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Cablegate: Codel Hastings Presses Got On 2009 Election

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #1213/01 3451306
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101306Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5808
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS PRIORITY 7711
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0005
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY

UNCLAS TUNIS 001213

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NEA/MAG (SWILLIAMS, MNARDI, MHAYES)
STATE ALSO FOR H - PLEASE PASS CODEL HASTINGS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP PGOV PREL TS
SUBJECT: CODEL HASTINGS PRESSES GOT ON 2009 ELECTION
OBSERVERS

-------
Summary
-------
1. (SBU) In December 3 meetings with Tunisia's Minister of
Foreign Affairs and six parliamentarians, Representative
Alcee Hastings pressed the importance of credible
international election observers for Tunisia's 2009
presidential and parliamentary elections. He discussed
increased multilateral engagement and potential policies of
the incoming US administration. Congressman Hastings also
invited the Tunisian Parliamentarians to participate in an
upcoming OSCE parliamentary meeting he is organizing in
Washington and to put an intern in his Washington office.
End Summary.

--------------------------------------
Credible Election Observers Encouraged
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) During his December 3 meeting with Minister of
Foreign Affairs Abdelwaheb Abdallah, Representative Alcee
Hastings inquired about plans for international election
observers for Tunisia's 2009 presidential and legislative
elections. Noting that he had been responsible for
persuading then-Secretary Colin Powell to accept
international election observers for US elections in 2004,
Hastings made the case that Tunisia also accept international
election observers. Abdallah noted that during the 2004
elections Tunisia hosted observers from the African Union,
Arab League, and select members of the European Union. He
added that President Ben Ali has publicly stated that both
international observers and journalists will be invited to
observe the 2009 elections. Representative Hastings offered
that OSCE observers were well known for their excellent work.

3. (SBU) In a later meeting with Chair of the Committee on
Political Affairs and Foreign Relations Salah El Tabarki,
Chair of the Tunisian-American Friendship Caucus El Tijani
Haddad, Reporter of the Committee on Political Affairs and
Foreign Relations Abdelatif Ben El Makki, Secretary General
of the Socialist Democratic Movement Ismail Bou Lahia,
Popular Union Party representative Hichem El Hajji, and the
General Director of Foreign Relations for the Chamber of
Deputies Ahmed Labidi, Representative Hastings again queried
about plans for international election monitoring. While the
majority of the parliamentarians repeated that President Ben
Ali has publicly endorsed the notion, one parliamentarian
opined that international observers would not be necessary in
2009, suggesting that Tunisia could handle its own affairs.
Interjecting, Representative Hastings reminded him that
international observers are essential for establishing
legitimacy.

--------------------------
Multilateral Participation
--------------------------

4. (SBU) When asked by Representative Hastings about
Tunisia's stance on the Barcelona Process compared to the
Union for the Mediterranean, Minister Abdallah noted that
Tunisia viewed favorably regional efforts. He noted that
Tunisia had initially been a strong supporter of the
Barcelona Process. With respect to the UPM, Abdallah
cautioned that Tunisia has become less enthusiastic as
cultural differences with "the Nordic countries of the
European Union" have created an "imbalance" and suggested
that the focus of future efforts should be regional, offering
Mediterranean depollution as a tangible example. Abdallah
noted that some problems, such as the situation in Iraq, may
take more than four years to resolve. In response,
Representative Hastings asked how long it will take to
resolve the situation in Western Sahara, receiving a reply of
"two generations".

5. (SBU) The Tunisian parliamentarians predicted failure for
any Mediterranean Union proposal, if societal issues are not
placed above economic concerns. Blaming the failure of the
Barcelona process on a lack of social emphasis, the
parliamentarians said that a successful, sustainable process
would focus on education and culture. Offering a concrete
proposal for cross cultural exchange, Representative Hastings
then offered to host a Tunisian intern in his office after
reminding the parliamentarians of the need to work together
to solve regional problems, including the issue of Western
Sahara, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the

situation in Iraq. Noting that OSCE's Mediterranean partners
could provide needed substantive political direction on
regional issues, Representative Hastings invited the Tunisian
parliamentarians to participate in an upcoming parliamentary
meeting in Washington. Separately, Tijani Haddad told the
Ambassador that he hoped to bring a Tunisian delegation to
Washington and would consider doing so concurrent to the OSCE
parliamentary meeting.

------------------
New Administration
------------------

6. (SBU) Both Abdallah and the Members of Parliament offered
their congratulations on the election of President-elect
Barack Obama. Representative Hastings indicated that future
high level visits may be possible, an idea that elicited
delight among his Tunisian interlocutors. Abdallah said that
the world's attention has been grabbed and there is now an
opportunity to introduce new policies, while the
parliamentarians expressed optimism that the United States
would lead by example. They also said that they would like
to have a closer relationship with the US Congress,
expressing interest in the Tunisia Caucus.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) Congressman Hastings' interlocutors seemed to be
genuinely enthusiastic about increased engagement in their
meetings with Representative Hastings. Congressman Hastings'
gentle encouragement on election observers was effective and
useful. Abdallah's expressed dissatisfaction with the Nordic
influence on the UPM is the clearest he has been recently in
relating GOT views on this new entity. End Comment.

8. (SBU) CODEL Hastings did not have the opportunity to see
this cable before their departure, but concurred with its
issuance.
Godec

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