressed a strong interest in continuing
collaboration with the U.S. to improve the safety and
security of Moroccan labs, increase Morocco,s standing in
the region as a leader in biosafety and biosecurity
practices, and more broadly increase science and technology
(S&T) linkages with the U.S. End Summary.

---------------------------------------------
LABORATORY BIOSAFETY AND BIOSECURITY WORKSHOP
---------------------------------------------

2. (U) The U.S. Department of State,s Bio-engagement
Program (BEP), within the Bureau of International Security
and Nonproliferation's Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction
(ISN/CTR), led a U.S. delegation to co-organize a Biosafety
and Biosecurity workshop with the Moroccan Ministry of
Health,s (MOH) National Institute of Hygiene (INH). This
initiative responded to a prior Moroccan request for general
awareness-raising training for national stakeholders in
biosafety and biosecurity. The first two days of the
workshop highlighted the importance and benefits of
laboratory biosafety and biosecurity, and improved national
legislation, to national security, human and animal health,
and the economy. The INH saw this as an opportunity to bring
together the relevant stakeholders for an awareness-raising
event in advance of an expected MOH proposal to create a
national interagency committee on biosafety and biosecurity.
The last day of the workshop was technical in nature, again
at the request of the INH; this day provided training and
certification in the proper, internationally-accepted
procedures for the shipment of hazardous biological samples
as laid out by the International Air Transport Association
(IATA) *- a self-identified knowledge gap in Moroccan
laboratories.

3. (U) U.S. experts from Sandia National Laboratories and
the Navy Medical Research Unit No. 3 (NAMRU-3), based in
Cairo, Egypt, conducted the bulk of the workshop training.
In addition, two experts on international nonproliferation
legislation from the Verification Research, Training and
Information Centre (VERTIC) presented their work with foreign
governments to assess and improve biological weapons
nonproliferation legislation worldwide. A number of Moroccan
government officials from the INH, the MOH's Directorate of
Epidemiology, and the state-owned veterinary and agricultural
laboratory Biopharma also gave presentations outlining the
status of human and animal health and lab infrastructure in
Morocco, as well as GOM initiatives to meet the requirements
set forth by the World Health Organization,s International
Health Regulations.

4. (U) Moroccan participants were enthusiastic about the
workshop; close to 80 participants from several ministries
and bioscience institutes attended the first two days, and
more than twice as many people as invited asked to attend the
hazardous shipping component on the last day. By the end of
the workshop, over 45 scientists passed the IATA
certification exam for the shipment of hazardous substances.
Furthermore, the INH pledged to continue domestic efforts to
strengthen biosafety and biosecurity regimes by assembling a
multi-agency committee that would address national biosafety
and biosecurity plans and programs.


-------------------------------------
SAFETY, SECURITY, AND S&T COOPERATION
-------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The U.S. delegation met with a number of Moroccan
policy makers, laboratory administrators and scientists to
discuss ways to collaborate more closely on laboratory
biosafety and biosecurity, disease surveillance and control,
and the development of better national legislation and
regulations to help meet the obligations of the Biological
Weapons Convention (BWC) and United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1540. INH Director Rajae El Aouad expressed an
interest in collaborating with the U.S. to improve the level
of safety and security within the large network of regional
and provincial labs under INH oversight, as well as to build
capacity to detect specific diseases. El Aouad believes that
partnering with the U.S. would be politically useful for
securing future support from the Ministry of Health by
showing that the INH has access to needed technical support.
The U.S. delegation also met with Dr. Mohammed Benbouida from
the Direction of Technology, Ministry of Higher Education and
Scientific Research. Benbouida, the Moroccan coordinator for
initiatives under the U.S.- Morocco Science and Technology
(S&T) Agreement signed in November 2006, expressed his wish
that life sciences be accorded a higher priority for
bilateral cooperation under the agreement, and agreed to
communicate further with the Embassy on potential avenues for
cooperation.

6. (SBU) On the margins of the workshop, VERTIC met with
officials from the Moroccan Ministries of Foreign Affairs,
Health, and Higher Education interested in the drafting of
nonproliferation legislation. VERTIC representatives
catalyzed a discussion on the ways they could help the GOM
evaluate and improve the current national legislation meant
to prevent and criminalize the proliferation and use of
biological weapons. VERTIC then reviewed the current
Moroccan legislation with the Moroccan interlocutors.
VERTIC's participation in the conference and side discussions
led to an increased level of communication between the
various Moroccan agencies on biosafety and biosecurity;
helped the GOM begin to outline the roles and
responsibilities of the various agencies; and produced a
commitment to continue the dialogue. ISN/CTR offered to
provide support for future VERTIC work in Morocco and the
surrounding region.

----------------
LABORATORY TOURS
----------------

7. (U) The U.S. delegation toured several laboratories in
Rabat and Casablanca under INH auspices in order to assess
laboratory capacity, safety and security, and discuss
possible opportunities for future collaboration. The tours
focused on institutes that investigate infectious diseases,
especially those facilities with Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3)
high containment laboratories. Facilities visited included
the National Institute of Hygiene, the Military Health
Laboratory, the Gendarmerie Laboratory, the Pasteur
Institute, and the Casablanca regional health laboratory. A
visit to the Biopharma laboratory, one of Morocco,s leading
animal health and agriculture facilities, was canceled due to
serious ongoing outbreaks of "peste des petits ruminants"
(sheep plague) in Morocco. Biopharma had implemented a
strict no-visitors policy during its crash effort to produce
25 millions doses of vaccine within a two week period.

8. (U) The U.S. team was welcomed at each institute, given
access to the primary infectious disease and high containment

labs on each campus, and in general had frank discussions
about the status and needs of Moroccan laboratories. Without
exception, the staff of each institute expressed a desire to
collaborate in the future. In addition, the lab tours helped
to forge connections between Moroccan institutes *- for
example, the trip to the Military Health Lab was the first
time the INH personnel had visited the military campus;
military and INH staff had a brief discussion on possible
ways they could work together on improving safety in their
laboratories. Finally, while the U.S. delegation was not
able to visit the Biopharma laboratories, the delegation met
with Dr. Mehdi El Harrak, director of the institute, to
discuss animal health needs in Morocco, and potential ways to
collaborate in the future. El Harrak invited ISN/CTR to
visit his facility on a future trip.

--------------------------
OPEN TO FUTURE COOPERATION
--------------------------

9. (SBU) ISN/CTR and INH personnel discussed several
possible next steps to deepen collaboration on laboratory
biosafety and biosecurity in Morocco. The U.S. delegation
will draft and share a general assessment of the biosafety
and biosecurity in the INH laboratories, along with
recommendations for possible assistance. INH, in turn, will
draft a list of its institutional priorities in biosafety and
biosecurity. An initial area of focus will be in identifying
and training biosafety officers within the INH and the 16
regional public health labs for which it has oversight
responsibilities.


*****************************************
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
*****************************************

Riley

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