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Cablegate: Algeria Strongly Protests Tsa Listing

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OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAS #0020/01 0061738
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 061738Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8302
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

S E C R E T ALGIERS 000020

SIPDIS
NOFORN

EO 12958 DECL: 01/05/2020
TAGS PGOV, PREL, MOPS, PINR, AG, US
SUBJECT: ALGERIA STRONGLY PROTESTS TSA LISTING

REF: ALGIERS 15 (NOTAL)

Classified By: Ambassador David D. Pearce; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

Summary
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1. (S/NF) MFA Americas Director General Sabri Boukadoum expressed to the Ambassador January 6 the GOA’s “profound dismay” regarding Algeria’s inclusion on the TSA list for enhanced screening. He said this message came directly from President Bouteflika. The TSA decision, Boukadoum stressed, did not accurately reflect the level and quality of our bilateral relations, especially in regard to counterterrorism cooperation. Algeria’s placement on the list had created the impression that Algeria was part of the problem, a misunderstanding that is now circulating in the international press. Boukadoum told the Ambassador that Algeria’s leadership would like an official U.S. statement to correct this impression. Ambassador replied that the intent of the new measures was to ensure air travel safety and not to discriminate or embarrass our friends and partners. Ambassador emphasized that the U.S. valued its counterterrorism cooperation with Algeria and hoped the bilateral relationship would continue to grow and develop. END SUMMARY.

GOA Not Pleased, Seeks Removal from List
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2. (C) MFA Americas Director General Sabri Boukadoum called the Ambassador to the MFA on January 6 to deliver instructions expressing the “profound dismay” of Algeria’s highest authorities at Algeria’s inclusion in the TSA list of countries subject to new air passenger screening measures. MFA Director for the Protection of Algerian Citizens Overseas Hocine Sahraoui, a representative of the presidency, Houria Khiari, and U.S. desk officer Abdulmutalib Bouacha also attended. Boukadoum stressed several times at the outset of the meeting that his demarche instructions came directly from the “highest authority” -- i.e., President Bouteflika.

3. (C) Boukadoum told the Ambassador that he had been asked to convey two main points. The first concerned Algeria’s inclusion on the TSA list. Algeria respected and understood the U.S. need to secure the safety of its citizens and interests. But Algeria’s inclusion on this list did not accurately reflect either the level or the quality of our bilateral relations, and especially the nature of those relations with regard to the fight against terrorism. The placement of Algeria on a list that includes state sponsors of terrorism and countries of interest creates the impression that Algeria is part of the problem and less than a full partner in the fight against terrorism.

GOA Seeks U.S. Statement on Algeria as Key CT Partner
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4. (C) The second point, he said, besides the GOA’s desire to be removed from the list, was that the country’s leadership hoped to see an official U.S. statement that would underscore Algeria’s important counterterrorism partnership with the U.S. -- in order to help correct the erroneous image of Algeria that had been created by coverage of the TSA story in the international media and on the Internet. “We are partners,” he said. “The highest levels did not appreciate this.”

5. (C) Boukadoum said Algeria’s Ambassador to the U.S. Abdullah Baali would deliver the same message in Washington. Baali also had instructions to see Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano.

U.S. Focus is on Air Travel Safety
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6. (C) The Ambassador said GOA views would be reported fully and immediately to Washington. He told Boukadoum that President Obama had addressed the issue squarely in a statement the previous day. The problem was that on Christmas Day a terrorist had gotten through. This had been a systemic failure, and as a result the President had ordered two reviews -- one of our watch list system, and another of aviation screening procedures. The intent of the new measures was not to discriminate against or embarrass any persons, groups, or countries, and most especially not our friends and partners. The intent was to do the necessary to ensure air travel safety, for everyone. President Obama had thus made clear on January 5 that he had personally ordered, and approved, the new measures. And he had promised that more steps could be on the way in coming days, whether with regard to information integration or passenger screening.

U.S. Values Counterterrorism Cooperation with Algeria
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7. (C) At the same time, the Ambassador continued, the President also had made clear that an important part of our approach would be to deepen cooperation with our international partners. This was where Algeria, and US-Algerian cooperation, came in. The Ambassador noted that we have worked together to improve both the quality and level of our bilateral exchanges in recent years, and he hoped that trend would continue. It was unnecessary to say how much the United States valued its counterterrorism cooperation with Algeria, as well as our overall relationship with Algeria. We hoped to continue to develop and build on the progress that has been made.

8. (C) Boukadoum reiterated that Algeria’s disagreement was not with the measures themselves. Rather Algeria protested its inclusion on TSA’s list because it gives the impression that Algeria is not cooperating. “We are cooperating on counterterrorism, and we will continue to do so,” he stated. Meanwhile, Boukadoum asserted that other countries with nationals who have committed terrorist acts have not been placed on the list. Boukadoum argued that to suggest that Algeria is part of the problem is simply unfair. He regretted that international press coverage of the TSA screening measures had cast Algeria in this light and not as country that is a victim of terrorism.

Comment
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9. (S/NF) A key line in this demarche was the point that Algeria’s inclusion on the TSA list “does not reflect the level and quality of our relations, or the nature of our relations in the fight against terrorism”. With this, the GOA implicitly brought the quality of the entire relationship into play. What grates is that, instead of being seen as a nation that has suffered from terrorism and as an active leader in combating it, they feel instead cast as part of the problem and associated with state sponsors. This sense of damage to Algeria’s international reputation, and especially by the way the story has pinged around in the press and on the Internet, is what undoubtedly fueled President Bouteflika’s “profound dismay”. That said, it is encouraging that Algeria carefully separated the meeting yesterday -- to inform us of their approval of EP-3 overflights by Africa Command against AQIM in the Sahel -- and the meeting today on the TSA issue. This suggests they are trying to separate issues and limit damage. But domestic and regional public opinion does count, so the leadership will want to redress somehow what they perceive as a blow to their national dignity and international prestige. Hence the request that a senior U.S. official make a statement that will help turn around the negative image in the international media.

10. (S/NF) It is worth remembering that no country is more important than Algeria in the fight against al-Qa’ida in the Sahel and Maghreb. So it is probably worth looking for a good chance to make that point publicly, and at as high a level as possible. If we do not, it is doubtful that we would see any dramatic gestures or sudden moves by Algeria. On the contrary, counterterrorism cooperation would probably continue, to the extent it is in the interest of both sides. It would more likely be a matter of what we don’t see - mil-mil relations frozen instead of advancing, efforts to expand law enforcement cooperation slowed, large commercial contracts going to non-U.S. bidders, reduced Embassy access to senior officials, and generally less receptivity to coordination on regional issues and in multilateral fora. PEARCE

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