Cablegate: Qadhafi Development Foundation Director Sounds Warning On
OO RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHTRO #1066/01 3651153
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O P 311153Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2963
INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0399
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0705
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0362
RUEHVT/AMEMBASSY VALLETTA PRIORITY 0252
RUEHNJ/AMEMBASSY NDJAMENA PRIORITY 0118
RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 3403
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 TRIPOLI 001066
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2017
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR SOCI KPAO SCUL OEXC KISL LY
SUBJECT: QADHAFI DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION DIRECTOR SOUNDS WARNING ON
TERRORIST THREAT, BILATERAL TIES REF: A) TRIPOLI 1039, B) TRIPOLI 1038 TRIPOLI 00001066 001.2 OF 004 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, DCM, Embassy Tripoli, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(S/NF) During a meeting with Qhadafi Development Foundation Executive Director Dr. Yusuf Sawani (protect), Sawani described the trans-national terrorism threat (which he feels some GOL officials underestimate), the Libyan public's perception that U.S.-Libya bilateral ties are overly focused on security, the attendant risk that the GOL and USG will fail to capitalize on a window of opportunity to establish deeper cross-cultural understanding, and the economic and social failures of al-Qadhafi's political revolution. End summary.
TUAREG, TOUBOU GROUPS A POTENTIAL THREAT
2.(S/NF) DCM and P/E chief called on Qadhafi Development Foundation (QDF) Executive Director Sawani in mid-December to discuss the QDF's role in providing Embassy access to returned GTMO detainees (reported septel). Sawani took the opportunity to discuss counter-terrorism issues and the bilateral relationship more generally. Referencing recent attacks in Algiers, Sawani said most Libyans were "horrified and disgusted" by events such as those in Algiers, but the fact that such a small minority of Islamic fundamentalists could inflict such damage underscored the gravity of the threat. Sawani (who is not a security expert) expressed concern that al-Qaeda could seek to exploit the nationalist aspirations of Tuareg and Toubou ethnic minority groups in southern Libya to conduct operations inside Libya. The fact that at least a million sub-Saharan African guest workers were resident in Libya was "cause for concern"; the large number of Egyptian guest workers, some of whom were politically and religiously radical, was similarly troubling. (Note: Egyptian Embassy officials put the number of Egyptian workers at 700,000 to one million, depending on the season. End note.)
SOME GOL POLITICAL LEADERS UNDERESTIMATE FUNDAMENTALIST THREAT
3.(S/NF) The GOL lacked the capacity to deal with serious trans-national terrorist threats, said Sawani. Worse, some "senior political elements" -- he didn't specify who -- failed to realize how serious the threat really was. Those officials considered recent events to be Algerian or Tunisian problems, rather than symptoms of a broader regional threat dynamic. While Libya's security and intelligence services were "very serious" about blunting the ability of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) as potential threats to the stability of Qadhafi's regime, they were less keenly focused on the broader trans-national terrorist threat. (Note: He did not reference the November 3 announcement of the AQIM-LIFG merger. End note.) In Sawani's view, the overweaning focus on preservation of the regime potentially left the GOL exposed by ignoring the fact that the terrorist threat had evolved and become less local and more dangerous.
U.S.-LIBYA RELATIONSHIP NEEDS TO BE FORWARD-LOOKING ...
4.(S/NF) Noting opposition in some Congressional quarters to Libya's reintegration into the international community, Sawani said he did not expect "substantial" developments in U.S.-Libya bilateral ties until after the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Libya is "not that important" in the grand scheme of U.S. foreign policy interests; GOL officials "need to be patient", although not all senior GOL leaders realized that. Referencing earlier comments on extremists, he lamented that development of bilateral ties was slow by comparison with the quickly mounting terrorist threat. It was important that the relationship not be seen as being hostage to the Lockerbie bombing and other past contretemps. The GOL "needs to feel confident" that bilateral relations were moving forward; Libya wanted a "strategic alliance" with the U.S.
... AND HAS BEEN TOO FOCUSED ON SECURITY
5.(S/NF) At the same time, it was important that the USG realize the danger for Qadhafi's regime of overly emphasizing the security dimension of the bilateral relationship. The initial premise for re-establishment of diplomatic ties - WMD TRIPOLI 00001066 002.2 OF 004 counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism cooperation - had been logical, but it was "too narrow" to sustain the relationship over time and bred a strong negative reaction among Libyan intellectuals, certain members of the old guard, and the public at large. Cooperation in other avenues would help mitigate the perception of a monolithic security relationship, creating a healthier relationship and contributing to better security in the long run. Serious mistrust of U.S. motivations for reestablishment of ties with Libya remain; the U.S. needs to engage different strata of the Libyan elite and public; otherwise else prospects for sustained, long-term improved bilateral ties will remain dim.
VISAS HINDER LIBYAN STUDENTS' WILLINGNESS TO STUDY IN U.S.
6.(C) Sawani specifically mentioned student visas as an area in which the U.S. is missing an opportunity. Echoing comments we've heard from other GOL interlocutors, he said that the QDF alone offers some 3,000 scholarships for Libyan students to study abroad. The GPC for Higher Education gave 7,000 scholarships to Libyan students to study abroad in 2007; according to Under Secretary for Higher Education, the GOL's goal is to send 2,000 of those to the U.S. next year. Many would choose to study in the U.S., but the fact that they currently must travel to Tunis twice to obtain a U.S. visa is a disincentive, he said.
7.(C) Libyans also have difficulty meeting English language requirements and navigating U.S. university application processes and timelines. Libyan students without sufficient English skills frequently enroll in intensive language classes in the U.S. prior to matriculating in graduate courses; the Libyans would prefer conditional acceptance at universities to their current practice of attending a language school and subsequently matriculating at a university. In addition, the U.S. university admissions schedule impedes disbursement of GOL scholarships. Scholarships are typically disbursed in autumn and students - who typically have not even begun researching U.S. universities and their application processes - must rush to meet application deadlines in January. An additional constraint is that the maximum validity for F and J student visas is one entry. If students were to travel home at any time during their studies, they must reapply for a visa in Tunis.
EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL EXCHANGES KEY
8.(C) Consequently, Sawani concluded, most Libyan students prefer to study in Europe. Sawani expressed frustration that greater progress had not been made in establishing an interim U.S. Embassy facility with normal visa functions, saying the focus on security and CT cooperation to the exclusion of other equally aspects of bilateral cooperation meant that opportunities for genuine cultural dialogue and exchange were missed. Mentioning his own experiences as a student in the U.K., he said the greatest investment the U.S. could make in furthering long-term ties would be to find a way to get more Libyan students to the U.S. to study.
RISING ANTI-AMERICAN SENTIMENT A REACTION TO U.S. POLICIES & FAILED REVOLUTION
9.(S/NF) Contrasting his own experience with multi-culturalism and tolerance as a student in the U.K., he highlighted a growing sense of anti-American sentiment in the region. Libya had largely avoided the trend to date, but the continuing impact of Saudi Wahhabism, conservative satellite television programming, and radical Sudanese and Egyptian elements had begun to change that. Older Libyans still tended not to demonize the U.S., but there was a marked increase in anti-American sentiment among Libyan youth. Sawani ascribed that to U.S. policies, particularly the Iraq "occupation" and the public's perception of strong U.S. bias toward Israel vis-`-vis the Palestinians, and to the failure of al-Qadhafi's political revolution.
10.(S/NF) The GOL had "absolutely failed" to address the concerns (education, employment) of Libyan youth, fueling greater receptivity to anti-American and fundamentalist messages. He related a recent conversation in which his 16-year old son asked whether there would be elections after Leader Muammar Qadhafi departed from the political scene, or whether Saif al-Islam would inherit his father's mantle. In discussing TRIPOLI 00001066 003.2 OF 004 the question, Sawani referenced the Leader's early achievements, particularly in establishing a Libya free from colonial vestiges. Dismissing those as "ancient history", Sawani's son asked what the Leader had achieved more recently, demonstrating in Sawani's judgment just how far traditional revolutionary authority had eroded in Libya.
LIBYA A "FAILED STATE" ECONOMICALLY AND SOCIALLY
12.(S/NF) Nonetheless, old revolutionary ideas "die hard". High oil prices and a concomitant windfall of petro-dollars have created "false pride" on the part of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and certain senior GOL leaders, Sawani said. Suggesting that oil wealth was impermanent, he noted that the recently staged fourth round of Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement bidding (ref B) had only garnered about half the number of bids expected by the NOC.
LIBYA "IN DANGER OF BEING LOST"
13.(S/NF) Citing Israel's successful lobby in Washington, he lamented the GOL's failure to establish a more robust, effective apparatus to promote U.S.-Libya relations. Saying that bilateral ties were at a critical juncture, he claimed establishing such a capability now would require time neither side has; U.S.-Libya relations accordingly required action at "the top level". (Comment: A convenient line of thinking that accords with the GOL's preference for dramatic, high-level gestures a la Sarkozy's visit in July, as opposed to a more deliberate, phased engagement. End comment.) Cautioning that Libya was "in danger of being lost", he claimed the U.S. would then have to install a monarchy in Libya, which he characterized as a "dangerous" alternative.
14.(S/NF) Comment: Sawani, who is well-connected and enjoys the confidence of his boss and putative heir-apparent Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, typically rushes through agenda points and is careful in his remarks. That he made time for an extensive tour d' horizon on sensitive subjects suggests that he may have been conveying a message on behalf of other, more senior figures, perhaps in connection with Foreign Minister Shalgham's upcoming visit to Washington. While Sawani's access to information regarding the GOL's counter-terrorism operations is uncertain, his assertion that some senior GOL political leaders have underestimated the trans-national terrorist threat is troubling. We share his assessment that the relationship has in some respects focused on security and CT issues to the exclusion of other worthwhile areas of engagement. To be sure, a large part of the problem stems from the reluctance of Libyan elites to engage more broadly with the U.S., perhaps out of fear that the leadership will change its mind about the direction and pace of the bilateral relationship.
15.(S/NF) Comment (cont.): Sawani's comments on student visas reflect the prevailing perspective on difficulties Libyans encounter when contemplating study in the U.S. The biggest obstacle to increased numbers of Libyan student studying at U.S. universities is not obtaining visas, but the unwillingness of Libyan students to meet U.S. admissions requirements and the misguided belief that the USG can and should exempt them from those strictures. Dissatisfaction with U.S. admissions and student visas reflects the frustrations many Libyans feel more generally as they reintegrate with an international community in which standards obtain. Thirty-eight years of "Jamahurriya" thought, emphasizing decentralization and lack of accountability, have left many Libyans ill-equipped to participate in the broader world from which they have been isolated for so long. Some of the frustrations Sawani articulated regarding the bilateral relationship and student visas reflect the inevitable growing pains of a society and body politic struggling to come to grips with its place in the world. TRIPOLI 00001066 004.2 OF 004 End comment. MILAM