Cablegate: Sarkozy Sweeps Morocco Off Its Feet

DE RUEHRB #1657/01 3021644
P 291644Z OCT 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RABAT 001657



EO 12958 DECL: 10/29/2017

Classified by DCM Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: French President Sarkozy’s October 22-24 visit to Morocco was viewed as a success by both sides. During a star-like visit and speech to the Moroccan parliament, Sarkozy offered the most explicit French statement to date in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan as the basis for a negotiated settlement to the Sahara dispute. Sarkozy also essentially conceded the loss of the sale of French Rafale fighters to a “better offer” to Morocco for U.S. F-16s. Sarkozy and entourage completed nearly 3 billion Euros worth of commercial deals and military sales during the visit, including a naval frigate. The French Ambassador in Rabat downplayed the commercial aspects of the trip, instead emphasizing Sarkozy’s “Mediterranean Union” summit proposal and his support for Moroccan democratic and economic reforms. The visit received mainly favorable attention in the local media, featuring images of two heads of state interacting as equal partners and friends. End summary.
Leaning Farther Forward on Sahara
2. (C) In an interview with the pro-Palace daily Le Matin just before his arrival, Sarkozy described Morocco’s autonomy proposal for the Sahara as “serious and credible.” Addressing a joint session of parliament in Rabat on October 23, Sarkozy appeared to take explicit French support for Morocco’s plan a step further, describing it as “a new element,” in a long deadlocked process, using the USG formulation that it could “serve as a basis for negotiation in the search for a reasonable settlement to the Western Sahara issue.” Sarkozy’s remarks on Sahara appeared to move France closer toward the Moroccan position, and were embraced as such by most of the Moroccan press, which characterized the president’s remarks as a breakthrough for French policy on the Sahara question. (We understand the Polisario leadership has protested Sarkozy’s remarks.)
Mediterranean Union and Other Themes
3. (SBU) During an October 26 briefing, French Ambassador Jean-Francois Thibault emphasized to the DCM and other members of the diplomatic corps the excellent atmospherics of the Sarkozy visit while downplaying its commercial aspects. Thibault stated that Sarkozy came to underscore French support for Morocco,s democratic development, reforms not only in the economic realm but also in human rights, and Morocco,s importance for Europe.
4. (SBU) In that context, Thibault spent several minutes describing the proposed Mediterranean Union Summit in June 2008. While noting that the union is not intended to replace the Barcelona Process, he said that the themes would be political, security, energy, educational and agricultural cooperation. In response to a question, Thibault opined that the African Union and Arab League would be invited to send observers as would some European nations that do not border the Mediterranean.
5. (SBU) Queried about international issues, Thibault said there had been little discussion beyond the public statements about Iran and the Middle East Peace Process. Amb. Thibault also confirmed that France and Morocco also signed agreements on extradition, prisoner transfer, social security, and sanitation.
Economic Agreements and Military Sales
6. (SBU) Though downplaying the economic issues that received the greatest coverage in local media, Thibault confirmed that French companies had completed a “draft” agreement to construct a high-speed rail line (&train a grande vitesse or TGV8) from Tangier to Marrakech and from Casablanca to Oujda in three phases. The first phase would be to provide the engineering, equipment and rolling stock for the Tangier to Rabat to Casablanca portion; phase two would extend the line to Marrakech; finally, the TGV would link Casablanca to Rabat, Meknes, Fes, and, ultimately, Oujda. The agreement relates to the initial 200-km Tangier-Kenitra portion of the route, at a cost of 2 billion euros, half of which will go to

RABAT 00001657 002 OF 002 French companies Alstom, SNCF, and Reseau Ferre de France.

7. (SBU) The proposal, which has been under study since 2004, was apparently seized on as a centerpiece for the visit once it became apparent that Rabat was determined to proceed with purchase of American F-16 fighters rather than the French Rafale, though the project is not expected to be commissioned until 2013. Perhaps chastened by the Rafale experience, the French president told French attendees at a Moroccan-French economic forum in Marrakech on the last day of his visit that they cannot rest on their laurels. Instead they must aggressively outbid and outhustle the competition, conceding (according to the Moroccan press) that if the French lost the Rafale aircraft deal, “it is because the Americans made a better offer.” Responding to a press question Sarkozy proudly defended his good relations with the U.S.

8. (SBU) Other military contracts concluded during the visit included the sale of a French frigate and the upgrade of 25 Puma helicopters and 140 armored vehicles. In addition, an energy contract was signed to build a 200 million Euro power plant near Oujda in Morocco’s northeast and the French nuclear group Areva signed a deal with the National Phosphate Company (OCP) to extract uranium from Moroccan phosphoric acid. In a press release, the company noted that Morocco’s reserves of the material total 6 million metric tons, twice the world reserves of actual uranium ore.

Press Coverage - Ecstatic, with Exceptions

9. (SBU) The visit generated numerous positive images and sound bytes. During Sarkozy’s address to parliament he called for “a real partnership without arrogance” - and promised “France will be at your side” as Morocco moves forward with its economic and political agenda. These and other sound bytes resonated in numerous headlines above glowing articles in the Moroccan press, as did images of Sarkozy affectionately greeting the King, the royal family, Moroccan officials, and citizens in carefully managed photo-ops.

10. (SBU) Though press coverage of Sarkozy’s visit was overwhelmingly positive, some commentators voiced resentment - the independent (Arabic) daily Al Massae groused that French diplomacy “remains governed by traditional and obtuse concepts” and accused the President of patronizing Morocco by issuing a “certificate of good conduct” to the regime. A leading Islamist daily deemed insulting Sarkozy’s assertion during his address to parliament that Islam stands for goodness, tolerance, and peace, while political Islam stands for separateness and engenders hostility toward “the other.” The Arabic daily affiliated with the Islamist PJD denounced Sarkozy’s remark as a slap in the face to the Islamist MPs present in the audience.
11. (C) While Sarkozy was generally well received, there was much gossip in Moroccan salons about a “too relaxed” President slouching comfortably in his chair as he and the King presided over an October 22 signing ceremony at the Royal Palace in Marrakech. In one image, Sarkozy was seen crossing his legs and pointing the sole of his shoe at the King - a taboo gesture in the Islamic world. Sarkozy was accompanied throughout the visit, including at a banquet with the royal family by his Justice Minister (of Moroccan heritage) Rachida Dati.

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