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Cablegate: Senior Tunisians On Science and Technology

VZCZCXYZ0002
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #0055 0251008
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251008Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7193
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS TUNIS 000055

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR OES (SENSENEY AND LAWRENCE), S/P (BEHRMAN),
S/SRMC (CHANDLER), AND R (NOOR-ALI); ALSO FOR NEA/MAG
NSC STAFF FOR SENIOR DIRECTOR RAMAMURTHY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL SENV TSPL TS
SUBJECT: SENIOR TUNISIANS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
COOPERATION: NEA DAS WITTES'S VISIT

REF: A. TUNIS 43
B. 09 TUNIS 757

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: In January 21 meetings with the Minister
of Communications, the Minister of Higher Education, and a
senior MFA official, NEA DAS Wittes underlined the USG's
interest in stepping up bilateral collaboration on science
and technology, previewing the prospective March visit of
Science Envoy Elias Zerhouni and urging the GOT to ratify the
bilateral Science and Technology (S&T) Agreement, signed in
2004. The Tunisians said they looked forward to Dr.
Zerhouni's visit and said they would work to resolve a legal
obstacle impeding ratification of the S&T agreement. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Upgrading bilateral cooperation in science and
technology was a key feature of DAS Wittes' January 20-22
visit to Tunisia. In her three meetings with senior GOT
officials, Minister of Communications Oussama Romdhani,
Minister of Higher Education Bechir Tekkari, and MFA
Secretary of State for Asia and the Americas Saida Chtoui,
DAS Wittes previewed the prospective March visit of Science
Envoy Elias Zerhouni. Each welcomed the opportunity to
enhance S&T cooperation and said they looked forward to the
envoy's visit and would welcome his ideas and input.

3. (SBU) Minister of Higher Education Tekkari said Tunisia
had been modeled too closely on the French approach to S&T,
and expressed interest in moving closer to a U.S. model in
which the government funds research, the fruits of which are
then adapted and applied by the private sector. Tunisia's
strategy, he continued, is to move from its current low-to
mid-range technology to building capacity for high technology
especially in the areas of micro-electronics, informatics,
biofuels, and biotechnology. Tekkari said the GOT recognized
that a new approach would be needed to bridge the existing
gap between research and industrial applications. Tekkari
added that the GOT was developing a "Science City" intended
to impart a new spirit of scientific entrepreneurship among
Tunisian youth. DAS Wittes asked the Minister to forward her
more information on the project so that Dr. Zerhouni could be
briefed on it before his visit.

4. (SBU) The Minister, DAS Wittes, and the Minister,s
Secretary of State for Science, Refaat Chaabouni, discussed
the requisites for success in building a high-technology
industry. Wittes expressed the view that, while education
and job opportunities were important, equally key was the
creation of a culture of innovation. The minister and his
staff agreed. Wittes noted the role governments play in
creating an environment that welcomes and rewards innovation.


5. (SBU) On the S&T agreement, DAS Wittes told MFA Secretary
of State Chtoui that the U.S. was eager to activate the 2004
bilateral science and technology cooperation agreement and
regretted that Tunisia had yet to ratify it. Providing, for
the first time, a coherent explanation for the delay, Chtoui
advised that the agreement had been flagged en route to
parliament by Tunisia's Constitutional Council, which
determined that one of the articles was incompatible with
Tunisian law. She expressed the belief that the problem
centered on a financial issue. DAS Wittes discouraged
Chtoui's suggestion that it might be easier to negotiate a
new, updated agreement. It would be much easier for the two
sides to agree to amend a part of the text of the existing
agreement, DAS Wittes explained. Pausing momentarily, Chtoui
said she accepted that amending the existing text would be
easier, and indicated the GOT would move forward on that
basis.

6. (U) DAS Wittes has cleared on this message.
GRAY

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