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Cablegate: Al-Qadhafi's Russia Trip Signals Desire for Foreign Policy

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RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI 4607

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TRIPOLI 000870

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DEPT FOR NEA/MAG

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/6/2018
TAGS: PREL MASS MARR TRGY EPET RS BO UP LY
SUBJECT: AL-QADHAFI'S RUSSIA TRIP SIGNALS DESIRE FOR FOREIGN POLICY
BALANCE REF: A) TRIPOLI 340, B) TRIPOLI 688, C) TRIPOLI 829, D) TRIPOLI 1033, E) TRIPOLI 699 TRIPOLI 00000870 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, Embassy Tripoli, U.S. Dept of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d) 1. (C) Summary: Apparently seeking to balance perceptions of recent overtures to the U.S. and Italy, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi conducted a five-day visit to Russia, Belarus and Kiev. Expectations that major agreements for large military equipment sales, gas exports and an "OPEC for natural gas" appear to have been inflated - al-Qadhafi left Moscow with a framework agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation and potential defense purchases in the future. Russian Embassy officials in Tripoli implied, but did not state, that media reports that Libya had agreed to provide a naval base in Benghazi to the Russian navy were inaccurate. They also expressed frustration at Libya's failure to implement previously concluded agreements, noting that the GOL had nonetheless pushed hard to sign a bevy of ill-prepared agreements during al-Qadhafi's visit. Most local observers said that al-Qadhafi's visit was designed to signal to the U.S. and other western powers that despite its relatively recent reintegration into the international community, Libya is an independent actor that will seek to balance its engagement between East and West. The relatively prominent role played by Muatassim al-Qadhafi, son of Muammar al-Qadhafi and National Security Adviser, suggests that he is becoming a more seriously-regarded player in the regime. End Summary. AMID HEIGHTENED EXPECTATIONS, MEDIA ANTICIPATES MAJOR AGREEMENTS ... 2. (U) Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi made his first trip to Moscow since 1985 during a five-day, three-country tour of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Russian Poloff Evgeny Kozlov gave Poloff a readout of the Russia stop on November 5. Al-Qadhafi's delegation included his son, National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi, Foreign Minister Abudlrahman Shalgam, External Security Organization Director Musa Kusa, and National Oil Corporation Chairman Shukri Ghanem, all of whom held meetings and pursued negotiations on the margins. Citing senior Russian and Libyan sources, media reports in the run-up to the visit predicted major defense, energy (natural gas) and nuclear agreements. 3. (C) Muatassim al-Qadhafi and Kusa arrived in the Kremlin in advance of al-Qadhafi for meetings with the Foreign Ministry and security officials, fueling expectations that Libya would sign long-awaited arms deals rumored to be worth upwards of USD two billion. Russian Embassy officials told us in advance of the visit that a joint Russia-Libya military cooperation committee was working to finalize defense procurement contracts. The failure to conclude contracts for sale of military equipment to Libya during the visit to Libya earlier this year by former President Putin had been a disappointment for the Kremlin (ref A). Russian newspaper Russkiy Kommersant - the media organ in which Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, son and putative heir of Muammar al-Qadhafi previewed his announcement in mid-August of his intention to withdraw from politics - also reported at the outset of the visit that Tripoli would offer Russia the right to establish a naval base in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Multiple media reports claimed the two sides had also concluded a civilian nuclear agreement encompassing construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear medical cooperation. 4. (C) Rhetoric for the visit was grandiose, with much made of Russian-Libyan agreement on "strengthening the foundations of a multi-polar world and political settlement of conflict situations". Referring to al-Qadhafi's crowning in August by African tribal leaders as "King of Kings" in Africa, Kozlov joked that al-Qadhafi now aspired to be "the Great Balancer" between East and West. A range of diplomatic and private sector contacts in Tripoli attributed the timing of the visit to al-Qadhafi's desire to remind the world that he has options and is not beholden to the west in the wake of a recent colonial compensation agreement with Italy (ref B) and a comprehensive claims agreement for terrorism claims with the U.S. Reiterating familiar themes, al-Qadhafi lamented that the world had become unipolar and unstable because of "violations of the balance of power". ... RUSSIAN EMBASSY CONFIRMS ONLY ONE TRIPOLI 00000870 002.2 OF 002 5. (C) Kozlov said the two sides ultimately signed only a general framework agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation that had been the subject of negotiations for several years. (Note: Per ref A, an MOU was signed during Putin's visit in April committing both sides to concluding a formal cooperation agreement on civilian uses of nuclear energy by the end of 2008. End note.) Kozlov refused to confirm that Libya had offered Russia use of a naval base in Benghazi, but seemed to downplay the possibility by stressing Russia's efforts to restore a large naval base in Tartus, Syria. He confirmed that the Russian navy planned at least two more port calls in Libya by warships during 2009, following on last month's visit by a flotilla en route to Venezuela (ref C). Kozlov said Muatassim al-Qadhafi discussed military cooperation and engaged in negotiations for big-ticket defense equipment sales, but gave no specifics and indicated nothing had been finalized. 6. (C) Moscow still hopes to reach agreement for an "OPEC for natural gas" with Libya, Qatar, and Iran; however, we were told the only energy agreement discussed in Moscow was a three-way deal between Gazprom, Eni, and Libya's National Oil Corporation to build additional pipelines and a refining facility in Libya. The GOL also offered to direct investment from its sovereign wealth fund to Russian firms hard hit by the global financial crisis, focusing particularly on those that had suffered losses on investments in U.S. markets and financial instruments. LIBYA SHOOTS FOR THE MOON, RUSSIA DEMURES 7. (C) Echoing complaints we heard from Spanish counterparts in the wake of al-Qadhafi's visit to Madrid in December 2007 (ref D), Kozlov said Libyan officials "dusted off agreements that were still under negotiation" on the eve of the Moscow visit, expecting that they could be readied for signature. Pointing to delays in implementing commercial and military agreements that constituted part of the agreement earlier this year to forgive USD 4.5 billion of Soviet-era debt, Kozlov bemoaned the fact that " ...the Libyans always want to sign everything, but only implement what they want - an agreement is only valid if both sides read it the same way". According to media reports, stops in Minsk and Kiev saw technical agreements on prevention of double taxation and expressions of mutual cooperation in the energy sector. Notably missing from public announcements were announcements of weapons sales, although media reports indicated al-Qadhafi discussed purchasing strategic and tactical airlift assets in Ukraine. 8. (C) Comment: Al-Qadhafi's itinerary and the trip's timing - he touched down in Moscow on the same day the final deposits were made in a humanitarian relief fund to compensate U.S. victims of Libyan acts of terrorism - suggested a desire to signal that Libya is not beholden to the west and still has foreign policy options, themes he touched on directly in his Revolution Day speech on August 31 (ref E). While the GOL wants to preserve room for maneuver with respect to energy and arms purchases, several reliable Libyan interlocutors noted that Libya's relationship with Russia has never been genuinely warm. "Libyans believe Russians are too dour and are not trustworthy", one contact with regime ties told us. The fact that Muatassim al-Qadhafi featured in the visits is an interesting development, suggesting that he is becoming a more seriously-regarded player in the regime. Our Russian interlocutor bemoaned Moscow's lack of understanding of intra-Libyan regime dynamics, noting that Muatassim was initially scheduled to meet only mid-level bureaucrats until the Russian Embassy in Tripoli intervened to explain that he was a potential successor to his father. His reports from Moscow were that Muatassim took a clear lead in his meetings, albeit with Musa Kusa at his side as an advisor, and comported himself reasonably well. End comment. STEVENS

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