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Cablegate: Berlusconi's Visit to Tunisia: Old Friends, New

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #0640 2440819
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 010819Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6736
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0812
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L TUNIS 000640

SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG
LONDON AND PARIS FOR NEA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/27/2019
TAGS: ECON PGOV PREL TS IT
SUBJECT: BERLUSCONI'S VISIT TO TUNISIA: OLD FRIENDS, NEW
BUSINESS


Classified By: CDA Marc Desjardins, E.O. 12958 reasons (b) and (d)

1. (C) Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi deepened their ties of
friendship August 18 with a day-long personal visit.
Berlusconi arrived mid-morning and stayed until late in the
afternoon. The visit was so private in nature that neither
the Italian or Tunisian MFA were involved or even fully aware
of the details. According to the Italian Embassy Commercial
Counselor, this latest meeting had been planned to take place
at Berlusconi's estate in Sardinia, but instead was held at
Ben Ali's Carthage residence. The two leaders ate lunch and
held ""side conversations"" about business. Berlusconi later
gave an interview on the Tunisian satellite TV channel Nessma
(of which he is a part-owner) in which he discussed
Italian-Maghreb cooperation and, according to local press
reports, told jokes about President Obama and the Pope (NFI).
In the interview, he also stated that he wanted to be
remembered ""as the head of government who was able to defeat
the Mafia.""

2. (C) Berlusconi was accompanied only by Tarak Ben Ammar, a
long-time business associate and advisor. Ben Ammar, of
Corsican-Tunisian parentage and a nephew of former President
Bourguiba, partnered with Berlusconi in 1989 to form the
Paris-based production and distribution company Quinta
Communications. Berlusconi named Ben Ammar as advisor for
Middle East and North Africa in 2001. Beyond his friendship
with Ben Ali, Berlusconi's Tunisian interests include movie
studios, distribution companies, and a 50% stake in Nessma TV
which he shares with Tarak Ben Ammar.

3. (C) Press reports added that Ben Ali and Berlusconi used
the occasion of the visit to sign an accord to produce energy
in Tunisia and deliver it to Italy via a new 1,000 megawatt
submarine cable. In fact, the energy accord was signed in
July 2003 and gave way to a joint venture between the
state-owned Societe Tunisienne d'Electricite et de Gaz (STEG)
and the Italian utility TERNA. Tenders for the new power
plant have not yet been released, but the project is expected
to come on line by 2014. Italian companies are poised to
compete for the tender to build the new power plant, and will
compete to power the line with a mix of coal and wind power.

Please visit Embassy Tunis' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/tunis/index.c fm
DESJARDINS
"

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