Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Hastings

DE RUEHRB #1100/01 3301409
O 251409Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Representative Hastings, my staff and I warmly
welcome your visit. As you are aware, Morocco is a member of
the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership and has hosted OSCE
meetings in Rabat, but there is potential for more
engagement. Morocco has given us exemplary cooperation in
the struggle against terrorism and it serves as a regional
model for economic change and democratic reform. Our
military and political cooperation is growing, and as a
result, Morocco has been designated as a "Major Non-NATO
Ally." Morocco also maintains low-key contacts with Israel
due in part to the many Israelis of Moroccan origin.
Morocco's principal foreign tie is with Europe and has
advanced status with the European Union (EU). Morocco is one
of our strongest allies in the Broader Middle East and North
Africa (BMENA) region, and its top priority is U.S. support
for its position on the Western Sahara territorial dispute
and for integration in North Africa.

2. (SBU) Since your last visit in 2004, Morocco has remained
a country "on the move", in the throes, albeit unevenly, of
change and reform. Economic growth has averaged about six
percent per year and investment, tourism and remittances have
boomed, although they could be threatened by the downturn in
Europe. Slums are coming down, and according to official
statistics, so is unemployment. Freedom of the press has
expanded to a level not seen here ever before and beyond the
rest of the region, but there are still some restrictions,
and those who challenge them can suffer heavy fines, libel
judgments and more rarely, jail. Political freedoms have
grown as well, although they remain constrained by a system
with roots going back hundreds of years. Neither the
Parliament nor the 33 political parties with seats in it have
much power. Most voters stayed away from the last
parliamentary election, in 2007, which saw the first
international observation ever, largely achieved and funded
by the USG. (The OSCE indicated it did not have enough
notice to participate.) Additional reforms could lead to
democracy, but, with stability a priority, it could take
decades. End Summary.

External Issues

3. (SBU) OSCE: Morocco maintains a limited but growing role
as a Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation with the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Both the executive and legislative branches of government
have participated in OSCE meetings and activities at high
levels. At the November 2007 OSCE Ministerial in Madrid, the
Moroccan representative reiterated the Government of
Morocco's (GOM's) commitment to partnership with the OSCE,
particularly in combating terrorism, organized crime, illegal
migration and human trafficking. In December 2007, Morocco
and Spain co-hosted an OSCE/International Labor Organization
(ILO) seminar in Rabat to launch the Mediterranean edition of
the Handbook on Establishing Effective Labor Migration
Policies (with Israeli participation). Morocco hosted an
earlier Mediterranean Seminar in Rabat in 2005.

4. (SBU) OSCE Continued: More recently, OSCE Mediterranean
Partners for Cooperation Parliamentary Assembly President
Goran Lennmarker and Vice President Joao Soares visited
Morocco in April 2008 and met with the Speaker of the
parliament's lower house, other parliamentarians, the Foreign
Minister, and the President of the Consultative Council of
Human Rights. In October 2008, Morocco sent three
representatives to the Man-Portable Air Defense Systems
(MANPADS) conference in Vienna, where they discussed concerns
over the threat that MANPADS pose to the region and the

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movement of these weapons from conflict zones into the Sahara

5. (SBU) Regional Military and Political Engagement: The
GOM is also working toward a NATO Mediterranean Partnership
Agreement. In October, Morocco signed an Advanced Status
Agreement with the European Union, which could give Morocco
complete free market access to the European Economic Area
when finally implemented. It also provides for greater
co-ordination on other issues. This is a unique enhancement
of the Barcelona Process status, but many details will be
filled in only through the course of lengthy discussions.
Morocco also participates in French President Sarkozy's
nascent Mediterranean Union.

6. (SBU) Peacekeeping: The GOM has robust experience in the
realm of peacekeeping operations dating back to the 1960s.
It has signed on to Operation Active Endeavor and is
contributing to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, under NATO
leadership. Morocco also partnered with NATO in peacekeeping
operations in Bosnia and with the United Nations (UN) in
Angola, Cambodia, Haiti and Somalia. Current UN deployments
are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cote
d'Ivoire. The GOM has expressed interest in expanding its
peacekeeping capacity.

7. (SBU) Border Troubles with Algeria: The Moroccan
relationship with Algeria is difficult, and the border
between the two countries was closed by Algeria and remains
closed. While the King and other GOM officials have publicly
proposed opening the border and upgrading bilateral relations
between the two countries, their entreaties have been
repeatedly rebuffed. The GOA has linked progress on the
border to "all issues," particularly the Western Sahara.

8. (SBU) Western Sahara: Moroccan foreign policy is
dominated by defending and seeking international recognition
of its sovereignty claims over Western Sahara. The issue
remains the most visible source of tension with Algeria,
which has historically supported the POLISARIO's quest
efforts for independence by way of a UN-sponsored referendum.
The issue led Morocco to leave the African Union and has
been an obstacle to regional integration through the Arab
Maghreb Union. In April 2007, Morocco proposed a new
autonomy plan for Western Sahara, and a series of
UN-sponsored negotiations with the POLISARIO began in
Manhasset, New York. The Moroccan proposal, deemed "serious
and credible" by the USG, would provide Sahrawis, the
indigenous people of Western Sahara, autonomy in
administering local affairs while respecting Moroccan
sovereignty over the territory. There have been four rounds
of talks but none since March 2008. After the April 2008
renewal of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission, the
USG announced it considered independence for the territory
"not realistic."

9. (SBU) Western Sahara Continued: Following the
controversial lapsing of the contract of the former UN
Secretary General's Personal Envoy, the UN selected retired
U.S. Ambassador Chris Ross to be the new Personal Envoy, but
the GOM has withheld its endorsement, pending review of a
mandate from the UN that it hopes would favor its position.
The USG has called for the new envoy to maintain past

10. (SBU) Western Sahara Continued: Sahara experienced
gross violations of human rights from 1975 until the end of
the Hassan II regime and repression intensified after the
short-lived Sahrawi "intifada" of 2005. Since late 2006,
Morocco has slowly improved the human rights situation in the
territories. Arbitrary arrests have sharply diminished and
beatings and physical abuse by security forces have all but
disappeared. Even dissenters now can travel freely. They
cannot, however, publish or speak publicly in support of

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independence, or a vote on self-determination. In 2008,
known abusers were transferred, further easing the situation.

Internal Issues

11. (SBU) Current Government: Prime Minister Abbas El
Fassi's government, formed after the September 2007
legislative elections, is built on a minority coalition.
There has been periodic speculation that it might not last
for the full five-year mandate of Parliament. El Fassi's
government, filled with young technocrats from within and
outside his Istiqlal party, has performed better than many
expected, however, and it now looks capable of a full term.
El Fassi has participated extensively in international events
and diplomacy. Internal democracy is growing within
political parties. A political formation founded by Fouad
Ali El Himma, an intimate of the King, has evolved into a new
Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) by grouping several
smaller parties. It has now constituted the largest
political bloc in Parliament, and could be prepared to lead
should the current coalition falter. We currently see no
prospect for a significant shift in Morocco's foreign and
security policies. However, neither Parliament nor the Prime
Minister has much say in these issues, which are managed by
the Throne directly with concerned ministries.

12. (SBU) Parliamentary Reform: Morocco's political parties
and the bicameral parliament are weak and structurally
hamstrung from taking legislative initiatives or strongly
articulating dissent. The Parliament provides no effective
check on the monarchy or government. Changing the
Constitution would be necessary in order to change the power
imbalance and institute formal democracy, but both Parliament
and parties will have to improve their capacity and
performance first. Nonetheless, both parties and Parliament
have made some technical improvements, largely thanks to
USG-funded programs from the National democratic Institute
(NDI) and the State University of New York (SUNY), which have
modestly improved the body's administrative capacity. These
include establishment of a budget analysis office, a verbatim
transcription service, and a consistent forum for training
and debate among parliamentary members and staff.

13. (SBU) Parliamentary Reform Continued: Although the
September 2007 parliamentary elections were the most
transparent in the country's history, record low
participation (i.e., 37 percent of registered voters)
reflects the lack of voter confidence in the institution.
The State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative
(MEPI) funded NDI to run the first ever international
observation. Morocco only consented to this less than three
months before voting; the OSCE, when consulted, declined to
participate, as it was too little notice.

14. (SBU) Human Rights and Reform: King Mohammed VI has
embarked on an ambitious and continuous program of human
rights reforms that includes the Arab world's first truth
commission, a revised family code and growing governmental
transparency and accountability. 2008 has seen some
incidents of concern related to freedoms of expression and
press. Although Morocco is a paragon of reform in the
region, the reforms are still not deeply rooted in law or
Constitution and could be rolled back. Continued support and
encouragement from partners like the United States and Europe
are essential.

15. (SBU) Counterterrorism: The terrorism threat in Morocco
emanates especially from small grassroots radical Islamic
cells, which have shown some capacity to cause attacks, but
there has been no major damage since 2003. Security forces
have arrested numerous terrorist cells. The biggest threat
is that attacks could deter tourists, an important component

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of the economy. The GOM's implementation of a comprehensive
counterterrorism strategy emphasizing vigilant security
measures, counter-radicalization policies, and robust
international cooperation has been largely successful in
containing the threat to date. Economic disruption, whether
from attacks or the global economic crisis, remains the
principal threat to stability here, but most observers
believe Morocco will manage absent catastrophic collapse.

16. (SBU) Counterterrorism Continued: Under the King who as
"Commander of the Faithful" leads Moroccan Muslims and Jews,
Morocco has standardized religious doctrine, consolidated
control over religious schools, and sent specially trained
Imams to Europe to preach moderate messages to the Moroccan
diaspora. The vast majority of Morocco's population rejects
Salafist and Wahhabist approaches to Islam and so does not
support terrorist groups.

17. (SBU) Religious Freedom: The Moroccan Constitution
provides for the freedom to practice one's religion, although
Islam is the official state religion. The GOM prohibits the
distribution of non-Muslim religious materials, bans all
proselytizing, but tolerates several small religious
minorities. It also occasionally restricts Islamic
organizations whose activities have exceeded the bounds of
"acceptable religious practice" and become political in
nature. Morocco has become protective and even positive
toward the tiny remnant of its once substantial Jewish

18. (SBU) Military Reform: The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces
are modernizing but remain burdened by corruption,
inefficient bureaucracy, and political marginalization. The
U.S. enjoys a robust military relationship, as evidenced by
increased U.S.-Moroccan military training exercises and
Morocco's purchase of sophisticated weapons from the U.S., to
include 24 F-16s,(a counter to an earlier Algerian purchase
of advanced aircraft from Russia) in the last year. These
point to a likely future reform of the military, along with
greater prospects for positive engagement with the U.S.

19. (SBU) Drug Issues: The GOM has achieved significant
reductions in cannabis and cannabis resin production in
recent years, although it remains Europe's primary supplier.
Little, if any, is exported to the U.S.

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