Cablegate: Tunisian Officials Apparently Flexible On Fulbright


DE RUEHTU #0054 0250901
O 250901Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but Unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: The newly-appointed Minister of Higher Education
and the Secretary of State for the Americas told NEA DAS Wittes (in
separate meetings on January 21) that the GOT views the Fulbright
program as being extremely important to Tunisia's development. We
noted an apparent new willingness to see the problems resolved soon;
in particular the officials seemed to recognize the need to expedite
GOT approval for doctoral dissertation research. End summary.

2. (SBU) DAS Wittes raised the Fulbright program during her meeting
with new Minister of Education Bechir Tekkari and his senior
advisors, focusing on the need for expedited coordination between
the American and Tunisian application/approval cycles. Tekkari
remarked that he had no objection to a nine-month application
process. One of the Minister's advisors interjected that American
doctoral candidates should prepare better and not simply send their
applications to Fulbright. He claimed that much of the delay has
been because the Ministry of Higher Education has had to identify
which departments and universities were appropriate for supervising
the research of each applicant. "If students could be in touch with
a Tunisian professor and institution prior to submitting their
application, and if Fulbright were to communicate that to us, we
would be able to save time and meet your deadlines. Let's cooperate
on this; we can both do better," he said.

3. (SBU) DAS Wittes noted that if Embassy officers had easier
access to university campuses and did not have to apply in advance
by diplomatic note for permission to meet with professors, we could
further streamline this process. Minister Tekkari insisted that
diplomatic formalities still needed to be observed, but said that he
would look into ways to alleviate this problem.

4. (SBU) In addition to being positive about resolving the
Fulbright problem, Bechir Tekkari and his staff were uniformly
enthusiastic about expanding general educational cooperation between
the two countries, adding that they see U.S. educational models for
connecting government, research institutions, and the private sector
as particularly relevant for Tunisia. It was clear that they
welcomed expanded university linkages, more English language
programs - particularly in the sciences - and assistance in
upgrading the quality of higher education to enable young Tunisians
to be more competitive in the international arena.

5. (SBU) Saida Chtoui, Secretary of State for Asia and the Americas
at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the GOT placed a premium on
educational exchanges as part of its strategy to develop and
modernize its economy. The GOT would welcome more U.S. students
studying in Tunisia and wanted to see many more Tunisians studying
in the U.S. on exchange programs. Studies in technical fields like
scientific research and medicine were particularly promising, Chtoui
thought. She lamented that "only two or three Tunisians" were
currently studying in the U.S. under the Fulbright program. The DCM
noted that Fulbright exchanges were reciprocal, and DAS Wittes
emphasized that the USG would like to see Fulbright numbers increase

6. (SBU) Chtoui allowed that there had recently been technical
problems challenging the bilateral Fulbright program and added that
the "U.S. is providing us with names too late for us to process."
DAS Wittes explained the application process cycle within the U.S.
academic calendar and thought that U.S. universities and Fulbright
administrators ought to be allowed to provide student applications
by January of a given academic year, but not have to submit them 18
months ahead of the commencement of studies, as the GOT had
requested in recent correspondence. Chtoui denied that the GOT was
asking for 18 months but underlined that at least six months advance
processing time would be needed.

7. (SBU) Comment: We read Tekkari's and Chtoui's remarks to
indicate new flexibility and pragmatism on Fulbrights. It remains
to be seen whether this more flexible position will become policy.
End comment.
8. (U) DAS Wittes has cleared this message.


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