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Cablegate: Scenescetter for the Visit of Codel Costello

VZCZCXRO7320
PP RUEHAG
DE RUEHTU #1085/01 2221453
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101453Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHAG/AMCONSUL HAMBURG PRIORITY 0004
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 0063
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3657
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 0326
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0159
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0774
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB PRIORITY 0050

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TUNIS 001085

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG (HARRIS AND HOPKINS)
STATE FOR H (SMITH AND DIGGS) - PLEASE PASS TO CODEL
COSTELLO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP EWWT TS
SUBJECT: SCENESCETTER FOR THE VISIT OF CODEL COSTELLO

REF: STATE 107590

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Embassy Tunis warmly welcomes Representative Jerry
Costello and accompanying members of CODEL Costello to Tunis
from August 18 - August 20, 2007. 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 Embassy has requested
meetings with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Minister of
Foreign Affairs Abdelwahab Abdullah, and Minister of
Transport Aderrahim Zouari as well as a visit to the Rades -
La Goulette Port. In addition to discussing port security,
Tunisian officials may wish to discuss the latest political,
economic and security issues relevant to the US-Tunisian
bilateral relationship, as well as regional issues.

3. (SBU) Recent high-level visits include the February 2006
visit by former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and a May 2006
visit by then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.
More recently, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Admiral Edmund Giambastiani visited and Tunisia hosted the
22nd US-Tunisia Joint Military Commission (JMC) meetings,
both in May 2007. The Government of Tunisia warmly welcomed
CODEL Tanner during their June 2007 visit.

----------------------
Socio-Economic Context
----------------------

4. (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 woman
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.

5. (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 $3000. The United States hopes Tunisia will be part of
President Bush's vision of a Middle East Free Trade Area, but
the preliminary Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
(TIFA) has not produced tangible results, in part due to
Tunisian concerns about the impact of rapid economic
liberalization.


TUNIS 00001085 002 OF 003


------------------
Political Overview
------------------

6. (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 the president since 1987.
Although three opposition parties fielded candidates in the
October 2004 presidential election, official results
indicated that President Ben Ali won approximately 94 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 be next held in 2009.

7. (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, registering a new
political party and independent media outlets), civil society
and human rights groups remain deeply cynical and 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 2006 Reporters Without Borders Worldwide
Press Freedom Index, Tunisia was ranked 148 out of 168
countries.

------------------
Security Situation
------------------

8. (SBU) There is a threat of terrorism in Tunisia,
particularly in light of the recent establishment of al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In January 2007, the
Government of Tunisia announced that 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 in
Tunis was 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, the first al-Qaeda related terrorist attack after
September 11.

9. (SBU) The Government of Tunisia remains concerned about
signs of increasing Islamic extremism and considers national
security as 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 dramatically in FY-08 to
approximately US $2 million, which will make any significant
recapitalization of the Tunisian Armed Forces problematic,
unless additional third-country or other financing is
secured.

-----
Ports
-----

10. (SBU) Tunisia has relatively well-developed maritime
infrastructure, including six commercial seaports, but is
actively upgrading its port facilities and management. The

TUNIS 00001085 003 OF 003


Government is currently conducting a feasibility study for
construction of a deep-water port in Enfidha, an hour south
of Tunis on the eastern coast, and is expected to launch an
international tender for the project. The Government has
also launched an international tender for the supply and
installation of Vessel Traffic Systems (VTS) to monitor
vessel movement in and out of all six commercial ports.
Cruise ships and ferries, primarily from Europe, represent a
large volume of the vessel traffic in and out of Tunisian
ports. The majority of container traffic is also between
Tunisia and Europe since approximately 80 percent of
Tunisia's trade is conducted with Europe. The level of trade
between the United States and Tunisia remains relatively
limited. A January 2005 US Coast Guard assessment found
Tunisian ports to have a robust security program with
implementation at a level greater than required by the
International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. In
Rades, Tunisia's primary container port, government policy
dictates that 100 percent of all exported and imported
containers be scanned.
GODEC

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