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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Jackson Lee

VZCZCXRO7233
PP RUEHDE
DE RUEHTU #1159/01 2341536
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221536Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3742
INFO RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA PRIORITY 0145
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS PRIORITY 7525
RUEHKH/AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM PRIORITY
RUEHNJ/AMEMBASSY NDJAMENA PRIORITY 0037
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI PRIORITY 0147

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TUNIS 001159

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG (HARRIS AND HOPKINS)
STATE ALSO FOR H - PLEASE PASS CODEL JACKSON LEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP PREL PGOV PHUM PTER TS
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR CODEL JACKSON LEE

-------
Summary
-------

1. (U) Embassy Tunis warmly welcomes Representative Sheila
Jackson Lee and Representative Steve Chabot to Tunis from
August 29 - August 30, 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. The Embassy has requested a
meeting with President Ben Ali, but due to time constraints
we do not believe this meeting is likely. The Embassy has
also requested a meeting with Foreign Minister Abdallah. 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 a
meeting with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but due to
time constraints the Embassy does not believe this meeting is
likely. Embassy has also requested a meeting with Foreign
Minister Abdallah. 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 in June and CODEL Costello August 18-20.

----------------------
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 00001159 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 fraudulently 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. In
FY 2007, Tunisia will receive 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 2008
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.

----------------
Mission Overview
----------------

10. (SBU) The US Mission in Tunisia is a medium-sized post
with almost 100 direct-hire American staff, including some 20
full-time Arabic students. It consists of the Department of
State, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative
Regional Office and the Foreign Service Institute's Advanced
Arabic Language Field School, as well as the US Defense
Attache Office, the Office of Defense Cooperation, the

TUNIS 00001159 003 OF 003


American Battle Monuments Commission, and the US Executive
Director's Office at the African Development Bank. A new
embassy compound was completed and occupied in November 2002
on a 20-acre site located halfway between downtown Tunis and
the northern suburbs.
GODEC

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