Cablegate: Scenesetter for the Visit of Codel Lynch to Tunisia


DE RUEHTU #0702/01 2661549
P 231549Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 97918

Sensitive but Unclassified. Please handle accordingly.


1. (SBU) Congressman Lynch, the U.S. Embassy in Tunis warmly
welcomes you and your delegation's visit to Tunisia September
27-28, 2009. Tunisia is a stable and moderate country with a
record of economic and social progress. The Tunisian
government delivers relatively high quality education,
healthcare, housing, infrastructure, and security to its
population. Tunisia has a diversified economy and enjoys one
of the highest standards of living on the continent. Tunisia
is a model for the region on women's rights. Politically,
however, the country is dominated by a single party, the
Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD). Political freedoms
are tightly controlled and Tunisia's human rights practices
are a source of concern. Regional and domestic extremists
are active in the area. In your meeting with Minister of
Defense Kamel Morjane (requested but not confirmed), he will
likely emphasize a long history of U.S.-Tunisia cooperation
on security and regional stability. Logistical information
for your visit is provided in paragraphs 14-18. End summary.

Bilateral Relationship

2. (SBU) Your visit takes place in the context of
long-standing and generally positive bilateral relations.
The United States was the first Western power to recognize an
independent Tunisia in 1956 and we have provided over $6
billion in assistance over the years. Tunisia has had
several high level visits recently: Congressman Gregory
Meeks and a delegation visited here in August, Congressman
Adam Schiff visited in July, and Special Envoy George
Mitchell visited in April.

3. (SBU) USG assistance to Tunisia consists primarily of
military assistance (see paragraph 8) and starting in FY 2008
and 2009, about $2 million in economic support funds (ESF).
The Embassy is developing projects to use ESF primarily in
the areas of rule of law, good governance, civic
participation, and economic growth. In the wake of President
Obama's Cairo speech, which was well received in Tunisia, the
Embassy is pursuing opportunities to deepen our cooperation
with the Tunisian government and Tunisian institutions. One
area where the Tunisians have expressed interest in stepping
up collaboration is science and technology.

Political Overview

4. (SBU) Tunisia is a constitutional republic with a
population of just over 10 million. Politics are dominated
by a single political party, the Democratic Constitutional
Rally (RCD). Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali has been President
since 1987, when he replaced President Bourguiba. Although
the Government of Tunisia has many of the institutions of
democracy, it is not a democracy. The RCD maintains an
effective lock on three-quarters of the seats in parliament
and is also omnipresent in positions of authority at the
provincial and local levels. Political liberties are
tightly restricted and civil society activities are closely
monitored and limited.

5. (SBU) Government officials say they intend to pursue
political liberalization, but at a pace appropriate to
Tunisia's level of development. They underscore their belief
that Islamists pose a serious threat to the country's record
of secular and moderate policies. Tunisia's slow progress on
political reform has been a concern for the U.S. government
in recent years. Although President Ben Ali has introduced
some reforms in the past two years (e.g., pardoning some
political prisoners), civil society and human rights groups
continue to report many instances of government harassment,
intimidation, and limits on their activities. Local media
often lacks meaningful coverage of domestic political issues.
In the 2008 Reporters without Borders index, Tunisia was
ranked 143 out of 173 countries.

6. (SBU) President Ben Ali is seeking a fifth five-year term
in elections that will be held on October 25. Although three
candidates are nominally running against him, the race is not
structured to be competitive. Ben Ali took, according to
official results, 94 percent of the vote in 2004.

Security and Terrorism

7. (SBU) Ben Ali and other Tunisian leaders often contrast
their successes in keeping Tunisia stable with problems
elsewhere in the region. While Tunisians grumble privately
about corruption and restricted liberties, there is abiding
appreciation for Ben Ali's success in steering the country
clear of the instability and violence that have plagued
Tunisia's neighbors. However, the threat of terrorism
exists, particularly in light of the 2007 establishment of
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In February 2008,
AQIM kidnapped two Austrian tourists travelling in the desert
along the Tunisian-Algerian border and only released them in
October. Tunisian security forces dismantled a terror cell
in December 2006-January 2007. The U.S. Embassy and U.S.
personnel in Tunis were reportedly among the group's intended
targets. In 2002, a faction of Al-Qaida claimed
responsibility for an attack on the Ghriba synagogue on the
southern island of Djerba. This attack, in which 20 victims
were killed, was the first Al-Qaida related terrorist attack
after September 11, 2001.

8. (SBU) The Government of Tunisia (GOT) remains concerned
about signs of increasing Islamic extremism and national
security is a major priority. It places a high value on its
historic and robust military-to-military relationship with
the United States. In FY 2008, our military assistance was
the highest it has been in recent years, at approximately $25
million. Our aid included $8.35 million in Foreign Military
Financing (FMF), $9.98 million in Section 1206 funding for
counter terrorism equipment, $4.1 million in assistance under
peacekeeping operations, and $1.7 million in International
Military Education (IMET). FMF funding for FY 2009 is set at
$12 million. The Tunisian military tends to view FMF levels
as a gauge of the health of our bilateral relations.

9. (SBU) Helpfully, Tunisia is an active participant in
United Nations peacekeeping missions, including in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The GOT
takes part in NATO seminars and activities, and we have
planned several annual military exercises with Tunisia.

Regional Issues

10. (SBU) Tunisia has been supportive of U.S. efforts on
Israeli-Palestinian peace, is like-minded on Iran, and has an
Embassy in Baghdad. However, Tunisia rarely leads and
usually follows the Arab League consensus on international
and regional issues. Given its moderate track record, we
continue to encourage the Government of Tunisia to do more to
promote regional peace and security. Political and economic
integration with Tunisia's Maghreb neighbors has been
elusive, although Tunisia's relations with Libya and Algeria
are stable.

Socio-Economic Context

11. (SBU) Tunisia styles itself as "a country that works."
Despite Tunisia's relatively small economy and lack of
natural resources, the Tunisian government provides
relatively high quality education, health care, housing,
infrastructure, and security to its population. Tunisian
women enjoy more rights and opportunities than in any other
Arab country. The 1956 Personal Status Code abolished
polygamy and required consent for marriage, among other
protections. Women today play an important role in the
public and private sectors. The GOT has also put a strong
emphasis on the importance of education, and the literacy
rate is comparatively high at 74 percent.

12. (SBU) Since independence, there has also been real
economic progress. Tunisia has the most diversified economy
in the region and enjoys one of the highest standards of
living on the continent. The country does not have large
reserves of hydrocarbons like its neighbors Algeria and
Libya, but has prospered under the long-standing government
policies to diversify the economy by developing manufacturing
industries for export. The United States is Tunisia's eighth
largest import supplier.

13. (SBU) The Government of Tunisia also seeks to attract
foreign direct investment and strengthen its agriculture
sector. Thanks to these policies, Tunisia's economy has
maintained average annual GDP growth rates of five percent
over the past decade. Due to the recent international
economic crisis, however, growth has been revised downward to
less than three percent for 2009. At the same time, social
programs have limited population growth. GDP per capita in
2008 was approximately $4,022 (GDP per capita using
purchasing power parity was $8,020). The United States and
Tunisia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
(TIFA) in 2002 to strengthen bilateral economic engagement.
The third TIFA Council meeting took place in Tunis in March
2008, but there has been little follow up by the Tunisians.


14. (U) Political/Economic Counselor Ian McCary will be the
control officer for your visit. Contact information for Mr.
McCary follows: telephone 216-71-107-252 (office),
216-20-270-700 (mobile), 216-71-107-000 (Embassy
switchboard), 216-71-107-212 (24 hour Embassy Marine Post 1);
fax 216-71-107-212; email: (official), (private).

15. (U) Control Officer will meet and assist the delegation
at the airport with Embassy vehicles and expediter.

16. (U) Reservations have been made for Congressman Lynch and
delegation at the Ramada Hotel, Gammarth (Tunis), within per
diem. The Ramada Hotel telephone number is 216-71-911-100;
fax 216-71-910-041.

17. (U) Currency exchange: The Embassy will provide
travelers with per diem in local currency upon arrival and
reverse currency exchange prior to departure. The current
approximate exchange rate is 1.28 Tunisian Dinars to the U.S.


18. (U) Security/Crime Information: Tunisia is a moderate
Arab country that has traditionally enjoyed peace and
stability. However, in light of the September 11, 2001
attacks and ongoing violence in the region, the American
Embassy reminds visitors to maintain a high level of
vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their
security awareness. While the Government of Tunisia has and
will continue to make efforts to protect foreigners, visitors
should avoid large crowds and crowded public areas. Tunisian
security forces are omnipresent and generally ensure public
order. Low level, non-violent property crimes are relatively
common. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are common in areas
with high volume tourist traffic such as the Tunis Medina
(old city) and central market. It is prudent to exercise
normal travel security precautions and maintain a low profile
as one would in any major U.S. city.

© Scoop Media

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