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Cablegate: Esth Engagement in Tunisia - Opportunities And


DE RUEHTU #0757/01 2860651
P 130651Z OCT 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

B. TUNIS 492
C. STATE 71325

Sensitive but Unclassified. Please protect accordingly.


1. (SBU) We believe the positive Tunisian rhetorical response
to President Obama's June 4 Cairo speech could provide an
opening to activate the 2004 Science and Technology Agreement
and partner with Tunisia on strategic efforts such as
technology development, science diplomacy, new and renewable
energy sources, and the creation of green jobs. As a small
country with limited natural resources, Tunisia has staked
its future on the development of human capital, increasingly
focusing on science and technology (S&T)-driven economic
sectors. Tunisia is also a leader in the Maghreb region on
environmental and health issues. Yet despite its stated
strong interest in ESTH issues, the Government of Tunisia
(GOT) has shied away from meaningful engagement by declining
repeated USG offers for meetings, training sessions, and
other collaborative efforts. The Embassy's action plan for
greater bilateral engagement on Environment, Science,
Technology, and Health (ESTH) is provided in paragraph 13.
End summary.

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Mixed Signals on Engagement

2. (SBU) ESTH issues, particularly S&T, are central to the
Tunisian government's strategic development plans. Lacking
extensive natural resources and facing rising unemployment
among youth, Tunisia wants to build a knowledge-based economy
and create S&T-based jobs through education,
entrepreneurship, and investment. The GOT plans to equip
6,500 primary schools with digital learning tools over the
next five years and has begun expanding university-level S&T
programs. Its foreign investment strategy favors
high-technology fields such as aerospace, medical tourism,
and pharmaceuticals, and Tunisia aims to be a model for the
rest of Africa on sustainable agriculture and efficient water

3. (SBU) Yet despite the GOT's active approach toward ESTH
issues, and despite its repeated expressions of interest in
engaging with the United States, the GOT's actions have not
matched its words. With a few exceptions (see paragraph 12)
the GOT has declined to engage with us in a serious and
meaningful way on ESTH partnerships.

4. (SBU) The GOT approach generally favors a direct request
for funds rather than a consultative process leading to
funded programs. For example, earlier this year the Tunisian
Ambassador in Washington presented a list of ESF funding
requests to the Department, bypassing the normal consultative
process at post. We have been told by African Development
Bank contacts that despite the Bank's long and fruitful
relationship with Tunisia (one of its best and most prolific
borrowers), the GOT severely limits the level of Bank input
into program development, preferring to present
fully-developed proposals for Bank funding.

5. (SBU) The GOT also regularly declines opportunities for
meetings, conferences, and trainings intended to build
USG-GOT partnerships at the working level. This year alone,
the GOT has turned down invitations for U.S.-based training
programs on water management and treatment, intellectual
property rights, agricultural science, and civil nuclear
power. Attempts at engagement over the last few years
through visits by USG agencies, including USAID and USTDA,
were cancelled due to lack of GOT interest.

6. (SBU) Currently, ESTH engagement is a mixed picture. In
July, the MFA, citing "scheduling constraints," declined our
request for visiting ESTH hub officer Manu Bhalla to meet
with GOT interlocutors to discuss potential collaborations.
More troubling was the GOT order to the organizers of the
July 24-28 International Science Expo, which received USG
support, to remove the State Department logo from its

promotional materials. The posters and banners were
re-printed without our logo, but retained the logos for
UNESCO, the French Embassy-based "Institut Francais de
Cooperation," and several other organizations, both foreign
and Tunisian. Interestingly, following the visit, an MFA
contact expressed disappointment that he did not meet with
Bhalla and asked if he would visit again. Also, the MFA has
shown interest in two recent invitations for ESTH-related
training workshops.

What about the Bilateral S&T Agreement?

7. (SBU) Tunisia signed an agreement with the United States
on Science and Technology on June 22, 2004, but has not
ratified it. On a practical level, our efforts to engage
with Tunisia on ESTH issues depend on the GOT ratifying this
agreement. In addition to the positive signal that
ratification would send, there are important provisions in
the agreement on intellectual property and non-taxation of
U.S. assistance. The agreement is also tied to a USG
interagency process that would help to identify useful
projects and appropriate funding.

8. (SBU) In an October 7 meeting, an official from the
Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and
Technology, which is the "Executive Agent" of the agreement,
said the Ministry was engaged in an interagency process to
update/modify the agreement and forward it to the MFA for
ratification. The official also volunteered that in the
Ministry's view, progress on the S&T Agreement was fully in
line with President Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo.

Cairo Speech Could Create an Opening

9. (SBU) President Obama's June 4 speech in Cairo was
well-received in Tunisia (ref A), particularly in its promise
to step up engagement on science, technology, and economic
development. GOT contacts have inquired about the Cairo
speech, seeking details on funding and programs that may
follow. In particular, Tunisians have expressed interest in
efforts to support technological development, commercialize
technology, develop new sources of energy, and expand
scientific research.

10. (SBU) Despite the increasing GOT trend to circumscribe
the activities of diplomatic missions and to avoid
substantive engagement, the Cairo speech presents an
opportunity to partner with the GOT on issues it perceives as
non-controversial and strategically important (while taking
care not to raise expectations of new U.S. funding).

11. (SBU) The clean energy aspect of the Cairo speech may
represent an area of particular interest to Tunisia. In
addition to the GOT's own plans to generate 13% of its
electricity from renewable sources over the next several
years, Tunisia is positioned to export clean energy to Europe
to meet the EU target of increasing the share of renewables
in energy use to 20% by 2020. The recent agreement between
electric authorities in Tunisia and Italy, which will include
a 1,000 megawatt undersea electricity cable, will facilitate
Tunisian energy exports to Europe. Tunisia also may be
interested in participating in the multinational DESERTEC
project aimed at generating solar power in the Sahara to
provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050.

Current ESTH Engagement in Tunisia

12. (U) There are four USG programs in Tunisia addressing
ESTH issues, two currently operating and two in various
stages of development:

a. NIH/NIAID Partnership on Leishmaniasis: The National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part
of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides support
to the Institut Pasteur de Tunis (IPT), one of four
NIH/NIAID-supported Tropical Medicine Research Centers. In
June, IPT and NIH/NIAID hosted a conference in Tunis with the

goal of sparking collaborative research projects on
Leishmaniasis, a disfiguring and sometimes deadly parasitic
disease found in some 88 tropical and sub-tropical countries.

b. MERC and IPT: The IPT is also benefiting from a new grant
from the Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) program,
which promotes scientific cooperation between Arab and
Israeli researchers, students, and communities. Working with
Israeli and Palestinian researchers in an $850,000 project,
the IPT will carry out a study of the deadly visceral form of

c. A new university partnership funded with $300,000 in
FY2008 ESF will connect researchers from Virginia Tech and
the National Engineering School of Sfax, Tunisia, for a
multi-year project to derive biomass fuel from olive oil
byproducts. This program will involve significant technology
transfer and help create a local skill base for renewable
energy production in Tunisia.

d. A new science and technology program ($200,000 in FY2008
ESF) implemented by the Commercial Law Development Program
(CLDP) at the Department of Commerce will work with Tunisia's
Agency for Research and Innovation to spark the development
of commercially viable technologies, especially among
entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized enterprises. This
program will build on CLDP's strong track record of
engagement in Tunisia.

Improving Future ESTH Engagement

13. (SBU) There are numerous USG agencies currently carrying
out ESTH programs in the NEA region. Given the Tunisian
desire to be a leader in science, technology, and the
development of human capital, there is room for growth in
interagency ESTH programming in Tunisia. To explore the
GOT's willingness to improve ESTH cooperation, the Embassy
plans to carry out the following efforts in the coming months:

- Continue our follow-up engagement on the themes of the
Cairo speech, which emphasized technology development and
commercialization, science diplomacy, new and renewable
energy sources, and the creation of green jobs. While
recognizing that funds have not been identified for these
initiatives, the Cairo speech provides a "hook" to spark GOT
interest in U.S. programs and opportunities.

- Working with Department offices, encourage the GOT to
ratify the 2004 S&T agreement between the United States and
Tunisia. Beyond serving as a demonstration of the GOT's
willingness to engage, it will set the foundation for future

- Following the finalization of the S&T Agreement, pulse GOT
interest in establishing a bilateral interagency S&T Joint
Committee Meeting (JCM) process. JCM activities could take
the form of meetings in Tunis or, funds permitting, sending a
Tunisian delegation to Washington.

- Engage with Tunisia through international visitor programs,
scence speakers, and S&T exchanges such as the Embasy
Science Fellow program. Through these programs we can engage
directly with non-governmental orgnizations working in ESTH

- Participate in the "Year of Arab-American Science
Partnership" proposed by the ESTH Hub in Amman to create
opportunities for both public diplomacy and practical
economic impact.

- Engage with Tunisian youth through partnerships with
organizations such as the Young Scientists Association.

14. (SBU) Expanding our ESTH portfolio will require steady
and persistent efforts to improve USG-Tunisian working-level
engagement on cooperation programs. Much will depend on GOT
willingness and interest in carrying out joint activities.
If that interest materializes, we will seek to leverage
relatively low-cost activities such as short-term technical
assistance, training workshops, and visitor programs into
partnerships that advance both U.S. and Tunisian strategic



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