Cablegate: France and North Africa: Current State of Play

DE RUEHFR #0151/01 0391634
P 081634Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000151


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/05/2019


Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kathy Allegrone, Reasons 1.
4 (b), (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: France currently has excellent relations
with Morocco, tense ties to Algeria, an improving
relationship with Tunisia, and disappointing dealings with
Libya, according to MFA North Africa DAS Cyrille Rogeau. In
wide-ranging discussions during January, Rogeau and MFA
Morocco Desk Officer Marie Buscail told poloff that France is
now well placed to help Moroccan King Mohammed VI help
realize his ambitious regionalization plan. They warned that
both Morocco and Algeria are currently undermining progress
in U.N. efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict, and
they requested USG support in persuading both governments to
adopt a more constructive approach; they also asked that we
consult closely with the British to ensure that the MINURSO
renewal goes smoothly in April. Although Franco-Algerian
relations are ""frozen"" at the moment, Rogeau reported,
bilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism continues apace.
Following a series of spats in 2009 regarding the persecution
of journalists in Tunisia, French relations with President
Ben Ali's government have begun returning to ""normal"" since
the December visit to Tunis of the French Minister of Culture
and Communication; GOF officials no longer mention the
controversial case of Tunisian journalist Taoufik Ben Brik.
French relations with Libya are ""stable"" at the moment,
according to Rogeau, but the French are growing increasingly
frustrated with the Libyans' failure to deliver on promises
regarding visas, professional exchanges, French language
education, and commercial deals. END SUMMARY.

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2. (C) ""With Morocco,"" according to MFA North Africa DAS
Cyrille Rogeau, ""we discuss everything. We have our best
relationship (in North Africa) with the Moroccans."" As
Morocco's leading trade and investment partner, France is
currently enjoying a high point in bilateral relations,
according to both Rogeau and Morocco Desk Officer Marie
Buscail. In fact, Buscail claimed France is now well placed
to help Moroccan King Mohammed VI work toward his stated goal
of devolving some power and authority from the central
government to the provinces. France will have a role, she
said, because regionalization will be a slow and difficult
process for Morocco. Describing current Moroccan thinking
about the subject as ""very confused,"" Buscail acknowledged
one clear aim of the plan: the desire to press ahead with the
Moroccan autonomy plan as a solution for the Western Sahara
conflict. She also noted that an internal tension in the
plan, between state-appointed governors and locally elected
officials, remains to be resolved. Speculating as to the
future structure of the provincial governments, she said
Moroccan officials may create a system comprising nine new
""grand regions"" instead of the current 16 provinces. Some
Moroccans have suggested that leaders of the new regions will
be ""indirectly"" elected, i.e. appointed by directly elected

3. (C) Having ventured these tentative views on the
regionalization process, Buscail acknowledged that even
reliable French contacts in Rabat remain unsure as to how
regionalization will unfold. It is too early to tell, for
instance, what role political parties will have in the new
system. As the Government of Morocco works through these
challenges, French officials have offered to help their
Moroccan counterparts. Despite France's own highly
centralized approach to governance, Buscail argued, French
influence, training, and institutional exchanges will enable
GOF officials to help their Moroccan counterparts develop
some of the skills necessary to facilitate de-centralization.
The French will also focus on judicial reforms.


4. (C) Commenting on Moroccan internal politics, Buscail
speculated that the National Rally of Independents (RNI)
seeks to form a unified position with the Authenticity and
Modernity Party (PAM), and they also seek to bring the
Socialist Union of People's Forces (USFP) into this nascent
coalition. For RNI, the PAM connection seems certain,
Buscail argued, but the USFP link may not transpire. In
fact, she noted, some rumors circulating suggest that PAM may
absorb RNI.


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5. (C) Rogeau said the Aminatou Haidar affair has made the
climate unfavorable for the next meeting on the Western
Sahara. He argued that none of the parties seem to have a
genuine interest in pushing the process forward at the
moment, except those in camps and the Polisario: Morocco
seems satisfied with the status quo, and Algeria profits from
the freedom to lash out against both Morocco and France. The
French have nonetheless recently encouraged the Moroccans to
take a positive approach to the U.N. process.

6. (C) The Moroccans have begun preparing in earnest for the
April renewal of the MINURSO mandate, according to Buscail.
In fact, she reported that Moroccan officials have sought to
introduce a complicating factor. They have posed a
""hypothetical"" request regarding Western Saharan refugees in
the Tindouf camps in Algeria: would the GOF be willing to
resettle some of them in France? Buscail claimed the
Moroccans have put the same question to the USG, the UK, and
other northern European countries. Describing the demand as
unusually ""direct,"" she noted that the Moroccans have
nonetheless made similar ""theoretical"" requests in the past.
This time the GOF responded by pointing out that they have
not received requests from any refugees for resettlement in
France; if they do receive such requests, they will assess
them case by case. Buscail said OHCR representatives
confirmed for French officials that the refugees themselves
have not requested re-settlement. Moreover, sge noted that
France's tense relations with Algeria (see below) complicate
the GOF position with regard to the Tindouf camps: ""It would
pose real problems for us with Algeria if we accepted any
Tindouf refugees."" She said the French would be interested
to learn the USG response to the Moroccan request.


7. (C) Rogeau said France is thinking ahead to MINURSO, and
seeks to avoid what he referred to as the U.K. ""surprise""
that marred efforts to unify our positions last year, when
the British suddenly objected to the text after the USG and
France believed we had agreement. He said French officials
have explained to their Moroccan counterparts the importance
of undertaking internal reforms in order to empower France
and other friends of Morocco to oppose any expansion of
MINURSO's mandate. In addition to reforms, he said, the
Moroccans are aware that they should avoid repeating the
clumsy behavior that forced them to reverse their position
with regard to Aminatou Haidar. Rogeau suggested the USG
support French efforts to communicate to Morocco the link
between their internal political reforms and the MINURSO
renewal. The French also plan to ask the U.K. soon to
clarify its position, and would like us to encourage the
British not to propose last-minute changes, as they
reportedly did last year.

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8. (C) In the lead up to the next round of talks on the
Western Sahara, tentatively scheduled for February 9 - 11 in
the U.S., both Rogeau and Buscail said the French have
pressed the Algerians to adopt a more constructive stance
toward the political process. Repeatedly describing the
Algerians as ""not very constructive,"" they said the Algerians
profited from the December crisis surrounding admission of
Aminatou Haidar into Morocco by highlighting Morocco's human
rights record in the Western Sahara. ""We told the Algerians
that we understood their message,"" Buscail said, ""and that we
have dialogue with the Moroccans about human rights, that we
have not ignored the issue."" She explained that the French
worry that the Algerians may seek to continue focusing on the
human rights question in the near future, instead of assuming
responsibility for their part in resolving the conflict in
the Western Sahara. ""We have told them that our priority is
the political process,"" she said. ""It is the only way to
guarantee respect for human rights (in the Western Sahara) in
the long run.""

9. (C) Buscail stressed that the French would like the USG
to send the same strong message to Algiers. ""Now is the time
for us to try to convince Algeria to truly engage in the
process,"" she argued. She reported that the French MFA has
asked the French Embassy in Washington to deliver this same
request to the State Department. Noting that while the
Moroccans and Algerians have agreed to attend the February
meetings, the Polisario has not yet affirmed its attendance,
and Buscail said GOF officials will participate only if the
Polisario does.

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10. (C) Rogeau was uncharacteristically stark and frank
about the current ""sad state"" of Franco-Algeria relations.
He employed words like ""frigid"" and ""frozen"" as well as
""rather bad"" to describe bilateral relations, which he said
were simply ""not moving."" ""All is blocked,"" he complained.
As the principle cause for the impasse, he cited a
precipitous deterioration since the August 2008 arrest of the
Algerian chief of protocol, Mohamed Ziane Hasseni, for a
politically-motivated murder he allegedly committed in Paris
in 1987. Hassenni remained under judicial supervision in
France until February 2009, but the judge has not yet
delivered a verdict in the case. While Rogeau was unclear as
to when this verdict might arrive, but said ""the sooner the
better."" In addition, he said the Government of Algeria
remains ""very vexed"" about allegations in France that the
Algerian army participated in the murder of Tiberine monks
murdered during the civil war of the 1990s. To distract
attention from itself, the Algerian regime often attacks
France or Morocco, noting the complicating factor that many
Algerian elites remain francofile at the same time. They
are, for instance, Rogeau argued, ""more shy"" in public about
cooperation with Americans than they are about cooperation
with the French, especially in the field of counter-terrorism
(see below).

11. (C) Overall, Rogeau described a pervasive pessimism in
the French MFA regarding Algeria: ""It will take another
general before normalization."" Remarking on how
""complicated"" relations remain, he said the Algerians always
focus on ""what's not going right."" For these reasons, among
others, Algerian President Bouteflika has not visited France
since President Sarkozy came to power in 2007. Nor has
Sarkozy returned to Algeria since his two visits during 2007.
Rogeau doubted that a visit will occur in either direction
before the Hasseni affair is resolved.


12. (C) Despite the problems, Rogeau insisted, Algeria has
remained a reliable partner on counter-terrorism (reftel).
He noted, however, that the French are surprised by the
continual Algerian refusal to expand their cooperation beyond
a bilateral setting. They will not, for instance, permit
""trilateral"" exchanges of information, among the U.S., France
and Algeria, or the U.K., France and Algeria. The Algerians
limit their counter-terrorism cooperation to bilateral
contacts because, Rogeau speculated, they seek to maintain
tight control over both their relationships and their own
counter-terrorism efforts. Still, he said this practice does
not make sense because the Algerians likely realize that we
-- French, British, and Americans -- exchange information
among ourselves about terrorism in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
The Algerians know that we all have the same enemy,
objectives, and interests in this issue.


13. (C) France has had the same problems as the USG with the
fallout from announcements about new transportation
regulations that target Algerian and Libyan citizens. The
Ministry of the Interior (MoI) made a decision about which
countries to include on the list without consulting the MFA,
Rogeau reported. Then the French and Algerian press
announced the news before the MFA could inform the countries
concerned. As a result, the Algerians and the Libyans, among
others, have protested their inclusion on the watch list
vigorously in Paris, in their own capitals, and in the media.


14. (C) Rogeau claimed French relations with Tunisia have
begun returning to ""normal"" since the December 2009 visit to
Tunis of Frederic Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and
Communication. After a series of public spats during 2009,
following the Government of Tunisia's strident reaction to
French criticism of their treatment of journalists,
Mitterand's trip reportedly helped diminish lingering
tensions. The French currently perceive Tunisia as the most
stable country in the Maghreb, according to Rogeau. Compared
to their North African neighbors, he argued, Tunisia has a
highly educated population (only a seven percent illiteracy
rate, versus 50 percent in Morocco), with the lowest
unemployment in the region, and a bureaucracy that functions
reasonably well. Tunisia's economy has a strong reputation
in the region, as exemplified by the investment it has
attracted from Gulf countries. Rogeau claimed Tunisians

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appear to perceive a link between the practices of a police
state and successful economic development; as a result, they
accept a form of social contract: in exchange for stability
and growth, the population keeps quiet. Moreover, apart from
Ben Ali's succession, the French do not believe Tunisia faces
destabilizing changes in the near-term. At the same time,
Rogeau observed, Ben Ali's approach entails significant
risks, including the growth of a middle class that demands
more political freedom, and the risk that economic growth
will slow or stop. If the government stops providing
financial and social security, it will have broken the
unspoken contract and the population may become less docile.

15. (C) As to one of the journalists whom the Government of
Tunisia has harassed and imprisoned, Taoufik Ben Brik, Rogeau
described him as ""not the best example"" of journalistic
integrity. Rogeau reported that French courts are also
currently pursuing Ben Brik, for having allegedly attacked a
Tunisian woman who has decided to press charges against him
in France. Ben Brik, according to Rogeau, is very well
organized, with many contacts in France whom he has activated
on his behalf. Nonetheless, the French no longer discuss his
case with the Tunisians, Rogeau said. (NOTE: After French
Foreign Minister Kouchner mentioned the case of Ben Brik in
an interview in November 2009, Ben Ali responded angrily,
accusing France, for the first time, of hypocrisy in light of
its colonial history in Tunisia, according to Rogeau and MFA
Tunisia Desk Officer Clemence Weulersse. See Paris Points,
November 13, 2009. END NOTE.)
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16. (C) French relations with Libya are ""stable"" at the
moment, according to Rogeau, but the French are growing
increasingly frustrated with the Libyans' failure to deliver
on promises regarding visas, professional exchanges, French
language education, and commercial deals. ""We (and the
Libyans) speak a lot, but we've begun to see that actions do
not follow words in Libya,"" Rogeau lamented. ""The Libyans
talk and talk but don't buy anything (from us). Only the
Italians land any contracts."" The French have made many
gestures, Rogeau claimed, which they believe have not
reciprocated by the Libyans. He did cite one sign of
progress: during his U.N. speech, Libyan leader Qaddafi did
not attack either France or the U.S. directly. ""This
omission was rare. We took note."" Rogeau said France must
be patient, but they will move forward ""with less enthusiasm
than before.""

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