Cablegate: Exploring Engagement with the Head of Libya's Premier Think Tank
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 1/27/2020 TAGS: PREL PGOV OEXC ECON ETTC SCUL TSPL PINR LY
SUBJECT: EXPLORING ENGAGEMENT WITH THE HEAD OF LIBYA'S PREMIER THINK TANK
CLASSIFIED BY: Gene A. Cretz, Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1.(C) Summary: Mahmoud Jibril, head of Libya's premier think-tank -- the National Economic Development Board -- told the Ambassador on January 21 that U.S. business enjoys "a competitive edge" in the field of technology in Libya, and argued that now is the time for U.S. business to capitalize on opportunities for trade and investment in Libya. He welcomed a February 20-23 Department of Commerce-led Trade Mission and offered to speak with GOL officials who could help facilitate the visit. Exploring areas for future bilateral cooperation, Jibril recommended that both countries work together to implement joint projects aimed at "building trust," which would help to erase the historically negative perceptions that each has of the other. He described an idea for a high-level dialogue between U.S. and Libyan policymakers and scholars, to combat such misperceptions, and discussed building connections between U.S. and Libyan academic institutions. End Summary.
NEDB WELCOMES TRADE MISSION, INTERESTED IN INFO TECHNOLOGY
2.(C) During a January 21 meeting with Mahmoud Jibril, head of Libya's National Economic Development Board (NEDB) -- Libya's premier think-tank, which reports directly to the Prime Minister's office -- the Ambassador requested support for the upcoming Trade Mission, discussed the state of the bilateral relationship, and confirmed the U.S. commitment to further engagement. Jibril pledged to support the Trade Mission in any way he could, offering to reach out to the Minister of Economy, Industry and Trade, and to the Minister of Facilities and Infrastructure to facilitate the program. He expressed interest in meeting with companies specializing in the sale of technology, particularly those which could meet the needs of the NEDB in the areas of distance learning -- linking universities in the U.S. and Libya -- and increasing the capacity of the NEDB-run business incubators in the information technology field. Jibril believes the United States enjoys "a competitive edge" in the field of technology and that "now is the time" for U.S. business to capitalize on opportunities for trade and investment in Libya.
ERASING THE PAST
3.(C) Jibril commended the Ambassador for assuming the challenging position of leading diplomatic re-engagement after decades of isolation. He said that the "inherited political problems" represent a "big hurdle" for the United States -- both diplomatically and commercially -- and were in need of "creative solutions." The Ambassador acknowledged the difficulties, highlighting that the apparent GOL freeze on visa issuance for official American travelers to Libya is currently setting engagement back. Jibril characterized the "visa issues" as something "of the past" and noted "security" is the "overriding concern" influencing GOL policy on visa issuances for Americans. He recommended that both sides work together to implement joint-projects aimed at "building trust," that would help to erase the historically negative images that each side has of the other. He honed in on the negative perception in Libya of U.S. intentions in the region. "Changing the U.S. image among Arabs and in the region will take consistent work by you and your colleagues who have been in the region and understand it," he said. He noted that the "Arabs of the sixties are no longer the Arabs of today," explaining that the leaders and people of the region no longer reject a relationship with the United States simply due to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Libya is one of the countries that wants a relationship with the United States. However, the inclusion of Libya on the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) list of countries of "special interest" has reinforced negative perceptions about the U.S. in Libya. The Ambassador confirmed the U.S. commitment to the bilateral relationship, as evidenced by several points of high level engagement in recent months. He advised Jibril not to react hastily to the TSA list and not to evaluate the entire relationship based on that single measure, but rather to consider the full range of positive steps over the last year.
POLITICAL-ACADEMIC DIALOGUE ON ENGAGEMENT
4.(C) To overcome continuing misperceptions that leave the bilateral relationship vulnerable to misunderstanding, Jibril suggested that both sides convene a forum for 2-3 days, composed of 5-6 scholars and policymakers, with the goal of discussing the relationship and mutual needs and concerns, in order to find solutions to political problems and to design an agenda for pushing engagement forward. He noted that he had not yet sought approval for this idea from GOL decision makers, and commented TRIPOLI 00000077 002 OF 002 that he would seek Saif al-Islam's approval when he was ready to pitch the idea to the GOL. He thought the group could meet either in Libya, the U.S., or in a third country, isolated from their regular jobs and environments. They would focus on "fixing" areas still "tainted by distortions" on each side. The final product would be a strategic program to create the foundation for a "lasting relationship," as well as the implementation of a "trust building program" to benefit the people of both nations. "This business of politics and distorted images is preventing progress," he concluded.
5.(C) The Ambassador explained U.S. efforts to engage with Libya through various, issue-specific dialogues, such as the Human Rights Dialogue, a political-military dialogue, a consular working group, and under the umbrella of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, as well as through a multitude of academic and cultural exchange programs. In effect, our response was to tackle the idea piece-by-piece, via a series of dialogues. The Ambassador said he would explore Jibril's dialogue concept on the U.S.-side, and emphasized that the inclusion of decision-makers in each of our areas of proposed dialogue would be key to the success of such groups. (As of January 27, Jibril had not yet had the opportunity to vet his proposal with Libyan officials.)
U.S.-LIBYA UNIVERSITY LINKAGES
6.(C) Jibril expressed interest in inviting U.S. higher academic institutions to visit Libya and to establish linkages with local universities, possibly even to offer courses in Libya to local students. He described an agreement that the NEDB recently signed with Liverpool University in the United Kingdom to set up a business school in Libya. The NEDB also has an agreement with Manchester University to establish a branch in Libya and to launch an IBM course for Libyan students. He said that he was ready to finance, provide the infrastructure for, and establish the academic criteria for a U.S university to offer courses in Libya.
GPC AGENDA ITEM: NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN
7.(C) Switching topics, Jibril noted that his agency's draft "National Economic Development Plan" would be discussed at the upcoming session of the General People's Congress (Libya's parliament-equivalent), scheduled for January 26. He described the current state of Libyan development as in its "second round." The first round had successfully initiated many infrastructure projects throughout the country; the current round would focus on developing the nation's human capacity, by improving education and training for the Libyan people. Jibril estimated that whereas about 70 percent of infrastructure and construction projects had already been awarded, Libyan officials were still determining who would take the lead for the development of human capacity. "The U.S. has the edge here," he stated. "If you don't step in, Singapore, the UK, Germany, and France are ready."
8.(C) Jibril seemed to be a very open interlocutor -- willing to engage in back-and-forth conversation and brainstorming together comfortably. His confidence in his own ability to approach Saif al-Islam with a new idea, as well as to raise the Trade Mission with GOL ministers, indicates that he is well-connected within the regime. As the head of a think-tank that reports directly to the Prime Minister-equivalent (who called him during the meeting), without the burden of an official policymaking role, he may have a unique ability to influence decision-makers without challenging their authority. In response to Jibril's proposals, the Public Affairs Section will reach out to U.S. colleges and universities to explore potential areas for cooperation with Libyan academic institutions. CRETZ