Cablegate: Morocco Furious with Un On Van Walsum Removal

DE RUEHRB #0832/01 2491623
O 051623Z SEP 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RABAT 000832
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2018
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Classified By: CDA Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: Moroccan Foreign Ministry Chief of Staff
Nasser Bourita told PolCouns September 4 the GOM was deeply
unhappy with the UN and its "bad faith" in ending the UNSYG
Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Peter Van Walsum's mandate,
and had conveyed this in a letter to the SYG. Bourita felt
the Manhasset process was damaged by the UN allowing the
Polisario to force Van Walsum out, a view reflected in local
press. Bourita said the GOM did not want to re-engage
without assurances on preserving the "progress" Van Walsum
made, particularly his conclusion that independence is
"unrealistic." It also seeks clarification of next steps in
the talks before it could accept a new Personal Envoy. The
Moroccans appreciated the qualities of nominee Chris Ross but
may view his multiple tours in Algiers with suspicion. The
GOM letter to the SYG also conveyed a demand for the removal
of MINURSO head SRSG Julian Harston, including for internal
messages suggesting a human rights monitoring role for
MINURSO. These tactical issues will invariably come up in
the Secretary's discussions in Rabat. We should urge that
the GOM to move beyond the Van Walsum transition, while
stressing the importance of keeping Manhasset on track --
even given its poor near-term prospects, and focus on how it
can entice both the Algerians and Polisario to consider
autonomy. End Summary.
"Serenity, Responsibility and Firmness"
2. (U) Moroccan media reported September 4 that the Kingdom,
via Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, had addressed a
letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon protesting Van
Walsum's departure. Press accounts focused on the SYG's and
the UN Security Council's praise of Van Walsum's
contribution, subsequent to his telling the UNSC that
independence for the Western Sahara was unrealistic. The
letter regretted what it called an Algerian-orchestrated
campaign to discredit Van Walsum. Morocco would, however,
continue to support the pursuit of negotiations with
"Serenity, Responsibility and Firmness." The MFA issued a
communique that maintained that the UNSC had called for
intense and substantive negotiations on its basis. The
statement indicated this mandate should govern future rounds
of negotiations towards an agreement, which would be based
"on autonomy and nothing but autonomy."
3. (C) Nasser Bourita, the Foreign Minister's Chief of Staff
(and Sahara negotiations working lead), called in PolCouns
September 4 to explain that the letter took a tough approach
toward the UN and conveyed the GOM's displeasure at the way
Van Walsum and its own "sincere" approach were treated.
Bourita underscored that the last UNSC resolution, approved
at the end of April, praised Van Walsum following his Council
briefing -- including his assertion that independence was
unrealistic. The UN had then noted publicly the coherence of
SYG views with those of Van Walsum. Since that time Morocco
has pushed for a fifth round of talks. Those points were
made in late July in New York directly to Ban Ki Moon by
Foreign Minister Fassi Fihri and DGED Director General
Mohammed Yassine Mansouri. They passed the SYG a letter from
King Mohammed VI expressing support for Van Walsum,
recognizing the advances in the UNSCR and debates, and
calling for another round. Barely a week later, the SYG
responded in a letter to the King saying he would consider
the GOM's points.
4. (C) Bourita said the GOM then heard nothing until late
August, when PermRep Sahel sought clarification from Ban Ki
Moon on Van Walsum's article about his departure. UN U/S
Lynn Pascoe, then "informed" him that Chris Ross was the UN's
choice to replace Van Walsum. Bourita noted that there had
been no consultation either on ending Van Walsum's tenure or
on possible replacements. The GOM viewed being presented
with a "fait accompli," in the face of its own efforts to
directly engage the UN, as "lacking respect." Even the King
was upset, Bourita said. Moreover, removing Van Walsum in
response to public Polisario objections had set a bad
precedent, and not just for the Western Sahara, for any UN
mission. If any mediator can be ousted when a party finds
fault with him, mediation is doomed, he said.
5. (C) Bourita confirmed that Fassi Fihri had written the
SYG September 1, to express his disappointment with the UN's
actions and deep concern about the process. Morocco worried
that the "progress" obtained by Van Walsum and the Security
Council would be rolled back following his ouster. While
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there had been no advances in the talks with the Polisario,
there had been progress in the Security Council resolutions
focusing on a political settlement. He again recalled the
UNSCR's call for "realism" and its endorsement of Van Walsum,
which came only after hearing his conclusions, and the
subsequent SYG expressions of support for Van Walsum and his
positions. Bourita recalled that the autonomy plan was not
Morocco's alone; it had been elaborated with the "Friends."
Bourita hoped the "Friends" would now engage with the UN to
maintain momentum. Morocco's own reengagement on the process
would be contingent on preserving the "progress" made by Van
Walsum. The GOM also sought clarification of the objectives
and modalities of the contemplated fifth round. Only then
would the GOM seriously consider a replacement for Van
Walsum, he said.
Getting Personal
6. (C) Bourita said the GOM was aware of Ross's sterling
record and that he personally had been impressed when they
had met Ross on the margins of an earlier Manhasset round.
Bourita went through Ross's CV, and after citing the posting
to Fes, dwelled on Ross' three tours in Algiers, implying
suspicion about Ross' impartiality. Morocco sought
clarification of his views of Van Walsum's ideas. PolCouns
noted that when the USG lobbied in favor of Van Walsum, the
one thing all agreed on was the need to preserve the process.
He underscored Ross's reputation as one of the State
Department's top diplomats in the region for a generation.
His Algerian contacts might be an asset, given the problems
Van Walsum had there. (Comment: Bourita subsequently got
back to PolCouns with assurances that the GOM had no problem
with Ross personally, but given problems with the process,
wanted assurances on substance, including that he would get
better support from the SYG than Van Walsum did. End
7. (C) Bourita allowed that his Minister's letter also
demanded the ouster of Special Representative of the
Secretary General (SRSG) Julian Harston, the head of the UN
MINURSO mission responsible for Western Sahara. The letter
cited multiple concerns and reports, including well-worn
complaints about Harston's apology to the Polisario, when the
Front protested vandalism by MINURSO military observers
against some prehistoric glyphs in the desert between the
berm and the Algerian border. Bourita added that the GOM had
reports that Harston was trying to promote an expanded
mandate for MINURSO to monitor human rights in the Western
Sahara. PolCouns recalled that adding human rights to the
mandate had not come up in the UNSC since before the current
negotiations, but the international community did consider
human rights important, in the territory, where there had
been improvements, as well as in the Polisario-controlled
8. (C) The GOM may have reason to be unhappy about the
ouster of Van Walsum at what it sees as the Polisario's
behest, and it may have felt some heat from press and
Parliament about it. The Moroccans may see the UN's
unwillingness to stand up for Van Walsum and his conclusions
as partly due to personal politics within the Secretariat,
including by the SRSG. GOM support for Van Walsum grew with
the increasing criticism of him by the Polisario. They
clearly want to institutionalize the statements of Van Walsum
and the USG that independence is "unrealistic" as a position
of the SYG and the Security Council. They may have
overreacted with this recent letter, which could crimp the
growing international sympathy for an autonomy-based
political solution. They probably can be persuaded to accept
Ross, but they may demand some assurances from the UN in
return for their support. The Moroccan diplomatic
accomplishments on Sahara have sometimes gotten bogged down
over tactical issues. It will be important to keep them
focused on preserving the Manhasset process and on how they
might enhance interest of the other parties in the
autonomy-based solution. End comment.
9. (U) Tripoli Minimize considered.
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